RMIT Networked Media – Apps

English: A collage showing a photograph, along...

A collage showing a photograph, along with the same photograph processed through all 15 filters in the iOS app Instagram (as of the date of creation in April 2011) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) CC-SA


Apps have become a phenomenon after they were recently unchained from desktops. The cloud then unchained them from physicality altogether. In fact, it’s difficult to find a modern app that doesn’t require some form of registration or a log in using a service such as Facebook, which is rich in personal data.

While I believe this ubiquity has been beneficial in so many ways, it is content creation that has shifted dramatically. In fact, I’m writing these words on my phone. When I get home I can finish it on my computer, and on any computer at uni tomorrow. I can set a reminder to do just that on my phone, and it will appear on my computer and any web browser once I log in. There is no longer a tangible link between information and a physical source. Data is now simultaneously more centralised and accessible than ever before, and the concept of the web or network is no longer just a system to share it, but a new way to create it too.

Apps are allowing us to produce a wide range of content using the hardware present on smart phones to its fullest potential. Countless camera apps have allowed people to capture photos and videos with various filters and effects, Instagram perhaps being the best example. In addition, apps for editing and distributing that content have also become widely used. Apple sells a version of its iMovie software for iPhones, giving users the ability to use similar tools and media to create movies, all on their phone. Sound recording apps also allow music to be recorded, and electronic music to be created. Services such as YouTube and Vimeo offer free apps to not only view and manage videos, but to upload them directly from a phone as well.


Chart showing downloads and available apps on ...

Chart showing downloads and available apps on the app store over time, since the App Store was opened in 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Theoretically, one could complete preproduction, production and postproduction entirely on their phone or tablet, and then distribute it too. Mobile apps are often very limited in comparison to desktop apps. They simply aren’t powerful enough to work at the same level, and with such limited control and screen real estate, they can be slower to work with as well. However, this level of portable power has never been in the hands of users before.

While digital technology has certainly helped to democratise production and distribution, new, portable devices have made this possible anywhere, at a fraction of the cost. This seems to be a trend. As digital technology becomes more sophisticated, the cost of entry decreases. We’re already seeing subscription models being introduced for apps, and in-app purchases, and even pay-what-you-want systems such as The Humble Indie Bundle allowing users to dictate value individually, while also donating to charity. In systems, like these, all the middlemen have been removed, and there is a direct link between content producers and consumers. Often the link is mutual, information being shared in both directions. This also raises a concern when it comes to apps. Apple uses a closed system, where all apps must be approved before appearing in the app store for iOS devices. This greatly reduces the chance of a flexible, web system of creation and distribution, and we have to encourage openness if we want true democratisation to take place.


Some recommended apps:

  • Wunderlist – really simple app to jot down tasks for any particular subject, that stays in sync everywhere
  • Dropbox – if you already use the service, it can be really handy to have important files accessible on your phone at any time
  • Google Sky – an interesting app that could almost count as AR, it shows you the stars and planets in the area that you point it in with labels and other information, and is a good example of why phones have such different uses to desktops or even laptops (you generally don’t want to wave a large computer around)




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