The future of apps?

While it is Sunday evening here in Minnesota, it is Monday morning in Australia, where the MTEC conference is underway.  Barbara Freedman ( is attending and presenting at the conference, and tweeted a quote from Dr. James Frankel ( who presented a session on cloud computing for music educators.

At the current time, the entire iOS experience is based on the app experience (and you could make the case this is true for Android, too). Could apps be obsolete in five years, 2018?

Certainly, the entire computing experience could become web-based, such as the Google Chromebook.  This is hard to comprehend in 2013, when the Chromebook is not a complete computing experience.  I know this because I own one.  But five years of technological advancement should certainly yield a better web-based experience that what we have today.

Perhaps Steve Jobs saw this trend before anyone else, as the original iPhone had no App Store and no second-hand apps. All “apps” were web-based (Here is a list of web apps that you can still visit).  But later the App Store appeared, and today the App Store is a huge business for developers and Apple.  Could all devices (including “traditional computers”) go 100% web-based in the future?  We already have web-based programs for “traditional computers,” such as those offered by Music First, as well as Office 365 and Google Docs.  Could these services make apps obsolete?

Certainly, it could happen.  But I’m skeptical.

First, wi-fi (or wireless data) would have to be ubiquitous and low cost.  Everyone would need to be connected all the time.  I drive from the Twin Cities of Minnesota to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area on a regular basis.  A large portion of that road (I-94) is a major highway that only has EDGE coverage from AT&T.  This has been the case for the last four years that I have owned an iPhone.   How are we going to get affordable wi-fi or wireless data everywhere if we can’t get it on a major highway (I’ve been told the service on that road is the same for most cell carriers)?

Second, developers need to get paid.  There are some developers who offer their work for free, such as the developers of open source software like MuseScore.  Most developers, however, want to benefit financially from their work (so do you and I).  This means that web-based programs will either be based on subscriptions or ad-supported.  While you may choose to pay for some of your services, or deal with ads from others, there is a point at which consumers will tire of endless subscriptions.  One of the benefits of the app store is the fact that (for most apps) you can buy it once and it is yours (actually, the license agreement is more complicated than that, but for the sake of simplicity, you buy the app which gives you the right to use it).  There is a problem with the current app store where all updates are free–and this is simply not sustainable over time.  At some point, Apple will have to allow for an App Store 2.0 so that developers can re-sell their (greatly updated) apps and continue to benefit financially from the process.  Most users will be happy to pay for that second generation of apps, knowing the bargain that the App Store represents.  Consumers will NOT want to pay continual fees for all the apps that they use.

Third, HTML 5 has to improve a great deal before it can offer apps with equivalent function to what you can create on the OS of an existing tablet (or computer).  For example, Noteflight is an amazing service and what they are doing with HTML 5 is outstanding.  But can Noteflight truly compete with Finale, Sibelius, Notion, or MuseScore?  Not yet.

Finally, I think there is appeal to “owning” your own apps.  I am 40, and people from my generation struggled to move from purchasing physical copies of music (8 Tracks, Cassettes, and CDs) to digital music, which, incidentally, it turns out you don’t own, either (tip of the hat to Dr. Joseph Pisano, who tweeted this story).  I’m not convinced that users want everything to be web-based, otherwise, we would see the Chromebook destroying the competition (It isn’t…it is become a niche product).

At any rate, I could be wrong.  Everything could be cloud-based in 2018, and apps could be gone forever.  It should be noted, however, that Dr. Frankel works for Music First, which is a company that packages cloud-based software for education.  It should also be noted that I am reacting to a tweet that could be out of context.  However, the use of the word “obsolete” is purposefully strong word choice.  Even though I disagree with the opinion, I certainly respect–and even like–that it has been stated.  It is fun to think of (and discuss) what the future holds for technology (in education, in music education, and in life).

My personal guess is that we will see more HTML-5 based web apps, and that we will see more programs that rely on cloud computing but still offer a native app on the devices on which they are being run (a hybrid of sorts).  And I think there will still be individually purchased “on device” programs and apps for computers, tablets, and phones.  As Steve Jobs once said, traditional computers will become need-based (like trucks) as most consumers (and I would add, educators) will need a tablet (like cars).

Since the Mayans were wrong (or we were wrong about the Mayans), it looks like we will have a chance to find out, either way.  Check back in 2018 for the answer.


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