17: Plastic for all

There's been a lot of talk over the past week about wooden apps — and it hasn't been about skeuomorphic renderings of bookshelves. No, it's been in reference to Rene Ritchie's excellent article on the role of indie developers in today's App Stores — if you haven't read it, definitely take the few minutes to. The main hypothesis is that indie apps are the hand-carved wooden toys of our era: once the best quality available, but now a curiosity or artistic endeavor, not a moneymaker.

I, like Rene, hope that this isn't true, especially since many early iOS indies were major innovators. I don't see the iPhone in 2016 as being the pinnacle of mobile software interaction, with no room for improvement, and I can't imagine that Apple would disagree with me. The market has shifted, and will continue to do so, but as a consumer I just want a marketplace where I can put a certain portion of my budget towards art — the wooden apps — and another portion towards reliable practical goods. But is that the plastic?

If we are witnessing a sea change on par with an "Industrial Revolution of apps", who are the giants of the new industry? Yes, big players can put out free apps that are mere conduits to the "real products", their services. But unless they hold true monopoly sway (or even if they do), those apps need attention too. The Google Docs apps are the current punching bag for poor app maintenance, and the reaction is merited. Google apps are relied upon for serious work; while wood is no good for modern play, flimsy plastic is no good for modern work.

Where then, are the steel, aluminum, or even carbon fiber apps? Premium products featuring the latest technology, that those willing to go above and beyond the basics would readily seek out — you know, a bit like Apple's hardware. It's a question that Apple observers keep asking: can it possibly be the case that of hundreds of millions of Apple platform users, only a vanishingly small slice would pay for sleek software? It seems paradoxical, like the math should make for clear opportunities. Perhaps they're not opportunities for those only armed with a block of wood and a chisel. Hopefully Apple will give guidance and support for a new class of app artisans with new skills and new materials. It can only stand to strengthen their economy — the App Store economy is their creation after all — and improve the quality of the digital lives of their customers.