Getting smart amongst the current avalanche of apps.

AS THE iPhone 4 makes itself comfortable on store shelves around the world, and with the Apple Store celebrating the sale of its three millionth iPad back in June, smartphones and tablet computers are currently enjoying an unprecedented surge in popularity worldwide.

This activity sees consumers and developers alike submerged in a frenzy of applications designed to bring a multitude of different conveniences and distractions to the palm of your hand. Since opening a little more than two years ago, Apple’s online App Store has swiftly become the focal point of this activity, with over 250,000 applications currently on offer – boasting an astonishing 6.5 billion downloads.

Riding the crest of public enthusiasm, some 50,000 developers at Apple are working hard to ensure the flow of new apps will not cease anytime soon, boasting over 600 submissions every day. Not to be outdone, Google’s Android Marketplace has around 70,000 apps available for handsets that run on the Android operating system.

What is smart?

Offering more advanced computing ability than an ordinary phone, the first smartphone to really capture the public’s attention was the Nokia 9000 model in 1996, replete with a multitude of functions beyond standard phone calls that could comfortably fit in your (large) pocket.

With the arrival of the iPhone in stores in 2007, however, people were soon thrilled to find their friends busying themselves with pretending to drink beer from a virtual pint glass with iBeer; in between keeping vigil with their Virtual Zippo and wrestling with the intelligence of iFart.

Seeking to exploit this convenient connectivity, amongst these initial apps are also included shortcuts to the news and weather alongside applications from popular websites such as YouTube and Facebook.

Applying oneself

Nowadays, according to 148Apps, the website that covers all things to do with applications, each release carries an average price tag of around 1.67 dollars.

“With the proliferation of smartphones, people want to see more value for their money in good content for their devices,” states Ville Heijari, VP Public Relations of Helsinki-based computer game developer Rovio. “Easy access to attractively priced apps encourages app consumption.”

Gamers have been swift to move, with companies offering a range of entertainment devoid of the hefty price tag carried by standard boxed games. The recent success of Rovio’s Angry Birds application has highlighted the growing popularity of the medium, boasting sales of 6.5 million copies, with its initial free version downloaded over 11 million times in more than 60 countries.

“Angry Birds has universal appeal for people of any age and gender,” continues Heijari. “The combination of instantly accessible controls, the physics-based gameplay that anyone can relate to and the lovable, personal characters has proved to be an irresistible concept.”

“The success of the iTunes app store has paved the way for every major manufacturer and operator moving towards providing their own application marketplace,” he explains.

Consumers now also enjoy a wide range of unorthodox applications on offer including The Sleep Cycle alarm clock – a bio-alarm clock that analyses your sleep patterns and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase. App fans can also busy themselves with toilet finder Have2P, or even tune their guitar if they have one – or learn to play a virtual one via PocketGuitar for 99 cents.

Somewhat less obscure, the ReittiGPS application brings the ever-useful Reittiopas journey planner to your mobile phone, along with the free Hei Finland application – the handy Finnish language assistance application originating from France.

“A dictionary is fine, but a tool for how to pronounce Finnish language is particularly necessary for foreigners,” explains Pia Setälä, Cultural Project Officer at the Finnish Embassy in Paris. “We have done Hei Finland to promote our language, which is unknown and strange. We also wanted to be present in smartphones, but in a useful way.”

“The demand for
apps continues
to skyrocket.”

The future is sold

As the demand for applications continues to skyrocket, online whispers have also begun foretelling the end of the internet in the near future. But such tolling of the death bells seems somewhat premature, just yet.

“I believe we will see numerous brands and IP emerging on different mobile platforms, and then moving on beyond apps,” states Heijari.

And what future plans for the company? “Rovio is dedicated to taking over the world with lots and lots more of Angry Birds,” he proclaims.

James O’Sullivan