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Ten apps is all I need (37signals.com)
239 points by sant0sk1 on June 22, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments

The iPhone had sold millions of units before the app store launched. A significant proportion of iPhone and iPad users have downloaded less than a handful of apps.

I'm very much of the opinion that apps were more effective as a viral marketing strategy than as a truly attractive feature. People talk about apps, people show their friends, but most of the non-geeks I know don't actually use anything but the built in apps, a Twitter or Facebook app and Angry Birds. A lot of people in the comments are generalising from their own experience and that of their peers, which is just a classic geek mistake.

I think Apple have been clever in perpetrating the myth that the App Store gives them an unassailable "ecosystem", but I think what really sold the iPhone was the fact that it's core features were so damned useable. Their rivals have been falling over each other to attract developers, when they should probably have been working on making the core features work better.

Look at the stats on mobile data usage - until the iPhone came along, nobody really bothered to use their smartphone's browser because the experience was so unpleasant. At one point 99% of all mobile data was being used by Mobile Safari. Android is catching up, but iPhone users still spend a disproportionate amount of time using their phone's browser. That has nothing to do with an "ecosystem".

Well, there are classic geeks here, and there are "business geeks" :-) To me, the article looked like a user's report of the pleasure of using the N9, with a few comments about the product "winning" or being "dead on arrival" because everything has to be related back to making money, a typical (and tiresome) business geek compulsion. When you look at it that way, his personal experience using the N9 is real topic of the post and the only real content, and the rest is just a nervous tic that can be discarded without any loss in meaning.

No offense meant, by the way, I just wanted to point out that everybody has different priorities when reading these posts.

"and Angry Birds"

I bet games is the big exception here. I bet many of the "non-geeks" referenced by you and others in this thread have downloaded a few games to their iPhone, and would be much less likely to switch to a competitor that didn't have the same games or games that were just as good.

One more counter data point: at a party last Saturday in a room with a bunch of non-geek college kids, fiddling with their iPhones, one of them spontaneously asks "Hey, what's that app that can tell you the name of a song if you hold it up to the microphone?" One of the other college kids quickly confirmed that it was called Shazam.

Don't underestimate the power games have to give a platform staying power. The prevailing sentiment in past discussions here has often been that games are interchangeable distractions, but there's a big portion of the public that is incredible passionate about their favourites and thus the platform on which they run. (We've been taken aback at the fan loyalty shown to some of our games, and this is stuff that's barely even troubled the lower reaches of the charts.)

Bingo. It is all very well to say "I and my business buddies only use 10 apps". Go have a look at a random teenager's iPhone and if they are not full of game apps I will eat my hat.

And yes there are a lot if kids with iPhones out there, either as full phones or without phone service. Where do you think all the previous generation devices are going?

In a family the app-store represents significant lock-in, both in collective $$ spent on apps and media, but also in the device hand me down chain. I bet there is a lot of pressure against one of the parents switching to an N9 all of a sudden.

Brand new smartphone users or company issues are (maybe) a different issue.

Games also tend to be the most portable and least "sticky" of all apps though. Most games are written with cross-platform engines or toolkits. If an app is a huge hit on iPhone you're likely to see it on Android not long after.

Games to tend to be the easiest to port too. They have no expectations of having the platform look & feel. Angry Birds looks the same on Android and iPhone and not even the diehards complain.

I don't disagree with what you say about the core experience and the danger of generalising from personal experience but there have been 14 billion app downloads. That's a lot for something which a lot of people seem to be suggesting is either irrelevant or niche.

I think what you say may have been true in the past but I do think moving forward apps are playing an increasing role, even if it is just three or four for many users.

I suspect a lot of those 14 billion downloads are games. If my experience is at all typical then most users go through an initial frenzy of downloading "productivity" apps only to eventually erase or ignore most of them.

Apple likes to tout its $2 billion in app sales but consider that's what one really big blockbuster film might make worldwide. Proportionally it's a tiny market.

No need to guess folks. The Nielson report from last year has plenty of data on app usage on smartphone. Games are indeed on top.

EDIT: url to report: http://www.slideshare.net/zebs/nielsen-mobile-apps-whitepape...

They are on top but the nature of the numbers doesn't necessarily make the case being put forward here.

Even if games were in some way irrelevant the statistic that they're on top is that 61% of smart phone owners reported using a game in the last 30 days.

But that's only marginally ahead of weather apps at 55% (and the Weather Channel 3rd party app was one of the most popular apps overall), maps at 50%, social at 49% (all 3rd party).

The overall picture is of a lot of people using a lot of apps, many of which are the core 10.

But why are games not relevant? The question here is about whether an app ecosystem adds significant value to a platform for end users, the nature of that value (be it entertainment, productivity or whatever) is neither here nor there.

