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Everything you should know about the appification of OS X and Windows 8

Have you noticed the appification happening all round us? On your smartphone you have apps, whether it runs Android, iOS, Windows Phone, or some other OS. On your computer you have applications, at least for now. You will, however, soon use apps on your computer as well, regardless of whether you use a Mac or a Windows PC. Both Apple and Microsoft are moving full steam ahead on what we call the appification of software.

But with at least one software manufacturer already declaring that its software is “full software, not an app,” will there be a backlash, and what does it all mean for you?

What is “appification”?

First of all, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus to fall back on concerning what appification really means.

Research firm IDC talks about appification as the trend in which we gather more and more functionality in apps rather than the web and other ways of supporting the same functionality; basically capturing real life in apps. “Mobile app developers will ‘appify’ just about every interaction you can think of in your physical and digital worlds,” said a VP at IDC.

We see appification as the movement away from all-in-one software packages to smaller, independent, distinct, software apps, which cost nothing or very little. Such apps are downloaded over the Internet from some form of app store, they can be automatically and transparently updated on the fly, and each app serves a very particular purpose. In reference to what Apple is doing, this has been called “iOS-ification.”

Of course, some of these characteristics of an app, can also be applied to software packages like Microsoft Office. And some of these software packages end up in app stores. For example, Apple has published its Final Cut Pro X software in its Mac App Store, but the bundle that used to be Final Cut Studio is now available in its parts, not as a bundle. In the same way, iWork as a bundle seems to be on its way out, and users have to buy Pages, Keynote, and Numbers separately, both for Mac OS X and iOS.

Apple kicked off the appification

The word app has been around much longer than smartphones and tablets. We used to, and still do, talk about applications, and there’s also the expression “killer applications.”

But it’s arguably with the arrival of the iPhone and the iOS App Store, just a few years ago, that the expression has become common among consumers. Actually, if you use Google Trends to look at “app, apps,” it’s clear that the expressions became commonplace in 2008, right around the time Apple introduced the App Store.

With 64 million iOS devices in total sold in Q4 2011, Apple Inc. has clearly led the way in this process. So far over 25 billion iOS apps have been downloaded from Apple.

In comparison, Apple’s Mac App Store opened just over a year ago and has in its first year reached 100 million downloads. That may seem impressive, but the App Store for iOS managed the same feat in its first three months, in 2008.

Mobile apps, which is where appification started, compared to the software applications we run on our computers are typically simpler in scope, often focused on a very specific task or set of tasks. We predict that the same will be true with apps running on computers as is already evident from the Mac App Store.

The delivery mechanism is also different because apps we purchase and download from app stores instead of buying a CD or DVD, like was commonplace just a few years ago. For sure, traditional software for computers is also increasingly downloaded and installed rather than bought in a box, in a store, but for apps, it’s a completely online process.

To sum up so far, appification means:

  • That apps are typically simple or narrow in scope, often focused on a very specific task or set of tasks.
  • Apps are delivered over the Internet.
  • Apps are often free or cheap, and increasingly in-app purchases are used to drive revenue.
  • There are no upgrade prices for apps. Either a new version is free or you pay the full price again.

Windows is also going the appification way

With the announcement of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion it’s clear that Apple is taking the desktop OS in the direction of the mobile OS, rather than the other way around. It even clearly says so right there in the press release: the update “brings popular apps and features from iPad to the Mac and accelerates the pace of OS X innovation.” You can note that the new OS does not even have “Mac” in its name.

The same thing seems to be happening with the upcoming Windows 8 OS from Microsoft, whose Metro user interface comes from the tile-based interface of Windows Phone 7. So also Microsoft is taking a mobile OS over to the desktop, rather than the other way around, at least in terms of the interface.

But, like in the case of Apple, the appification of Windows 8 goes deeper than that.

When Redmond first showed off Windows 8 in 2011, it also demoed the Windows Store. There will be both the traditional types of Windows apps as well as Metro apps in the Windows Store, according to Microsoft. However, for Metro apps, the Windows Store will be the only distribution mechanism.

And when releasing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in late February 2012, Microsoft made good on its promise to open the Windows Store to the public.

This also means that Microsoft, as well as Apple, Google, and others, will have more control over the software we use because they decide what to allow in to their stores. In other words, they control the distribution mechanism, as well as the all-important payment mechanism. Perhaps, there will be less choice for us as customers but – at least Apple would argue this – that the experience for users, in the end, is better.  But with almost 600,000 apps available in the iOS App Store, can you really argue there is not enough choice?

Microsoft has also said that there will be an approval process in place, presumably similar to what the company is already doing with Windows Phone apps in its Marketplace, and what Apple is doing with both its App Stores.

To add to our list, appification means:

  • Apps can only be downloaded from official app store for a particular platform.
  • Apps are vetted by the company running the official app store before they are included in the store’s catalog and made available to users.
  • That you’re locked in to one platform. There’s little if any likelihood that developers will offer cross-platform licenses for apps.

The appification backlash is also here, of course

We think appification is overall good for users. The selection of apps is already very broad, for mobile platforms as well as for computers. And since apps will be distributed through official channels and vetted before being made available, there should be fewer problems with malware.

And we think this appification is inevitable at this point, and not everyone is happy about it. A German software company, Marcel Bresink Software-Systeme, seem to be at the forefront of fighting back against this appification. It proudly displays a badge on its site claiming “Full software, not an app! Definitely not available on the App Store.” Furthermore, the company writes: “Software products branded with our badge shown above identify applications which are too powerful to be sold on Apple’s Mac App Store.”

This will be an interesting process going forward, that much is clear. For customers– read users– we think it will overall be for the better, but we also think that there will be companies, developers, and users that won’t fit into this new environment.

Apps are a key component in the post-PC era

Appification is just another example of the “post-PC era,” which Steve Jobs proclaimed in 2010 had already arrived, and Apple will keep pushing ahead in that direction.

We think, as users we just have to get used to this appification because it’s only going to increase in the coming years, whether we like it or not. But just as true, be it Marcel Bresink Software-Systeme or others, there will be a backlash to the appification of computer software, which is just in its infancy.

Here at Pingdom, all Mac users already get most of their apps from the Mac App Store, and later this year the same may be true for the Windows users, as well.

What do you think, is this appification inevitable? Is it a good thing, or should we, like Bresink Software-Systeme, fight it?

Apps picture via Shutterstock.