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BW Businessworld

A Whole World Of Apps

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Apple Inc.'s App Store just crossed the 15 billionth download milestone. I have a nasty feeling I've contributed significantly to that number. Apps are so easy to buy; so quick, and mostly painless, until you get your credit card bill at the end of the month. Still, I think it's a small price for the fun and functionality these little programs give you.

When I think back to the clunky old days of using Windows 3.11, PageMaker, CorelDraw and other heavyweight software, I can't help but be amazed at how something that costs one-hundredth the price can afford so much functionality - some of it based on entirely new usage concepts. Playing Scrabble with my sister from across the country is not a usage I envisaged or based any purchase decisions on, but now that I discover I can do it, it's fun, and a nice little thing to share with someone you don't have the chance to do something with everyday. I didn't foresee needing to edit my friends' photographs, but now that I can, I have had hours of fun startling them with strange photo results. All of it done with apps that cost less than $3 when it would have needed an extremely expensive piece of software to get the same result.  I didn't think I needed to rely on my memory and a notepad to keep track of how many hours I spent on a piece of work. But now that it just means a touch to check-in and another touch to check-out, it's become an indispensible part of organising my work day.

There's an app for just about everything you can think of and many things you can't. So it's no wonder that Apple has sparked off a whole huge industry with its App Store. The store has 425,000 apps, 100,000 of them just for the iPad. Pretty soon, you'll also see apps for Apple's desktop and laptop systems, widening the net even further. All the other companies don't touch this figure, the closest though, being apps for various Android devices. RIM, makers of the popular BlackBerry phones and the Playbook tablet, barely have a fraction of this number, bringing to the forefront the question of whether a great piece of hardware is what a tablet or smartphone is all about.

When Apple's iCloud services really take off, this will add another level of functionality to apps because you will be able to store, access and share stuff easily for both work and leisure. Much the same is likely to happen with Google, especially with its apps and services being mostly free.

To those considering buying either tablets or smartphones, I would seriously say, factor in the apps. A few friends of mine, desperate to buy an iPad and finally managing it, suddenly show a great deal of reluctance to buy apps; quite forgetting that a beautiful tablet is just s blank slate without them. It's important to set aside a sum to populate your tablet richly with apps.  If you're on a budget, opt to spend on apps rather than the top-end tablet. That way, whether you have a 16, 32, or 64GB model, it's brimming with things to do.

Mala Bhargava is a personal technology writer and media professional. Contact her at [email protected] and @malabhargava on Twitter