If you wish to say that $2 billion is irrelevant then we'll disagree on that (and it might be worth noting that in terms of box office receipts only one movie - Avatar - has ever made that in any case) but to put the scale in terms that relate to the mobile download market as opposed to some random unrelated market, sometime likely late this year app downloads will surpass iTunes music downloads (and to put that in context iTunes is the largest seller of music in the USA and has over 80% of the legal US music download market).

That 14 billion apps equates to over 60 apps for every iOS device sold (http://www.asymco.com/2011/01/16/more-than-60-apps-have-been...). If the suggestion that most people aren't really using third party apps is true then a small but significant number of people must be downloading hundreds and hundreds of apps each. While I'm sure that some people are doing that, I'm not convinced that enough are doing it to allow for a significant installed based doing nothing at all. Personally I consider myself a prolific downloader and I don't have two hundred apps.

One point of clarification which is worth noting - this figure is new app downloads, not updates. If I download Twitter then three updates that counts as one, not four.

For what anecdotal evidence is worth (not much) I don't know a single iPhone or iPod touch user who doesn't download and use third party apps and that includes people inside and outside of IT ranging in age from 10 to 40.

Games are certainly relevant but in building the business case for participating in the app market in general it's crucial to keep in mind that all these sales statistics pertain mostly to games.

And while I certainly don't consider $2bn irrelevant you have to admit that the hype around app sales is currently far out of proportion to its economic significance.

I've not seen any figures that suggest that they're "mostly" games - can you provide a link (the one below doesn't support mostly, it support games as the single most used but by a relatively small margin over several other categories).

I'm not sure it is just hype. Digital music is considered significant yet app sales are about to outstrip downloads and there are predictions that if game downloads carry on on their current trajectory then in 10 years time Apple IS mobile gaming.

And apps are an enabler for a lot of other stuff from smart phone sales (for instance that $2bn includes nothing from free apps such as Facebook and Twitter which are key for many people) to data sales to add sales (estimated at another $850m by 2014) to everything else.

Sure, on it's own $2bn can be seen as relatively small beans that's not the full story for revenue that can be directly attributable to apps and there are significant indirect effects beyond that.

> Android is catching up, but iPhone users still spend a > disproportionate amount of time using their phone's > browser.

Who knows, who knows. http://dvice.com/archives/2011/06/mobile-app-use.php I can only talk for myself, but I do spend much more time in apps than in browser: even to consume some content available via browser.

But isn't it brilliant when you have a problem like I want to brainstorm wouldn't a mindmapping tool be cool, or I need to draw this digram in UML can I do that on my iPad and you search (better with something like disovr) and find the app you need. I agree that I use 10 apps 90% of the time but I would be annoyed if I couldn't find an app for for the other 10%

Not so with Android.

My wife annoys the hell out of me showing all the crap she can do with her homescreen.

I for one would be glad if my wife would be interested in android enough to do anything but complain that it's sometimes slow, or has bugs.

Maybe she'd show more interest if she didn't find it slow and buggy?

My wife has the Samsung Galaxy S. I guess it's good enough for her as she never complains.

maybe you should have thought of that when you were choosing a wife.

I don't know about that. We've been able to convince a significant amount of people to use WakeMate daily... I think that the audience is so wide that good apps can have dedicated followings. So people use the built in apps, twitter, fb, angry birds and one or two others they've been turned on to and like for whatever reason.

WebOS/Palm/HP did a very good job of this. WebOS was far more productive than iPhone at the time. Nobody would have known though because it wasn't Apple. It came on cheaply made devices and had a skunkworks feel to it.

It's a great pity because it has such tremendous potential! They're still stubborn with the form factor, when the market clearly shows most popular devices are candy bar form factor. iPhone, most Android phones etc

It might help Palm/HP to switch to a candybar style, but I'm glad companies are willing to diverge from the template Apple has created. We already have an iPhone, you've got to make your device different some how. More importantly, it gives us a choice.

It may be different, but that's all for nothing if they can't survive. Have your Pre-style devices, if you must, but make a candybar device too. Just don't go overboard on the choices however, because the more devices you have, the more mindshare you need to capture from users.

I really liked WebOS and I'd hoped it would be the dominant. :(

I feel like he's missing the point of an ecosystem.

It's fine that he only uses a few apps on his phone, and that most other people probably do the same.

The problem is that those "few apps" that most other people use aren't the same "few apps" that he uses.

I've heard that mentioned before, but that's not what I'm seeing. I don't use 10 random apps from the App Store. I use the 10 default apps that come with the phone. Except for Twitter, I consider the 3rd party apps to be completely expendable without materially affecting my enjoyment of the phone.

From other "just a few apps on a daily basis" users I've seen, they tend to use the default apps as well. It's not a random cross section of the 200K apps in the App Store.

