“There is a paradigm shift happening right now,” said Armstrong, co-founder of Dibbs, a Reno-based mobile phone application service that generates entertainment and events listings. “No longer are we tied to a personal computer at a home or office.”
Armstrong’s declaration might sound like hyperbole if it weren’t actually grounded in truth. When Apple released the first version of the iPhone three years ago, the world received its introduction to apps — short for applications — and along with it came the reality that the Internet age had just gone mobile.
Apps are software programs for mobile devices such as the iPhone, Blackberry and Google’s Android. There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps now available on the market, providing users access to everything from weather forecasts and breaking news to games and social media networks. Many Web domains have developed apps for their sites because mobile phones often cannot load and display pages in a user-friendly, readable capacity. And as more people conduct business on the go, consumer and advertising apps have become the latest platform to conduct transactions and marketing.
A Pew Internet Project survey report released this month found that 35 percent of adult Americans have cell phones equipped with apps. The survey also found that 24 percent of adult Americans regularly use apps.
Though phone calls, texting, e-mail and other mobile tools are used more often than apps, the survey makes clear that what once was a fad is now a bona fide trend. So much so, in fact, that Erin Looney, Armstrong’s business partner, believes it has become a virtual necessity for all companies to develop a branded app.
“You will be handicapped without it,” Looney said.
With today’s globalized world driving people’s need for complete information as quickly as possible, apps provide users an added level of accessibility. Access was the driving force in the development of an app for this year’s annual Artown festival in Reno, said Ronele Klingensmith, president of the local public relations firm RKPR Inc.
In previous years, Klingensmith’s firm had publicized vendor, event and date information for the festival through a catalog book and online calendar. But neither was cost effective enough nor provided information in a way that matched consumers’ access needs.
“So we looked for alternative ways to get the message out and apps are becoming something more people are looking for,” Klingensmith said.
Working with local software developers Big Robot Studios and InfoTechMobile, Klingensmith was able to provide festival goers with streamlined content available at the touch of a button. More importantly, the information could be accessed anywhere and at any time. The result was nearly 2,000 downloads of the free app.
Though demand for national and international news has grown substantially in the last decade, the rise of an “apps culture” results in large part from the demand for consolidated local information.
The idea that sparked Dibbs came about when Armstrong and Looney realized that local entertainment and events listings were so fragmented that it was difficult and time-consuming to keep track of them all.
“There wasn’t one place to go to find out everything going on around you,” Armstrong said. “It was like a jungle footpath and you had to hack your way with a machete from point A to point B to find out the information you wanted.”
Armstrong describes Dibbs as a free superhighway without any tollbooths, merging content and integrating communications from a variety of sources and producing information that meets user-set preferences. Since launching in May, the app has received more than 8,000 downloads.
The emergence of apps reflects a larger trend toward the mobile realm, from e-commerce to what might be called m-commerce.
“Mobile is going to revolutionize the way business and communication comes together,” Looney said.
The University of Nevada, Reno launched its own app for the iPhone last year called iPack, which allows students to access a campus map, faculty directory, available courses, news and events.
An iPhone app was produced for the Reno Air Races event last weekend, which allowed users to access up-to-the-minute race results, photos, maps and daily news updates. The app received approximately 3,700 downloads, according to Tony Lockard, a senior consultant at InfoTechMobile, which developed the app.
The apps trend has yet to meet its full potential, but as more and more businesses transition to mobile services, apps will likely play a key role in delivering consumers their preferred choices. Along the way, expect businesses in the Truckee Meadows to produce their share of localized apps.
“It’s a great test market,” Armstrong said.