The Evolution of Smartphone Apps: Past, Present and Future

Mobile apps (i.e. computer programs for mobile devices) have been around far longer than we credit. Yes, the release of...
The Evolution of Smartphone Apps: Past, Present and Future
Mobile apps (i.e. computer programs for mobile devices) have been around far longer than we credit. Yes, the release of the iPhone 1 in 2007 shaped mobile applications (apps) as we know them today, but apps began life long before that.


Remember the Psion EPOC operating system? One of the first launched in the early 1990s, it featured programs including a spreadsheet, word processor and diary, was made for PDAs (personal digital assistants) and was quickly overshadowed by Palm OS, which hit the market in 1996.

Who doesn’t remember the Palm Pilot? Boasting a touch screen, core apps and third party applications, Palm’s Garnet operating system was streaks ahead of its time and remained a firm favorite right up until 2007.


The early 2000s was the domain of BlackBerry which, in 2002, completely revolutionized mobile devices with the introduction of the wireless email.

Nokia was hot on its heels with the development of Symbian, a joint venture that saw Psion’s EPOC OS completely remodeled and unleashed to dominate the market. By 2009, 250 million Nokia, Samsung and LG devices were operating on this platform, which delivered a host of freeware, shareware and commercial applications.

At this point, manufacturers and telecoms dictated what software would appear on a mobile device, not users. Additional apps were expensive by today’s standard ($20-$40) and were laborious to install. With the invention of the App Store in 2008 – an extension of the iTunes App that appeared on the iPhone 1 when it launched – Apple revolutionized mobile applications.

Early third party iPhone apps were web-based and, despite developers jumping at the chance to supply Twitter clients, to-do lists and games, critics remained unconvinced. Web apps performed poorly compared to native programs and billing internationally was a problem for many developers.

Apple addressed this with its Software Development Kit (SDK), a platform that allowed native access for third party applications. Apps would have to be approved for the App Store, but developers could make the most of Apple’s iTunes checkout system, already geared up to process international transactions.

Android followed closely on Apple’s heels with the Android Marketplace in 2008. Operating the same business model, it saw a slower uptake by developers.

And, just like that, mobile apps ecosystem as we know it today was born.


Now, third party applications are ubiquitous and not just limited to mobile devices. Desktops, laptops, tablets and TVs all feature applications, giving consumers greater flexibility over how they use their devices.

With over one million applications available in categories as widespread as health, business and social, consumers can’t be expected to download every app available to them. Instead, buying preferences are shaped by trends, reviews and advertisements. If you want users to download your app, you need to offer them a valuable experience and an incentive to do so.

Retailers in particular have been quick to understand the commercial benefits of mobile apps. iBeacon technology, Bluetooth devices that use specialized apps to connect with nearby smartphones, are now widely used to influence the journey to purchase, and feature in prominent stores including Macy’s, Target and Walmart.


As apps evolve, large companies and small developers are scrambling to develop voice control technology. They’re racing to deliver a virtual assistant that can beat Siri’s already impressive repertoire, delivering seamless voice control over all smartphone functions. No one’s hit on the perfect formula yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

It’s still a relatively new field, but we are already seeing a rise in augmented reality (AR) type applications. Designed to enhance our natural perceptions of the world around us, this software overlays a live image with additional information, pointing out the nearest restroom or providing reviews for an adjacent cafe. We can expect to see more AR apps as the technology is refined.

Perhaps the most futuristic of emerging mobile technologies, holograms and 3D projections are still a very new field. LG, Motorola and Samsung all currently have 3D smartphones on the market, and holographic projections are widely expected to be the next step in the evolution of the technology. From 3D tutorials to virtual shopping experiences, there really is no limit for developers with this one.

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