Except for Twitter...

This is a variation of m0nitaly's point: I would say "except for Instapaper, Reeder, and Twitter..." and Jasber would say "except for Rdio and RunKeeper..."

Even if apps 1-10 are native, I'm hanging onto my iPhone for numbers 11 and 12. The native iOS experience is great, but those two or three non-native apps make it sublime.

I still think that is really only true of the "geek" crowd. I am pretty sure none of my real life friends that weren't computer science majors have even heard of Instapaper or Reeder or Rdio or RunKeeper. The majority of the "number 11" apps that I use are mainly because either they don't have a workable mobile site (HN) or the mobile website doesn't quite work well enough (reddit, imdb, possibly facebook) but the latter category should be fixed just from phones getting slightly better and certain mobile oriented technologies coming out (like HTML5 offline support).

On a side note (not related to current enjoyment of phones) I really think it's not too long until the only things that are necessarily apps use lower hardware features (GPS, compass, camera, Shazam, game graphics), with even some of those possibly moving into the browser (disclosing location to sites already exists on desktop, Google just launched voice search on their desktop search).

I also think its a bit disingenuous to put the Twitter app (not an alternate third party Twitter app) in the same category as the others. Right now, a new mobile device would probably have a Twitter app and maybe even a Facebook app as a "native" app. When I got my phone Twitter and Facebook was already installed on it, equally presented alongside all the "native" apps like Googles, Maps, Music, Navigation, etc.

I still think that is really only true of the "geek" crowd. I am pretty sure none of my real life friends that weren't computer science majors have even heard of Instapaper or Reeder or Rdio or RunKeeper.

I disagree. I have friends who love Tiny Wings, Angry Birds, Pandora, the DC Next Bus app, SimpleNote, NPR and Fruit Ninja. Most of these are iOS-only, and those that are not have abysmal Android versions.

As for Twitter being native: are we talking about the Twitter for iOS app? Because the iOS app is indispensable relative to other options.

True, non-geek people just have different apps. Not Instapaper, but Facebook. The stuff that is in the top 10.

My boss makes very heavy use of the Starbucks app. My daughter has a billion apps that she uses daily and they aren't all games.

No argument on the app usage side of things. I think if you drew a giant venn diagram of actual app usage on iOS, it'd look like a giant circle with fuzzy edges, but I think that's missing the point. "The platform" isn't synonymous with apps. The platform is becoming more than what runs on your phone; quite the opposite.

Both Google and Apple have built the type of platforms being referred to when casting doubt on the future of MeeGo. The central feature of those platforms, up until about six months ago, was their capability to run applications. This is shifting quickly to the ability to store data in a way that is transparent to the user.

Google can, right now, give you seamless, transparent access to documents on a phone, tablet, or desktop computer with no thought or action from the user outside of logging in and browsing to the location of the document. There is no syncing. The same is true for email, calendar, and contacts. When iCloud ships this fall, Apple will be in the same position. What would it take for Nokia to bring MeeGo to that point?

This is "the platform" that I can't see Nokia building, and I believe it's going to set the bar for every major player in the space in the coming years.

I think m0nastic is right. I use some of the apps you mention, but also use Rdio and RunKeeper on a daily basis. Those both materially affect the enjoyment of my phone.

You certainly have a point, most apps are downloaded then never used. But I think everyone's "few apps" are different with lots of overlap in the apps you mention.

"except for twitter" which, of course, is becoming a built in capability soon. Even more to your point.

Maybe the real value of the app store (for Apple) is that Apple lets third parties take the risk of trying out new ideas and then they co-opt whatever really takes off into the next rev of iOS?

Exactly. My "few apps" include Kindle, iPeng, Last.fm, Netflix, Yelp, and lately, a Spanish-English dictionary.

Also, my "few apps" has changed over time. Two years ago, the only one of those apps I was using a lot was iPeng, and some of the apps I used on a near-daily basis back then have been relegated to my "Attic" folder.

I have a N900, which runs Maemo 5 (Fremantle); the N9 runs Maemo 6 (Harmattan)-MeeGo. They both share many system packages and both advertise Qt as thair main development platform. The N900 was not as heavily marketed as the N9 is but there's still thousands of apps for it.

I've got over 150 apps installed but the only apps I use daily are the web browser, phone, SMS, email and the terminal (I wouldn't count commandline tools like git, vi, python, wget, ssh "apps").

My point is that even if the N9 has 1% of the number of apps available as iOS then there's still probably loads of apps to cover many people's "few app" choices.

I think the point above is there was no need for Nokia to abandon meego as their mobile platform just because it is too late to arrive at the party and doesn't have enough developers building apps for it. As long as it got the core experience right.

Except Nokia didn't abandon Meego. They're strategy is pretty straightforward and sound.

