A little under a year ago in this very newspaper I reviewed the Apple iPhone 3G and its new firmware release: ‘Now that the Applications store is up and running,” I wrote, “you will soon find it a very common sight indeed to see people crowded around each other’s iPhones showing off the latest impossible, breathtaking and ground-breaking application. ‘Ah, but mine can do this!’ will be heard in every café and bar. Satirical sketches will be written and performed on Channel 4 mocking the trend. Once again Apple has changed the rules and nothing will be ever be quite the same again.”
It is very rare for any prophetic utterance of mine to bear fruit, but in this case it seems I was bang on the money. On July 11th 2008 the Apple iTunes App Store Apple iTunes App Store opened its virtual doors and the world changed. The diversity, originality and imagination that has since gone into the authoring of apps has created, from the standingest of starts, a whole new business model, and one that benefits cottage industry amateurs quite as much as established software houses. With over 50,000 apps and more than a billion downloads, it is hardly surprising that Blackberry, Nokia, Microsoft and Google have all now jumped on the app emporium bandwagon. Apple has shown that a mobile phone can be a pedometer, a restaurant guide (one which can make the reservation, direct you there and let you know which kinds of sustainable seafood you can order with a clear conscience), an ensemble of musical instruments that can be blown down, tapped and strummed, a library of literature, a periodic table, a performer of magic tricks, a language translator, a Skype phone, a Twitter client, a radio, a games platform and a device that can set your home satellite TV to record any programme you like wherever you are in the world. Not to mention a fart machine and perpetrator of other mad, pointless and preposterous one-time-use pranks, japes and wheezes. Now that the others are all playing catch-up, it is easy to forget what a risk Apple took in creating a market out of nowhere. In recent weeks the once great Palm have brought out an immensely exciting iPhone inspired touchscreen phone, the Pre (US-style CDMA only and not available in Europe for ages), Nokia have finally released their long awaited N97, which I will come to later, and the prolific HTC have introduced their Google Android phones, the Magic and Hero.