My dog doesn’t care that I write apps for Android, but she should. Sure, she can’t enjoy a good game of Temple Run, and she couldn’t care less about the latest, greatest Twitter app I installed (TweetLanes, if you’re interested). But she sure had fun at the dog park that I found on Yelp, and she certainly enjoys the dog treats I ordered from the Amazon Android app.
We get mad when our carriers delay our upgrades to a newer version of the Android operating system, or when we lose a signal inside a grocery store, but we rarely celebrate things like getting a severe weather alert when we’re outside at a state park or making a video call to show friends a new house from across the country. For many of us, our mobile technology has been sewn into the fabric of our lives and is simply part of how we operate now.
We take for granted the immense power this gives us. Do I need to say it? I think I do: “Knowledge is power,” and because of mobile technology, knowledge is available to more people throughout the world than ever before. In the US, the leap forward caused by the advent of mobile technology hasn’t been quite as drastic as the initial rise of the PC and Internet because our society has already started to change based on this information revolution. Whole industries have risen and fallen and continue to evolve, and there is a general push towards more open and collaborative systems. There are detractors, some with valid points and some driven by fear, but undoubtedly people can use these tools, this access to information, to improve their lives.
It’s a different story in other parts of the world, though. For many developing countries, an Android phone is somebody’s first exposure to the Internet and the outside world. Take a look at some of the recent stories highlighted by textually.org, a blog aggregator “focusing on text messaging and cell phone usage around the world, tracking the latest news and social impact of these new technologies.” Smartphones (primarily Android) and regular cellphones are being used to improve agriculture, finance, emergency services, and other areas in developing nations across the globe.
The portability, relatively low-power usage, and wireless connectivity have allowed this technology to penetrate areas where people couldn’t even dream of using a computer or connecting to the outside world. Remote parts of Congo may soon get mobile coverage, according to a report from the BBC. Android has positioned itself as the worldwide leader in the smartphone market due its low-cost (hardware manufacturers can pay a small fee to us it on their phones), and the fact that it’s available to run on different hardware. The low-cost and high availability have made it especially attractive in developing nations compared to iPhones and others. Even in the US, where the iPhone seems to get the majority of attention from the media, Android is buzzing along with just over 50% of the US market share.
Where do Android apps come into play?
In this grand scheme of things, the market for Android apps is still relatively small as smartphones are still in the minority of all mobile phones worldwide. But smartphone adoption continues to grow at an amazing pace, and Android’s affordability and hardware independence have catapulted it to the lead in this rapidly growing space.
Apps are generally the icing on the cake of a smartphone experience. The core communication features: text messages, calls, and Internet browsers, are the primary features driving this global access to information. But a well-designed app can be the most important tool a person can use.
Let’s take a look a few examples. There are a pile of apps to access Twitter and other social networks. Anybody can access Twitter through the website, but the apps allow people to tailor the experience to their own tastes and desires, which makes it a more enjoyable and rewarding experience. Or maybe more efficient and interesting–it depends on what the user wants to get out of it.
Educational apps can have a profound impact, and they are obviously near and dear to us here at Treehouse. Video education, ebooks, and even games can help people around the world learn how to read or do math or invest or program.
The Android app ecosystem is rich and diverse and their usage is changing people’s lives. Some serve tens of millions of users and some only serve ten users, but in all cases they have a transformative power as portals to information. Apps alone aren’t going to make the world a better place, but the people developing and using them are working to share information, teach, collaborate, and grow, and that will make the world a better place. It already has.