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On the Evolution of the App

Tracy Vides, @tracyvides

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There's an app for that. And for this. The word "app" has taken left, right and center of our lives – it was voted Word of the Year 2010 by the American Dialect Society. Ever since they were featured in their present avatar in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone, our fascination with apps shows no signs of abating.

Today there are close to 6 million apps on various platforms, creating our to-do lists, being our personal wellness coaches, entertaining us, helping us navigate through town, warning us of imminent storms, buying and paying for things, and scheduling our lives.

The evolution of apps has had a dramatic effect in the way modern workplaces have evolved. Workplaces have become digital and apps have been developed to help us make "digital working" possible. Worldwide mobile subscriptions have increased from 11 per 100 people in 2000 to close to 100 per 100 in 2016. With more than 4.5 billion mobile phone users in the world, the notion of "working on the go" has taken a whole new meaning.

The thin line between "work" and "life"

Apps have been instrumental in the rise of the BYOD phenomenon. Apps are syncing corporate and personal accounts, and allowing employees to use the corporate network seamlessly, securely, and with ease. Apps are blurring the lines between the personal and professional lives of people. This has only helped increase productivity and create happier employees.

Companies have now moved beyond "developing a business app" – they're looking at setting up enterprise app stores to distribute internally developed apps to employees, vendors and partners. Such are the growing popularity and tangible benefits of enterprise apps that according to a Gartner study, 25% of enterprises are likely to have their own app stores by 2017. This underlines how apps have brought about a paradigm shift in the way we work and live.

In today's "always connected" age, apps have made work, play and life synonymous. While some may complain that we have lost the "off switch" and can never really be "off the grid," you might see it from the other perspective – your life also spills over to your work. Experts might argue the details all they like, but it is the prerogative of the individual to balance work and life. Technology can only give an individual a choice, it can't make it for them.

The dots on the line

No aspect of business has been left untouched by apps. The internet has revolutionized the way business is being done the world over by dissolving geographical, political, and economic boundaries. Basement businesses are selling products and services to clients from Mexicali to Muzaffarabad. And apps are helping businesses receive payments from remote clients.

Due, for instance, is a completely free digital wallet and payment processor that allows all kinds of businesses – from freelancers to consultants, from designers to bakers – to get paid. The credit card processing rate is 2.7% for all card types and the company claims that if you can find a lower rate, they're happy to beat it.

Such guarantees and simple terms are typical of modern day SaaS apps, making it easier for individuals and companies to do business with each other.

Task scheduling is another category where apps are ubiquitous. Moiety, for example, is a scheduler that allows people to follow each other through every stage of their lives. It lets users create personalized groups called "crews" and customize events and places for each crew. Crews can be open or private. Users can also create recurring events so as to do away with the need for regular notifications.

It's easy to see how Moiety can be used not only for work (with team assignments, collaboration, tracking and task management) but also on a personal level (for informal communication and event planning among family members and friends).

Another app that takes personalization to the next level and creates unlimited possibilities from existing apps is IFTTT (rhymes with "gift") – IF This Then That. With IFTTT, anyone can use the power of interconnected and integrated apps to create simple "recipes" for a repetitive task they'd like to perform.

For example, if you want to tweet Instagram pictures as native photos on twitter, or automatically save every photo you share on Facebook to your Dropbox, IFTTT makes it a breeze. If you can think of any digital task that could happen only if you knew how to make apps talk to each other, it's very likely this amazing app has already made it happen.

That apps could build a foundation for the next big revolution in biology was only a matter of time. When Steve Jobs predicted that the "biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology," he was foreseeing the beginning of a new era. Today, biohacking apps like Peak, Lumosity and Sleep Cycle are helping us know ourselves better to realize our biological potential. This is the next stage in personal wellness – performance tracking apps are helping individuals quantify and optimize bio-hacks according to their body type.

So, what next?

The evolution of apps has been nothing short of fantastic. The beauty of the process of evolution is that it is continuous. So what is deemed as the future today will be a trend tomorrow and history the day after.

Even though the world wide mobile web is thought of as all-pervasive, poor connectivity and older generation networks still plague many geographies, be it developing or developed. This has led to developers seeking to make apps work offline. Offline first is a strategy where the apps' crucial features are able to function even when there is no internet signal.

Parting thoughts

Humans seek simplicity in complexity; we are inherently wired to do that. With all the complex technologies that we put to use in developing apps, our primary objective is to make our lives relatively easy.

App development started with helping us perform simple jobs like keeping track of time. It now touches every aspect of our lives – be it work or play. With smartphones acquiring more computing power and hardware capabilities with every passing day, we can surely expect more complex apps that do just about everything for us!

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