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Mobile Apps – History, Present, Future

In 1983 a certain Steve Jobs giving a conference speech in ‘Aspen U.S outlined his vision of software download where software would be downloaded over phone lines with no need for physical distribution methods , the first Macintosh had still yet to be launched but Steve Jobs as ever the technological visionary had envisioned the future ‘app store’.32 years on from his ‘Aspen speech and apps are so ubiquitous they seem an almost indispensable part of everyday life, but the path to the modern app has been a circuitous one demanding technological developments and innovation from numerous sources of which Apple played a leading but not sole.






In a sense the first apps on a ‘mobile’ device can be traced back to the games snake, pong and tic- tac-toe found on the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the first commercial phone launched in ‘83 which resembled and was often nicknamed the ‘brick’. A break-through in mobile communications, this unwieldy device also demonstrated via its simple games that a cell phone could be more than just a means for communication but could also be a mode for entertainment.

Further development came down the line with the PSIOn range of handheld computers (PDAs) using the EPOC operating system, 7 years on from the first mobile handset these small hand held computers came with a number of user programs including a word processor and diary. Around the same time Palm was launching its rival handheld personal device the Palm Pilot containing similar office style ‘apps’ to the PSIOn but accessible via a Gui screen – a precursor to the modern touchscreen smartphone.



Market Explosion

The early ‘90s saw an explosion in mobile phone take up and usage, phones were now smaller, cheaper and mass market but this competition whilst driving down costs and enabling mobile communication to become mass market actually stunted app innovation, with manufacturers not willing to reveal their proprietary technology to 3rd parties.

The mid ‘90s saw the inception and rise of the World Wide Web but mobile phones started to get left behind, with websites using technology and U.I principles including JavaScript, flash and high resolutions that phones couldn’t support. Out of this need to bring the WWW to mobile was borne wireless application protocol or WAP for short. WAP sites served up pages written in Wireless MarkUp Language a stripped down form of HTML, suitable for the limited processing power of mid ‘90s mobile devices.

WAP sites were slow and cumbersome, typing a URL via a numeric keypad on a small phone was onerous whilst sites didn’t take into account individual phone sizes. In addition to the many technical drawbacks, many WAP portals operated by the networks restricted access to their preferred content distributors which users disliked. WAP ultimately failed but it still heralded the start of ‘web browsing’ on a mobile handset and established the important principle of an open environment.Evolution to the ‘mobile app’ continued with the development of cellular technology, first with 1G and then with the 2G cellular network. The cellular networks brought about the first ‘smartphones’, with the digital data transmission enabled by the 2G network allowing phones to carry many of the modern features which form the bedrock of modern apps.

Market Evolution


Evolution finally turned to revolution in ’07 with the first iPhone featuring a touch screen loaded with a number of pre-set apps. One year later and the Apple store launched allowing iPhone users to download apps directly to their phone and for independent developers to easily access and install apps.

Since ’08 the app ecosystem has thrived, there are now estimated to be over 138 million app downloads every year on the apple and google play stores, with an estimation of 268 million by 2017. Users now spend 80% of their time on apps compared to mobile web.



Whatever  your online need there is an app which can satisfy it, from the simple functional such as weather apps or currency converters, to the worryingly bizarre such as an app that can retrace your steps after and alcoholic blackout. The app environment keeps on driving up consumer demands with companies responding in kind to stay competitive.

Whereas first it was just necessary to have an app, some kind of presence on the app store, now an app needs to be the best and have the most features. This has fuelled an environment which explains why an internet casino such as Mr Green now features over 60+ mobile casino games on its app even though the average player is never likely to use more than 10 of those from his handset. Some online casinos like LeoVegas mobile casino are even "mobile first" - more geared towards mobile phones and tablet users than desktop or mac users.

Future Outlook

What is the future of apps? Many commentators point to a number of flaws in the current app system including its poor economy of scale, where each single app representing just one use website, game or function takes up a relatively large amount of real estate space. They envision a content index system, where apps will be grouped together and with content accessed more on a push based notification system. Other commentators see apps joined together, yelp to find a good restaurant connected to the restaurants app to order, a truly interconnected app environment instead of the silo based environment we currently have. It is possible Cryptocurrencies would have a positive effect on that.

Whatever the future, one thing is for certain is that it won’t remain static, 30+ years took us from snake on the Motorola to the current app environment, the next 30 is set to be just as exciting.

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