1) Focus on WP7 for the short/medium term. They'll be the premiere phone on the OS and if it takes off, they'll rake in the cash.

2) In the meanwhile MS gives them a boatload of money.

3) Develop Meego in the background and push it later down the line.

The problem, as noted in the leaked stories, is that they didn't have a pipeline of Meego phones that would be ready to go. And while the phone design looks great, the OS looks a bit stale still. So get the OS in good shape, while not hemorraging too much cash.

I am having problems believing the 3rd point as Nokia is just laying of a lot of Meego-developers.

As for current Maemo/Meego-experience, I think not much can actually be said before the phones appear at stores this fall.

nokia are not laying off any meego developers.


4000 mostly from meego and symbian. So yes they actually are laying off at least some meego devs.

Yes, but how many of those native apps can be replaced with web apps that already exist?

Is 2,000 enough for 80% of people? A few great games, some time wasters, and the basic smartphone functionality? There are always going to be a few developers who take a chance on a new platform, especially if it's developer friendly.

And if the 2,000 come and are well received, the rest will follow.

Most people do not see Android, Apple and Nokia devices as being any different. They all have big screens, cameras, web, email, etc... They don't understand specs, so they judge on what they know. They do know apps, so this is one way in which they will judge the use of a phone.

Now, nobody will use 300,000 apps, but everyone knows 300,000 is better than 100,000, or 2,000.

I completely disagree. Once a platform hits a critical mass of app support (well below 300k, still well below 100k and even below 2k though that's in the right neighborhood), bigger numbers are a net negative, IMO. A hundred thousand more apps is just a ton more garbage you have to wade through to find the very few good ones.

Exactly. I guess most people would agree that there are only a handful of apps they really care about and use. As much as I like the efforts made on Meego, Windows mobile 7 and even WebOS (android not so much), as long as there is no alternative to reeder, instacast or kinetic, I'm not likely to switch anything. Of course there are feed readers, podcast management and sports tracking apps on other platforms but the big advantage of iOS is that a lot of developers are really commited to their projects resulting in apps that stand out.

>The problem is that those "few apps" that most other people use aren't the same "few apps" that he uses.

are they really? having one or two obscure apps might be nice, but there are very, very few people for whom app availability is actually a necessity.

I agree -- and not just an ecosystem, but competition. Apple's native apps have to be up to snuff because of pressure from the store. Those few apps that rise to the top did so in part from the mechanism of competition.

If "all you need is 10 apps", then the platform is relatively unimportant, and it doesn't matter if you're just distributing someone else's software.

Personally, I'd add a few apps to his "must have" list - Kindle, Netflix, Wunderlist, Rdio, Facebook, iTalk (Dropbox-enabled voice recorder), Dropbox, Instacast (high quality podcast app), Downloads, The Economist, VNC software, Audible, ComicZeal... Also, I expect a robust tablet ecosystem, strong syncing/backup capabilities and good accessories. The N9 isn't looking too attractive to me.

I've found the Facebook Android app to be lacking compared to their mobile site, maybe the iPhone app is better. As for Kindle, Netflix, VNC, and ComicZeal I just could not fathom actually using a 3 inch screen for visual media. I've used the Netflix app once or twice when I didn't have easy access to a laptop, but those situations are exceedingly rare and the experience was very lackluster. They also completely murdered my battery so I pretty much had to have my phone plugged in if I planned on having any power to use my phone in a few hours, so the application of it would be seriously limited.

It feels like you are confounding iPhone and iOS in general (you specifically mentioned tablet ecosystem). The N9 is a phone and I cannot fathom why you would care that the OS that your phone runs on has a robust tablet ecosystem. I also feel like you have must have a very unusual lifestyle to consider Kindle and Netflix apps on your phone at all imperative; do you have an unusual commute or something?

Meh, it got better -- what I like about my Android is that it can sync Facebook contacts with my contacts list, giving me extra emails (or phone numbers, but maybe that was an illusion) -- and most importantly, I have my friends avatars in my contacts, without me bothering to go out of my way to take their pictures.

So the Android/Facebook integration is useful for me.

I do tend to agree with DHH -- besides the browser, GMail and Maps, I only use 3 apps I got from the Marketplace, plus one that I built myself.

Other than that I don't bother, as my laptop is much better for everything else and when going out I only feel the need to stay connected, otherwise I would rather drink beer or play with my kid, rather than playing stupid games that are no match for the games I used to play in the 90-ties, or watch movies on a shitty screen.

It is useful for commuting to work though, but that doesn't help me as I'm 5 minutes away from my work-place and I also have the freedom to work from home when I feel like doing it.

DHH said it better, but I had the same impression - people are overestimating the importance of an App Store. It's useful to be sure, but the phone can initially sell without it.

