There was some light-hearted discussion yesterday on twitter surrounding Brian Katz’s open solicitation for suggestions of mobile ‘crapplications’. For the un-initiated, crapplication is a term to describe the effect scope-creep has upon an application lifecycle. Right about the time when you can start applying the 80/20 rule to an application, it has become a crapplication. Katz wrote a great article on it last fall that you should check out if you haven’t already.
As Katz writes, “a crapplication is really just a term for a bloated desktop application…an application that is bloated with many useless features for the majority of users.” He continues to say, that a crapplication “makes it difficult to figure out how to manipulate your data,” by which he means a bad user interface and user experience.
To build upon Katz’s idea of a crapplication, as well as what’s dogging me at the moment in my mobile-only quest, isn’t so much bloat and bad UI (though there is some of that), it is the lack of functionality in many of the apps I use. From my experience, the current state of mobility isn’t in a state of bloat, but one of anemic proportions. Many mobile apps need some good old-fashion functional protein to put a little meat on their bones. The skeleton is there, but some of the basic features are just missing. I’m not seeing a lot of crap, but rather a lot of lack. These functional weaklings could be considered ‘Lacklications’.
For example, office productivity apps lack word count, track changes, and a table of contents. Blogging apps are missing features such as scheduling, comments, and preview. I have to use the web front end to accomplish this. The native version of apps such as Lync and OneNote are missing painfully basic features. The native Android email client doesn’t let me access notes or tasks in exchange. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Some of the cause for emaciation is due to market /platform/apps maturity. Some of it is due to the screen real-estate of the device itself – the small size limits and dictates some functionality. Some of it is due to the fact that certain functions are just not possible in a mobile context. Whatever the reason, it is painfully obvious that you can see the rib-cage of many mobile apps.
But here is the good news. Mobile is new! Mobile is exciting! Mobile is acting as one big, fat reset button not only for many enterprises, but app vendors as well. As I have written about recently, they are using mobility as the excuse to re-examine how ‘we’ve always done things’. They are looking at how we can perform functions and processes in a more efficient manner. Hopefully this means there is opportunity for loads of excess functional fat to be left on the chopping block. This will also hopefully translate into clients working with app vendors to assure that the right pieces of functionality are being developed.
Who knows, perhaps one-day in the near future, I’ll be cursing my bloated mobile ‘crapplications’ with specialized functionality intended for just a select few and a bad UI to boot. Hopefully, the mobile context will guide and spur just the right level of development. The question for the future of mobile apps is – are they going to exercise and eat a healthy diet to build functional muscle or are they going right back to the same fatty diet? Typical human behavior says bad habits are hard to break – but what do you think?
Benjamin Robbins is a Principal at Palador, a consulting firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobile strategy, policy, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.