Sep 22, 2012Science and Technology
Software is the key to the future of tech

The Apple App store brought $2 billion in revenue in the last quarter.What's a good gadget with no apps? 

In a world where people increasingly use their mobile phones for everything but making phone calls, this is a highly material question. For the second quarter of 2012, Apple made nearly $2 billion off of the App Store. While a small portion of the overall revenue of $35 billion, the money isn't peanuts, even for a company like Apple. 

The software market will only continue to grow as more people use smartphones and as the possibilities of the app become more apparent. This is an industry effectively in its infancy. Two years ago, apps were something that forward-thinking tech aficionados used. Today, just about everyone with a smartphone uses at least one app that didn't come on their phone. Whether planning a meal, a road trip or an exercise routine, apps have greatly simplified the way that international consumers live their lives. 

Still, merely getting in on the ground floor isn't enough. You probably remember a day when "BlackBerry" was as synonymous with "smartphone" as "iPhone" is today. Everyone who has a BlackBerry that wasn't provided by your employer, raise your hand. RIM has had trouble keeping up with the times and despite the fact that, anecdotally, most people prefer a physical keyboard to a touch screen, iOS- and Android-based phones thrive. The reason is clearly software. Asking whether an App comes for iOS or Android is quickly becoming a non-sequitor. Not so much when it comes to asking if the app is available for BlackBerry, which desperately needs a game changer to remain relevant. It's attempted alliance with Marmalade might be too little, too late. If the history of tech teaches us once thing it's that the perception of falling behind the times is cancerous to a business. Windows 8 is a multi-platform operating system Microsoft hopes will increase the appeal of its mobile devices.

This is perhaps why it is easier to start a new OS than it is to revamp your old one. Acceptance of an OS on a mass scale requires some degree of consumer trust. This trust has an "easy come, easy go" quality about it. Witness the potential next player on the OS market, Mozilla. The Firefox browser is one of the world's most popular, though it is less popular than it used to be, with Google Chrome making massive inroads and many long-time users jumping ship. Still, Mozilla needs what every previous smartphone operating system vendor had at some point: It's "It" moment, the period of time where a product is ubiquitous in the media to the point of irritation. 

One problem: It's not clear that there are going to be any more "it" moments for smartphone operating systems. Apple is a giant and those who want to play David to its Goliath have largely lined up behind Android due to its ease of development. Still, the ghosts of pundits past once made similar claims about Apple being able to break into the smartphone market. While we have some indicators of what it takes, only time will tell if Mozilla will be able to repeat the old Apple magic of coming out of nowhere and taking tech by storm. Or for that matter if BlackBerry will be able to repeat Apple's return from the grave. 

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