I don't know for certain, but I think a decent amount of the Android Facebook app is now just HTML from the mobile site stuck inside the app. I know that they did that on the iOS app, at least for the main newsfeed.

Sure, I only need 2 apps.

My friend only needs 2 apps too.

But, they are different apps!

Multiply (and refactor a little for duplicates) by 15 million

But most people can live just fine with the browser, email and maps. The other apps are optional.

Until 5 months ago, I still used a cheap Nokia as my primary phone, even though I also had an iPhone. The reason for that was the batter life - my Nokia could last for 5 days and ironically, my iPhone was unusable as a phone.

I made the switch eventually to Android, which has the same problems all smartphones have - but it took some change of habits, like not forgetting to recharge it daily.

But my Android is still primarily as a phone, even though I like getting my email and I like browsing the web when there's nothing better to do and I don't have my laptop in front. GMaps is nice to have too.

Other than that, most other apps are completely optional and I just keep them around for inspiration.

I don't think it's just a question of need. I'm one who does have hundreds of apps my iPhone. While I may technically need only 10-20, there are many that prove to be very useful even if it's not on regular basis.

+1 on Dropbox, Instacast, and Netflix.

Allow me to add a few of my daily use apps: Instapaper, Reeder, iOctocat, TrackerBot, and Evernote.

One can wonder if a platform becomes successful because of a rich ecosystem of apps or if rich ecosystem of apps follows success of a platform, but the undeniable fact of life is: every successful computing platform also has a rich ecosystem of apps. Be it Windows, Mac OS, web, iphone, playstation or Commodore 64.

So reality strongly hints that you cannot have successful computing platform without a rich ecosystem of apps.

If you've read reviews of Android tablets, there was one thing that every reviewer brought up: there are no tablet-specific appsh. Applying Ockham's razor, is it because:

a) reviewers are part of world-wide anti-Android tablet conspiracy that coordinates talking points in their reviews

b) we have a freak statistical event of reviewers being in sync in their out-of-touchiness wrt. what is important for potential tablet buyers

c) people actually do care about having lots of apps to choose from

Do we really have tens of thousands gullible developers who write hundreds of thousands of apps that nobody wants or buys, or maybe, just maybe, developers are following the money and writing apps because people are actually buying and using them?

Compare and contrast A and B. A has features X and Y. B only has feature X. B is missing Y. Reviewer complains.

I give reviewers a little bit more credit than that and believe they are capable of telling a difference between important and marginal.

Reviewers have been pretty terrible forever. See: any review framework that enforces a Pros & Cons list at the end.

It is worth pointing out that this is 37 Signals. Which means, just by dogfood-ing, they get rid of many of the major 3rd party app categories.

Productivity software make up a lot of the most useful 3rd party apps, and 37 Signals makes web productivity software that cover the same territory.

It doesn't mean their point isn't still interesting, it's just good to remember context.

I don't have a Smartphone, but I can relate to the basic notion very much. I mainly do desktop computing, and lots of it, but pretty much all I ever need are four "apps": the shell, a browser, an email client, and Emacs. That's what I use 95% of the time. Then a PDF viewer, OpenOffice.org, and every now and then the Gimp or Inkscape. So basically, 10 apps is all I need, too.

But at the same time, if I scroll through synaptics there are many, many packages that I have installed over the years. Most of them I probably used only once or twice, unless they're libraries. But for those couple of times, it was great having the "ecosystem" to get them with a simple click.

So I suppose it's always a mixture: the 10 apps you use 95% of the time should rock. But the remaining 5% should be painless, too.

FYI, as the N9 is based on Debian, most of the programs you mentioned should run on it. I use OpenOffice.org and The Gimp occasionally on my phone if I really need to (the 3.5" screen is not ideal but it works).

Cool! Is it possible to attach a screen, a mouse and a keyboard to a Smartphone? That should be fun...

Phones that support USB host (or USB on the go) could have a keyboard / mouse. I've done that with my N900. I don't think the N9 supports USB host out of the box but I bet some enterprising hackers will get it working. The N9 also has TV out (but not HDMI).

You could, alternatively, connect the keyboard / mouse via USB. Nokia's N8 has USB host and HDMI out but runs the Symbian platform. Here's a demo of the N8 connected to a TV & a keyboard / mouse: http://dailymobile.se/2010/10/07/nokia-n8-hdmi-bluetooth-key...

That sounds mighty cool, thanks for the info.

Thinking about it, I guess my way of counting was a bit unfair: when I say "the shell" I didn't say that I use it to run lots of other programs from it. So I should probably include lots of stuff under /bin and /usr/bin that I use all the time without thinking about them as separate from the shell. Or what about "ssh"... I guess, perhaps desktop computing - especially when you're a hacker - is more different from (casually?) using a Smartphone than I first thought.

