Can you remember when Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone a little over a decade ago? If you can, you probably remember the incredible impact that the iPhone had on the tech industry. Immediately, every other phone looked hopelessly obsolete – and the funny thing is that, in the beginning, the iPhone couldn’t actually do very much. You couldn’t install software on it, so all of the built-in functionality came from the iPhone’s included applications. Third-party “apps” were just shortcuts to websites. It didn’t take long for Apple to introduce the App Store, though, and the rest was history.
Today, we have two major smartphone platforms – iOS and Android – and each platform has its own diverse selection of millions of apps. You can find anything ranging from productivity apps to games. The real magic, though, is the fact that the software developers of the world have used mobile apps to make smartphones useful in entirely new ways. Through mobile apps, developers have given smartphones a range of new uses that would be impossible to implement in the same way on traditional computers.
What are the incredible new uses that software developers will add to smartphones in the future? To get an idea of what might be on the way, take a look at what the top developers have already done. These are three of the most innovative features of today’s mobile apps.
Central Control and Monitoring for Smart Homes
These days, it’s possible to connect a huge variety of items in your home to your local area network – and if your current home isn’t built from the ground up to take advantage of smart home technology, it’s likely that your next home will be. What are the items in your home that you can potentially connect to your network for control and monitoring? The answer these days is “just about everything.” You can find networkable lights, power outlets, thermostats, door locks, cameras and more – and you can control all of those things via apps on your smartphone.
There was a point where it was beginning to feel as though some companies were merely manufacturing network-connected devices for the sake of having additional selling points for those devices. As the Internet of Things has matured, though, developers have come up with more and more use cases for those devices. Here are just a few of the scenarios that are possible in a modern smart home.
- You stream a movie on the TV in your living room. The movie has a pre-programmed routine that causes the lights in your home to change in brightness and color in response to certain scenes.
- A delivery person knocks at your door while you’re at work. You receive a notification on your phone, and a real-time video feed appears on the screen. You tap a button to unlock your front door, allowing the driver to leave the package inside your home. The door automatically re-locks itself when the driver leaves.
- You receive a notification on your phone warning you that your home’s power consumption has increased unexpectedly. Your air conditioner is the source of the increased power consumption. You investigate the problem and determine that it’s time to replace the air filter. The air conditioner’s power consumption returns to normal, and you save money.
Internet-connected devices in the home have only become more useful in recent years, and you have mobile apps to thank for the existence of any of those features.
Simplified Control for Consumer Devices
In some types of consumer devices, feature creep has started to become a major problem. Manufacturers are very cognizant of the fact that a longer bullet list of features can be an important selling point that convinces consumers to buy one product rather than a competing product. The problem with feature creep, though, is that consumers often don’t even know how to access many of the features in the products they buy. It can be difficult to learn how dry herb vaporizers work, for instance, without reading a lengthy instruction manual.
How can a manufacturer solve the problem of feature creep and make it easier for users to control complex devices? One way is by adding a touch screen to the device. That’s expensive, though, and it isn’t practical for all types of devices. Another way is by adding a Bluetooth module to the device and creating a mobile app that allows the device to be controlled by a smartphone. Smartphone control has become increasingly popular for all sorts of consumer devices, and that trend isn’t likely to change.
Immediate Product Delivery
Can you remember what life was like before you could order just about anything from your phone for immediate delivery? Neither can we – and yet, the ability to tap on your phone and have almost anything dropped at your door is still a relatively new thing. It started with ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft and progressed to food delivery services like DoorDash and Grubhub. Now, services like Postmates will deliver just about any product to your door. You can even use a mobile app to locate and hire professional service providers like plumbers, painters and electricians.
Of the three innovative features of mobile apps described in this article, immediate product delivery is the one with the least certain future. Real-time delivery of online orders isn’t a new idea, and it’s an idea that has struggled to find profitability ever since the days of the dot-com boom. Webvan and Kosmo are two examples of real-time delivery services that launched during the late 1990s, and those two companies ended up becoming some of the highest-profile failures when the dot-com bubble finally burst.
These days, speculation by venture capitalists and retail investors has begun to make the current tech industry feel a bit like a second dot-com bubble. Though companies like Uber are earning more revenue than Webvan and Kosmo could have ever dreamed of – and we have mobile apps and ubiquitous Internet access to thank for that – profitability remains elusive. Uber, Lyft, Postmates, DoorDash and Grubhub are all still losing money and are only surviving because of the investment capital they’re continuing to raise.
It’s possible that self-driving vehicles and drone deliveries will allow those companies to become profitable in the future, although the readiness of those technologies for everyday use is sometimes greatly overstated. When automated deliveries are finally ready for prime time, though, you can bet that smartphones will be at the center of the picture.