The people who are consuming software now are a vast superset of the people who used to do so. At one time, especially on the Mac, we’d see people chose software based upon how well it suited their requirements to get a job done. This new generation of software consumers isn’t like that – they’re less likely to shop around for something rather they shop around for anything. These are people who want to be entertained as much as they want to have their requirements met.
Guy English’s thoughts on what he calls “Pop Software” mirror a lot of my own recent thoughts about the iPhone App Store, and why, in so many cases, the qualities that make people successful Mac developers are unhelpful (and possibly even harmful) in the iPhone market.
Unlike English, I’ve never really been involved in creating games or what you might call “novelty” applications. I learned my trade in the old school worlds of indie Mac software and Silicon Valley engineering, both of which are very focused on creating utility, maintaining quality, and ensuring correctness.
Since I’ve lived in New York, though, I’ve been exposed to a subtly different breed of software developer—one that thinks of software less in terms of utility and more as media. I think I first realized this when my friends at Magnetism Studios told me they were putting out a series of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as iPhone apps. It surprised me that that they had managed to make that happen, mainly, I think, because it would never have occurred to me to simply call the company and ask if they wanted to do a publishing deal! But it occurred to them, because they’re used to thinking of software as media.
Traditional “utility” software isn’t going away, but I think English is correct that the App Store has turned native application software into a mass medium, like the web. Perhaps this will change as mobile web technology becomes more viable for a broader range of applications and the overall market matures beyond its novelty phase, but for now, those who think of applications as content will continue to rule the App Store.