Mostly agree with David’s points. I have at least 30 apps on my iPhone. Of those, I use 5-6 on a regular basis, half of which were developed by Apple and came pre-installed.

The endless variety of the app store is impressive, but there’s so much cruft in there it’s beginning to feel more like an app Walmart. A large fraction are either redundant or slapped together to make a quick buck.

I’d trade the majority of my apps just to have more seamless interaction with those aspects of this device I find most useful; the camera app in particular. It’s perplexing that Apple has just now decided to allow us to use a volume button as a shutter. I’ll forgive that on the basis of the brilliant decision to add a camera shortcut on the lock screen — that is an example of the type of improvements that really make a difference in the everyday utility of these incredible pocket machines.

Whoever masters the art of making it easy for a five-fingered hand to effortlessly soar through those fundamental functions it’s difficult to imagine being without (phone, messaging, browser and camera in particular) is who will ultimately earn my dollar. /raaant

On my phone (Android) I regularly use Touchdown (Exchange email), GMail, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Google Talk, PdaNet, Google Maps, GPS Status, c:geo (geocaching), WeatherBug, Pomodroido, Wireless Tether and somewhat regularly use Evernote, Dropbox, and NXT Remote (drives LEGO bots).

On my iPod Touch besides the built-in apps I pretty regularly use Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Stanza (e-reader), YouVersion Bible, Evernote, PomodoroLE, iTalk, Skype, NYTimes, ESPN ScoreCenter, Opera Mini, VLC, and two of my company's own apps. I regularly play a few games: the Angry Birds line, StarDunk, Trainyard, HarborMaster, LEGO Harry Potter, Dungeon Raid, Words With Friends and Carcassonne. Every couple of weeks I use Yelp, Urban Spoon, Geocaching, and Wolfram Alpha.

My phone is a bit crippled due to slow speed and lack of space or else I'd use a more apps there. I pretty much grab every interesting iOS app that I see and give it a try.

I don't _need_ apps.

But why would I switch from a phone that has apps for Spotify, real time updates for local buses, Facebook and Twitter to one that doesn't?

I know it's not really the point but the N9 has a Facebook / Twitter client built in. There's a few Spotify clients already for Maemo (what the N9 is based on) so I expect there to be at least one before the N9 launches.

The problem is everyone has a different 10 apps they "need" and even if you figure only 1% of apps fall into that category for someone, there's still a lot of value in a platform of 200k apps.

What monastic wrote:

* I feel like he's missing the point of an ecosystem. It's fine that he only uses a few apps on his phone, and that most other people probably do the same. The problem is that those "few apps" that most other people use aren't the same "few apps" that he uses. *

All the arguments against this are arguments made by people not willing to step out of their own perspective.

1) The particular apps that are critical vary per person. 2) The number of such critical apps vary per person. 3) The weight given to these apps when valuing the iPhone varies per person.

Most importantly - in a system where iPhone is already as good or better (or if you have religion of openness, a little worse) than nearly every other phone - the apps become a huge advantage.

He doesn't use his phones for games at all. I think that is a fairly common use among those who buy apps.

This is why Windows Phone is so much better than the competition. It integrates all of the most commonly used features in a smartphone into a simple, cohesive experience.

I'm taking a different read of this article, I guess. I view this not as a "who cares what phone I use, since I rarely use the 3rd party apps." I take this, and some other commenters do as well who have significant usage of some 3rd party apps (Netflix, Kindle, Instapaper, et al), as a challenge to build better apps that provide more functionality. Every time I look down at that 4" screen and think about all the things I can do with it, I still look at it and think, "Good lord, there is SO MUCH MORE we haven't even seen yet!" And it makes me want a whiteboard so I can start mapping out ideas.

There is still a huge amount of opportunity to create incredible apps. Social Media apps have been done every which way from Sunday, content apps as well, To-Do lists are certainly overdone, and basic note apps as well (though there are some unique innovations that could be done on note apps IMO). But look at those categories, compared to all the incredible things these devices can do? There are still big wins to be made in mobile app development, both native and browser-based.

DHH is probably right that most people only use a fraction of apps, and that should mean any phone could succeed versus the iPhone or Android phones. However, I doubt people are rational enough to realize this when they go out to buy their new smartphone.

Even though I only use ~10 apps on my iPhone and iPad, I'd be wary of buying into another platform that didn't offer the same breadth of choice.

Also the notion of using only a few apps doesn't apply to games, which is one of the killer features of smart phones. They are largely meant to be disposable, and you assume you'll be playing new ones periodically. I might keep 7 or 8 utility apps that I frequently use, but I've got a constantly rotating selection of about 1 or 2 games I'll play, and I'm not even much of a gamer.

