Posted by Rory on June 28th, 2011 @ 3:50 pm
Apps are overtaking websites
A Gilmor Gang video last week contains a fascinating discussion around the theme that apps are replacing websites as ‘the default architecture of the planet’.
If that’s true, in future the window to your research could look like
Before looking at what the implications of this change for research could be, here are a few of the key points (assertions in some cases) I noted from the video:
- Ease of acquisition. It’s easier to purchase an app from the appstore than something from most websites (except on Amazon), because Apple already has your credit card information.
- Virality. It’s easier to build viral loops into apps than into websites and so popular apps get adopted more quickly.
- Ease of access. Many people never felt comfortable using the browser and an address bar to access websites. Accessing an app is more natural and appealing — you just click on it.
- Mobility. The iPad is replacing laptops for people who are travelling or moving around, and use of native apps is higher than use of webapps on the iPad (and the iPhone).
The Gilmor Gang’s speculations are back up by facts: it was also reported last week that people in the US are spending more time using apps on smartphones than browsing the internet on a desktop computer or mobile. Drilling down, it’s also interesting to note what apps people are actually spending time on: 47 % of time is spent on games apps, 32 % using social media apps, 9% using news apps, and 7% using entertainment apps.
Apps for scientific research: the current state of play favors ‘consumption’ of information rather than ‘production’ of information
That’s a total of 95% of time spent using apps on things which, it is safe to assume, are for the most part not research-related (although a small part of the time spent on social media apps and news apps could be related to research). If you took a look a the percentage of research time scientists spend on apps as opposed to browsing the web, it would certainly be far lower than 95%, and doubtless a small fraction of the overall amount of time they spend on smartphones and browsing the internet. In large measure this is due to the fact there there are (relatively speaking) so few apps aimed at scientific research. There are a few for biology and for chemistry, for example, but they are only able to help with a tiny fraction of the activities biologists and chemists engage in in connection with their research.
In contrast to the paucity of research-related apps for science, there has been a veritable explosion of apps for use in science ‘teaching’ and ‘education’, some of which are covered in a recent article. What accounts for the difference? One probable factor is that most of the teaching/education apps primarily provide content that is intended to be consumed by the users, or at most requires a little simple input from them, whereas most of the research apps require the user to ‘use’ the app in some way by inputting new information or manipulating information or features of the app. With the current state of mobile technology, it is easy to get information onto a mobile platform like a smartphone or a tablet, but it is still relatively difficult to input information. So ‘active’ research requiring ‘production’ of information is still much easier to carry out on a computer using websites and web apps.
The future: will research go the way of general usage?
In the near future — within the next 12 months — inputting information onto tablets is going to become much easier, because of improvements in (a) typing interfaces, (b) writing using a stylus, and (c) input via touch. This will remove the most apparent barrier to using tablets for research in science. As that happens, the compelling advantages of apps noted by the Gilmor Gang: ease of acquisition, virality, ease of access and mobility — are likely to come to the fore with developers of tools for scientific research, resulting in an upsurge in apps produced for use in scientific research.
Next week I’ll take a look at the implications of the likely growth in research apps for individual scientists and scientific communities.