Past, Present and Future of the Third Media Revolution

The App Effect
Virtual gadgetry to transform human information behavior

March 6th, 2011

By Jaap Bloem & Menno van Doorn

Touch the icon
What exactly is an app, also known as gadget or widget? Indeed nothing more than easily recognizable, appealing and practical software functionality behind a virtual button. For years, we used to have loads of icons on our PC monitors and our laptops, but now, with multi-touch phone, pod and tablet devices, we witness the next maturity phase of the icon interface. Apps have become the popular way of tapping and digesting information – less so of creating – and may evolve to the dominant way.

A winning team
Just like icons, multi-touch interfaces have been around for decades. Yet only recently the Apple iPhone was able to reach the tipping point of mass acceptance. The commonly felt enthusiasm was not about the mobile phone itself; it was about the winning feature combination of a truly portable device with an intuitive and responsive multi-touch user interface, a razor-sharp display and eventually apps to be downloaded from a virtual store. The trendsetting original iPhone was rapidly followed by the Android phone family, the iPad, the Windows Phone 7 platform, the iPad 2 and many other phones, pods, pads and tablets.

TAFKAPP gadgets
All these multi-touch app devices belong to this new electronic TAPKAPP domain: The Apparatus Formerly Known As Phone / PC. Closer than ever to our senses and our behavior, after decades of computer development TAFKAPP devices are beginning to behave like ourselves. Virtual gadgets, widgets and apps literally bring all screen devices to life: TVs, computer screens, phones/pods/pads, tablets and slates. In fact, there is nothing more human than this partly physical, partly virtual gadgetry – Mcluhian “extensions of man” par excellence – we are depending and dependent upon. This together we call the app effect.

Change for sure
There are many directions to be explored. Take for instance the addictive power of the new interface, the immediacy of information and how it will affect organizations, or the annoying distraction that these new devices bring to our daily routines. Some welcome the vision of a planet of the apps as the main means of interacting with persons and things around us. Others pertain that TAFKAPP novelties rewire our brains or are even dumbing us down. Being objective researchers, our focus is on indicators, drivers and unforeseen side effects, while aiming to put all in a coherent context so as to shed light on the app effect. Leading are the following questions:

1 – What happens when we experience the app effect while interacting with this new human interface? To what extent does our behavior, do our expectations and do we ourselves change?

2 – How does actual or perceived change in information behavior relate to organizations and how should they act to benefit from the app effect?

3 – Is the app effect all there is, or is it merely a temporary centerpiece in interface development?

What causes the app effect to affect what?
The app effect transforms our personal and organizational information behavior, which in turn affects social, cultural and economic life. Three trends stand out: the rise of app stores, the augmentation of humanity, and the multifaceted pervasiveness of media.

Trend I The rise of app stores means that people carry their own device around, everywhere they go, and that they pick their own apps. This implies a fundamental change in the acquisition of information and tools, being especially at odds with the standardized computer environments organizations have been providing and securing for decades. How does this device annex software democratization affect organizations and their information environment; what do users typically want; how does the app economy fit in; and who can benefit in what way?

Trend II The augmentation of humanity is an ongoing key trend, driven by a steady increase in computing power and functional flexibility. The TAFKAPP hardware/software combination provides interesting new ways to enhance our personal and professional lives. Again the question is how this development will continue to affect individuals and organizations. Which new dynamics will appear that we can benefit from or should worry about?

Trend III The multifaceted pervasiveness of media is at the center of a strong debate around Marshall McLuhan’s statement of media being both the message and the massage. Media alter our mental state: they are intrusive, persuasive and addictive. Media not only function as enhancers, they also delude and distract. Media dumb us down and clever us up at the same time. So, how can we and organizations act smartly upon this irreversible media pervasiveness?

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