Apple recently unveiled its new MacBook Air laptops as well as its new operating system, Lion. The combination of the two result in a product many see as part-way between a laptop and the iPad. For example, the MacBook Air, like the iPad, has all-flash storage, meaning that all of its storage space is made of the same technology as your USB memory stick as opposed to the traditional hard drive. It is also designed for long battery life and its new trackpad is meant to emulate the iPad touchscreen.
To me the most interesting feature is the new Mac App Store. Of course, computers ran applications in the 1980s. But an iPad app or iPhone/iTouch app is a version of an application or a website function that is specifically engineered for the iPad, iPhone, and iTouch. So the idea is that, just as with the iPhone and iPad, now with the new laptop you can go to the App Store and buy or freely download apps such as the eBay App or Angry Birds.
Even though these devices run browsers, often the app gives you a new way to do a browser-based function which is better suited to the small screen and keyboard and touchscreen — and lack of Flash— of the Apple devices. But the new laptops don’t have the size limitations. So why make an app store for laptops?
Well, obviously, Apple is a company and sees an interesting new revenue stream. But what does this mean for users?
Apps differ from browser-based applications in that they are not cross-platform. The eBay app for the iPhone must be downloaded from Apple, while to obtain the eBay app for the Android phone one must go to the Android Market. The new Windows 7 phone will be accompanied by its own marketplace of apps. But today users of different computer operating systems simply type into a browser the same URL to get to eBay by means of the browser. App proliferation feels like a step backward into separate platform silos.
Furthermore, the browser is the single place where we do lots of things. In the realm of e-learning, we search for information, save a reference into Delicious, Netvibes, or Mendeley, post onto a discussion board, watch an embedded video clip and read a document in a VLE (virtual learning environment) — all in the browser. There is also the traditional surf: search, click, read, click, read, search, click, read. Will the proliferation of apps remove us from the browser so that our surfing and other activities will look and feel and act drastically different a few years from now? Perhaps it will be the end of the world-wide-web surf as we know it. And if browsers decline in use, what of the VLE?
What do you think app proliferation will mean for the computing and e-learning experience?
Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo