Are smartphone applications technology progression or regression?

The popularity of smartphone applications has grown immensely since Apple opened their app store last year, which has impressively served over 1 Billion downloads already.  As a result, other smartphone manufacturers and carriers are following Apple’s lead trying to capitalize on this “out-of-control” phenomenon.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about (highly unlikely) just search for BlackBerry App World, Ovi by Nokia, Android Market, and Windows SkyMarket.  In my opinion, this is only the beginning of the app craziness.

What’s most interesting to me is that mobile apps are not new.  I’ve been using a variety of enterprise and productivity apps on my BlackBerry for several years, but the only difference is now I can find apps easier using the respective stores.  Before these mobile stores opened their doors, I had to check a vendor’s website to see if they had a smartphone app for what I wanted. 

So why are apps (and app stores) all of a sudden the new hot craze?  It’s really a marketing gimmick by the handset manufacturers and carriers to generate more revenue from each mobile user.  Since mobile apps have to be downloaded and installed, the handset manufacturers and carriers can be the gatekeepers giving them access to new (and obviously plentiful) revenue streams.

This begs me to ask the question “are mobile apps really technology progression or regression?”

I find this question very interesting since it spurs a lot of heated debate with people I talk to, but in my mind, it’s a simple answer from a technology perspective.  Smartphone apps are regression! 

Looking at personal computing today, most consumers and businesses are working hard to free their desktop and move into the cloud so we can access our data and services anytime, anywhere.  So why should mobile be any different?  It’s really the same model as the desktop but a much thinner client, yet we are locking apps to our phones, the most mobile of devices.  As we load apps onto our phones, we run into the same issues as we’ve struggled to eliminate over the past decade, including constant app updates, app conflicts, and system compatibility issues.

 To give you a sneak peak of what we can expect if we keep following this regressive app path, Aumnia’s engineering manager loaded several new apps onto his phone last week and one of them corrupted his OS causing his email client to go nuts.  It would randomly delete, synchronize, or turn off.  He is extremely technical and tried hard to fix the problem.  But in the end, he was forced to wipe the entire handset and start from scratch.

 If we really desire technology progression, we need to ignore the hype from the handset manufacturers and carriers (who are financially motivated to push apps) and find ways to keep all functionality and applications that can be done in the cloud, in the cloud.  Then we could truly access what we want anytime, anywhere.