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Speed Magazine

Apps and downs

Apps and downs
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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]pple is giving away a cool US$10,000 gift card to the lucky user who becomes the lucky 50 billionth downloader at (or entry sender to) the App Store.

Wrap your mind around that figure. Fifty billion. That’s 5 followed by 10 zeroes. The late Steve Jobs’ mega company likes to harp on how incredibly big that number is. Apple says that with 50,000,000,000 steps, you could circle the earth 800 times; with 50,000,000,000 bricks, you could build 12 Great Walls of China; and it would take you 1,600 years to count from one up to the aforementioned number.

Well, that figure is about to be breached in the next few weeks (probably even before you laid eyes on the June issue of Speed). That’s how popular downloading apps has been.

Apps. It used to be called by its formal name: application software or mobile applications. When phones started to smarten up like PCs, handset makers started shoveling applications into them. Beyond a calculator and the much beloved Snake game of Nokia, competition doubtless played no small part to, well, app-ing the ante.

Along with the development of the first iPhone in 2007, third-party developers started jail-breaking the smartphone to code in their own apps, much to Jobs’ consternation. Still, the writing on the wall was clear: adapt or perish. The curtains opened for the App Store in 2008, “officially introducing third-party application development and distribution to the platform.”

Today, there are more than 800,000 applications on the App Store—from which Apple rakes in a hefty 30 percent commission per paid download. There is a dizzying number of app categories which I will list here for better appreciation: business, developer tools, education, entertainment, finance, games, graphics and design, health and fitness, lifestyle, medical, music, news, photography, productivity, reference, social networking, sports, travel, utilities, video, and (whew) weather.

That basically means every aspect of your life can go under the app gun.

Is this a good thing? Well, it depends, I suppose. If apps help you schedule your day, help you get to your destination, give you a heads up on traffic, help you monitor your sugar, then that’s well and good, right?

But if these apps merely serve to lessen human interaction—doing nothing to improve our minds and soul—then I say we dispense with them.

Now don’t take this treatise of sorts the wrong way. I am not averse to this age of iOS and Android. In fact, I rather fancy all this information-at-your-fingertips ability afforded to a greater number of us. Lost? Check Google Maps. Looking for a nearby bank or restaurant? Fire up AroundMe and get tips quick.

I hardly see a coin-operated payphone anymore, and don’t even remember the last time I heard someone looking for one of them.

Sometime ago, at a press conference organized by a mobile broadband network, one of its executives insisted he never guessed he’d live to see the day people would be making a whole bunch of money out of intangible apps.

“Maybe code will be taught elementary students in the near future,” opined a member of the press. Highly likely, if you ask me.

As the world marches to greater Internet penetration, increased smartphone ownership, and, yes, 50 billion app downloads, we should hit the “pause” button and look back at how far we’ve gone.

Far from the days of pagers and analog phones, we have gotten better at not only connecting with one another but, as so eloquently opined by Robin Williams’ character John Keating on Dead Poets Society, at sucking the marrow out of life. Inspired apps have started to do that for us—to make us live vicariously.

The world has gotten much smaller as we crisscross the oceans on budget fares. Clutching our phones on roaming, we confidently set foot on foreign soil, and make a beeline for the best buys in the best places.

Loved ones we leave behind are but a FaceTime call away, and we have the ability to share every bit of our journey—not just the weather—with them. It’s the time of apps, all right, and they, in turn, have given rise to every imaginable gadget faster than you can say “Wi-Fi.”

Still, Candy Crush aside, applications must be run by people, and not the other way around. And I also remember the insightful John Keating saying, “Sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.”

Words Kap Maceda Aguila

First published in Speed June 2013


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