John Gruber ran a series of posts about this for awhile, about how iOS had significantly better 3rd party game selection, and especially from larger brands

I think the compass is great. If you get out into the world sometimes and arent a gazzillionaire you can't use Google Maps even if you happen to have a signal. On my trip to Argentina for example a GB of roaming data was 15000 USD. In words fifteen thousand dollars. And if you didn't download an offline map back home, GPS is not going to help you much.

As many people have said the challenge is everyone's 10 apps are a bit different and that's why you need a big software catalog. This is especially true of games. You can only play Angry Birds so many times. There are hundreds of other really great iOS games out there. The author says he can live without playing Civilization but when the price tag for the phone and service is basically the same that's a tough sell. We also cannot underestimate the simple joy of consumption people get from buying/sampling different apps. A device that lacks this experience is always going to feel limited even if you spend 95% of your time in the same 10 apps it does provide.

It is interesting. I guess yesterday an article which compared the % of users using addons on firefox vs those on chrome. Firefox had the higher number. But its probably more of an indicator that chrome is reaching out to mainstream user base.

I don't think that the mobile platform domination will be decided by how many apps the platform has in the app store. Will it be dominated by the best platform that nails the core use cases best like iPhone as mentioned in above article ? Well maybe, it will.

But then it just might happen that the one with highest distribution channels will win the race.

The whole point of this is that there need be no race. If all you need to compete is to do the core set of 10 apps better than the other guy, it's completely doable. If you need a 200K app ecosystem, it's not.

OS X is a great example of this as well. I switched because it did the basics better than Windows back in the early 2000s. Back when it had virtually no apps and Windows had all of them.

Laptops are different for me because they're big enough and powerful enough to do non-trivial work. I use my phone for checking email and bus-stop web surfing but I have a Macbook instead of something running Ubuntu because I need Photoshop and Ableton Live.

The "few apps" he needs vary wildly person to person. Here are mine:

TweetBot, WakeMate, SimpleNote, Spotify, Meebo.

Additionally gaming is a primary category for platform growth, if you do not have a vast amount of good games you are stuffed.

Let's look at his 10 apps or more specifically what he didn't list. Would your phone/tablet experience be degraded without the following:






Video Calling

all games

Mine would be and there are many more that I use less but value highly. Barcode scanners, Fandango, White Noise, flight trackers, turn by turn, Word Lens, a whole suite of reference materials that work offline.

A browser can replace some of them, somewhat. Chrome's promise is to replace nearly all of them completely but that's not here yet and is really just moving the goalposts.

Today I may not need all of these apps but I love that I have them.

...and the main problem with that list is that 3 or 4 of them are proprietary platforms. So if Netflix or Amazon doesn't decide to support your platform, tough luck. You will never have access to your movies or books.

Reminds of that other saying about most users using only 10% of features in Microsoft Excel......it's just that every one uses a different 10% of features (or apps in this case) :)

I used to think I was this way about the iPhone too, but if I look at what apps I use constantly, it's more than 2: PCalc, Rdio, Remote, Instagram, RTM, Screens.

Curious – what do you use Screens for?

Controlling the Mac Mini under my TV.

I see, for the keyboard mostly? I always thought using a mouse over VNC on an iPhone seemed awkward.

It mostly drives Rdio.

This is the exact argument I make to others about why the app long tail is less important than you think. In fact I made the argument here:


You nail the basics as listed above, and have a basic app ecosystem and you're fine. Much like how the web neutralized the desktop OS advantage -- we'll see it happen even faster in mobile.

That is basically what Apple did with the iPhone. There were lots of apps for the other mobile platforms at the time, but the iPhone was simply in a different class.

The problem is that today, you have to come up with something that much better than the iPhone. If a Nokia phone and an iPhone are of comparable quality (which I think has yet to happen), but the iPhone also offers you access to a huge variety of apps, then why would you get the Nokia? It needs to be significantly better in some way.

I needs to be significantly better to gain mind share, not to market share.

I agree mostly with these 10 apps. Its why I hung onto my BlackBerry for so long. My jump to WP7 was mostly for the screen resolution and browser.

I'm not sure what the name is for this, but this is the same incorrect reasoning that lead to the idea that the russians could compete against capitalism with a planned economy. Just make the ten tractors and chicken plucking machines that everyone needs!

The only way the next really amazing app comes along that EVERYONE wants is for a seething ocean of developers churn through ideas fighting for users.

Maybe there is a niche for a not-so-smart phone: like a dumb phone, but with a usable web browser. I could live with a phone like that.

Microsoft tried that with the Kin.

The problem (at least one of the problems) was that it still cost as much as a real smartphone. Particularly, the monthly plans were still the same, which I think makes potential buyers pause and say something like: "If I'm going to be paying this much money per month, wouldn't it make sense to at least have the ability to use apps, even if I don't need them now".

