Expo Notes: iOS apps mixing more business with pleasure

My question at the end of this Macworld/iWorld weekend: Is iOS still fun?

Delight was the name of the game a few years back when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, and again when he followed that up with the 2010 debut of the iPad. These days, of course, the iPhone is a heavyweight among corporate users, but the way that happened—Apple enthusiasts bringing their new toy to work and forcing beleaguered IT managers to adapt to them—was itself kind of awesome. It was a guerilla operation, and fun won.

James Galbraith
Apps aimed at getting things done dot the Appalooza section of the Macworld/iWorld floor.

To be sure, there’s been plenty of fun to be found at Macworld/iWorld this week—guitar players around every corner, pink-haired roller bladers showing off well-designed iPhone cases, a dancing robot or two. But in the section of the expo floor known as Appalooza where app developers have largely congregated, one thing has seemed certain: The business of iOS is business.

There are apps for finding customers. For selling to customers. For charging your customers. For keeping track of your employees as they fix what your customers broke. For upselling your customers. For filing away all the paperwork your customers generate. There has been little sign of Justin Long or any dancing silhouettes, nevermind Jobs’ high-minded hopes that his hardware would lift up the humanities and liberal arts. John Hodgman would feel pretty comfortable here.

Then again, John Hodgman looks like this these days.*

*Yes, I know the Hodgman/Long commercials were about Macs, not iOS, but the same spirit applies here.

Joel Mathis
Business may be a focus in the Appalooza area, but fun apps like Jam are still getting plenty of attention from attendees.

Of course, the most popular kiosk in Appalooza hasn’t been one belong to any of those commerce-minded developers. Judging by the crowds every time I walked by, it was the Jam app—a (yes) fun offering that lets users create, record, and post songs on the fly—that drew the most attention. iPhone lovers still love to goof off.

And the piece of hardware that has elicited the most jaw-dropping “whoa” reactions has been the Double Robotics Double, a Best of Show winner which incorporates the iPad into a “telepresence robot” meant to help users keep track of action in offices, classrooms, and more. But it’s not been those uses that attracted the attention—rather, it was the novelty of seeing an iPad roll around the room on two wheels, mostly saying balanced and fluid in its motions.

The robot was both neat and useful. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.

James Galbraith
The Double—a telepresence robot that incorporates the iPad—is both useful and cool.

And that’s probably for the best. Nintendo’s Wii was introduced in 2006; the first iPhone a year later. Both devices were novel at the time. These days, the world seems to have moved on from the Wii, but we’re still finding new ways to use the iPhone. “Awesome” will probably always be part of Apple’s identity, but “useful” tends to be less fleeting and more enduring. Ideally, we get a bit of both.

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