The problem is that this phone would likely be on the same data plan as smart phones -- especially as HTML5 comes of age. So while the phone might be marginally cheaper (a 3GS is what, $49?), it'll still cost you the same amount per month. That makes it a non-starter.

That's largely what happened with the Kin. Of course the great untold story, is that the Kin is selling really well now -- as a feature phone.

The Chrome OS phone you mean? I'd be all over it.

I totally agree. A good cheap tablet (weblet?) like that would also be very useful to me.

That was the N800, a few years ago.

That's quite small (4 inches?). My ideal size would be that of the Kindle, like the HTC Flyer, but not as stupidly expensive.

I don't agree with the premise. If Apple had nailed the basics, why there are still many popular apps for camera, weather, clocks, photos and maps?

I also take issue with the fact that just because someone uses a few apps 95% of the time, they don't need other apps. Some apps are really valuable only in some circumstances like when you want to know how to go to an obscure place.

To be sure, most people just want facebook, pandora and most especially angry birds. But can I get every episode of Top Chef or the latest Golf Digest on the N9 (or even Android)? I think access to content within iTunes is more compelling than the 200k apps. And it seems to be what Apple is betting on.

Andorid's biggest failing to me is the lack of a coherent killer e-mail, calendar and integrated IM experience. Out of the box you have a carrier crippled experience or the google locked in experience. Even Win7 get's that right. Conversely you will pry my Incredible 2 from my cold dead hands.

I'm not sure I agree that the app ecosystem doesn't matter, but one thing is for sure, there are way too many app stores being launched and most of them suck.

Certainly it would make sense to focus on the core user experience first instead of some half-baked attempt to confront to out do Apple's whole platform.

But it's the same for non-mobile platforms. I only use 10 applications on my computer, too, and I try to avoid platforms that don't have these. Of course, one might argue that everyone needs the same apps on a smartphone (telephony, messaging, notes...) but why not use a regular phone, then?

Variety is also good. Just because you know you love these ten apps doesn't mean you want to be confined to them. I have 350 apps on my ipod, I only use five weekly, but if I had to stay entertained for a few days I'd play all 100+ games. I'd still prefer my Kindle.

The reason that 200,000 apps is huge is not because all 200,000 benefit a single user; rather it's because 200,000 apps enables millions of people to write this exact same post, but substitute Echofon and Bloomberg (his 2 daily use apps) with App X and App Y.

This reminds me very much of Navin R. Johnson. Not only just in phrasing, but also the attitude that he'll be "just fine" with his few apps.


Nevertheless, the support for Alien Dalvik[1] might help.

[1]: http://www.slashgear.com/nokia-n9-android-app-support-promis...

What? It's a bit strident for the sake of it. "Fuck the platform" then ... "they nailed the basics" ... that's essentially the platform too, I say.

The platform as a whole matters a lot less than the exclusivity of its best apps.

The problem is, which 10 varies from person to person.

I suspect that in a few years there'll only be two (native) apps: Making phonecalls + webbrowser. (yes the webbrowser will also play mp3s and talk to the camera to take pictures)

Why couldn't the web browser also make phone calls?

but everyone needs a different ten!

I liked my Palm IIIx (1999) better than my Android. That's not to say it was better, just that its simple, snappy, tightly integrated set of base apps helped me be more productive. My Android, which comes with nothing very useful, makes me unproductive.

PDAs were great time savers whereas 'smart' phones are great ways to get ads in front of people. :-)

What amazes me is that from what I can tell no modern mobile platform allows you to sync contact info as seamlessly as IRDA did in '99. I had a Palm V, but I could point the thing at my friends' Nokias and get their numbers in seconds.

The closest thing I've seen is Bump, which is cool but nowhere near as immediate. Plus it's a 3rd-party install.

For what it's worth, in Japan it's 100% standard to exchange virtual contact info via IR. Every time I witnessed a meeting of new acquaintances, people would automatically begin to form circles and exchange contact info. It's so cheap and effective, it really does make you wonder why it's so rare on American phones.

The only electronic contact exchange I've ever witnessed in the US was between Googlers using 2D barcodes. I've never seen anyone use IR or Bluetooth.

N9 is fucked, not just because of the lack of third party devs developing for the MeeGo platform.

As per Engadget, Nokia plans to have N9 on sale on Sept 23, right after the iPhone5 launch and several Android, WebOS and Mango phones that will be released between now and then.

Sounds like bringing Knife to a Gunfight? The processor underneath the N9 is already dated and they think releasing end of third quarter was a sound idea? WTF?

Not to mention the Meego team has a limited time left at Nokia. From what I've read Meego will run Android apps via the Dalvic JVM. If that were the case I would rather run the leaner Meego than Android.

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