15 Comments

Summary:

I have a problem; I feel better having admitted that. I’m not the only one with this problem based on what I see on the web. My problem is an addiction to apps on the iPad. They are cheap (or free) and one-click easy to buy.

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I have a problem; I feel better having admitted that. I’m not the only one with this particular problem based on what I see all over the web. My problem is a growing addiction to apps on the iPad. It started out innocently enough, as addictions usually do. I grabbed some free apps in the App Store and was impressed with the quality of the apps running on the large screen of the iPad. Then I graduated to some $0.99 apps and was blown away with how much benefit such a cheap app could bring to my usage of the iPad. I gradually moved up to more expensive apps, but even those are typically just a few dollars. Before I knew it I was buying at least an app a day. I would buy several apps that do the same thing, in slightly different ways. It was so darn easy to buy an app and be running it in just a minute. That’s the genius of Apple.

I wasn’t new to the App Store when I got the iPad. I’ve owned an iPhone 3G for a couple of years but I never got many apps for it. My usage of the iPhone has always been tightly focused and I’ve not needed many apps. This is why I have been surprised at my iPad app addiction. I thought I was above the desire to get lots of apps; then I tried a few and haven’t been able to stop.

The brilliance of the iPad App Store lies in how it feeds itself. The iPad is useful for more things than most users anticipate, and the apps feed that utility. The more apps you buy, the more useful the device becomes. It is a vicious cycle that cannot be broken, and given the low prices of the apps it’s not a cycle that most users want to break. See a cool app, click the button, run the app. It ties into that instant gratification process we love as consumers.

I come from the old-school computer crowd used to paying a lot for what were then called computer programs. These programs tried to do a lot (often too much) and were often needlessly complex to install and use. They came in big boxes full of printed material to help us get going with the programs, often failing at that attempt. They were so expensive and complex users had to do a lot of research prior to purchase to try and determine if the program would fill our needs. We scoured the web for reviews and user accounts of how well a given program worked, and then tried to figure out if our needs were similar enough to the reviewers to be relevant. It was a long drawn-out process that often failed. We’d get the expensive program installed and discover that one particular feature we needed wasn’t addressed. We were out of luck at those times, as programs were too expensive to allow us to throw one away and get another.

Then computer programs became apps; the simple term adequately describes what they are. Simple little programs that generally do one or two things and that’s it. It may not do those things better than other apps, but at just a buck or two that’s not that big a deal. If an app turns out to be inappropriate for our needs, we just delete it and get another. Even deleting an app is easy — just hold the icon, tap the X and it’s gone. You see the genius behind this ecosystem?

That’s why the addiction to iPad apps is so easy to fall into. I have three apps for reading my Google Reader RSS feeds. All three apps do basically the same thing, in slightly different ways. I paid a few bucks for all of these apps, in the search for the one that works best for me. I’ll probably get a fourth or fifth app to do the same thing as I discover them, strictly to have the app that best fits my needs. It’s so darn cheap, and that’s the beauty of the App Store. Online research into a particular app carries far less relevance when the app is $2.99. That’s cheap enough to just try it, and throw it away if it doesn’t fit my needs.

Having thousands of little apps out there is bad enough for the addicted, and it gets even worse when you throw in the updates. I check the App Store 2 – 3 times every day just to see if any apps I own have been updated. It’s not unusual to find at least one has been improved each day, and that triggers the same excitement I got when buying the app originally. It is amazing that not only do free and nearly free apps get updated all the time, but they also get totally new features that make them even more useful. You wouldn’t think a 99-cent app would ever get worked on by the developer, but that’s not the case. They add functionality, they make the app run faster and they get rid of any little bugs that were in the app as released.

So cheap, throw-way apps are the cause of the addiction. I am unable to pass up an app that is nearly free if there’s a chance it will add value to my usage of the iPad. I don’t run a big risk if an app doesn’t work for me; I just get another app. It doesn’t help that there are apps appearing that do things I never even thought of. Take an app I bought yesterday — Air Display. It was expensive as apps go ($9.99) but it turns the iPad into a wireless additional display for my Mac system.

I didn’t even need an additional monitor for my desktop system; I have a 24-inch display hooked up to the 13-inch MacBook and this provides all the screen real estate I need. But Air Display adds a third monitor, without the need for wires, that works just like a “real” monitor. For ten bucks I in essence bought a third display for my desktop system. The iPad appears in the Display Preferences just like any other monitor. I can move it around and arrange it to fit my mood. And did I mention it is wireless? How can I resist that?

Related content on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Can Anyone Compete With the iPad?

  1. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve had my iPad since last Thursday and have bought the following apps for it:

    Documents to Go Premium – £6.99 (bought yesterday as iPhone only, now a universal app)
    My Frame – £1.19 (now pulled from the App Store!)
    Drawing iPad – £1.19
    MLB At Bat 2010 – £8.99
    Real Racing HD – £5.99
    Weather HD – £0.59

    I also bought some apps before I had my iPad:

    Pages – £5.99
    Atomic Web Browser – £0.59
    iCab Mobile – £1.19
    GoodReader for iPad – £0.59
    LogMeIn Ignition – £17.99
    Desktop – £0.59

    As well as these, I’ve installed a number of free apps and some apps I’d already bought for my iPhone have been updated to universal apps. These include 1Password, The Little Tank That Could and Family Tree.

    I’m also waiting for some apps to be released including Reeder and Pocket Informant.

    All these apps do different things (for the most part) and make the iPad a swiss army knife, much as the iPhone is.

    As an aside, James, what’s your take on Air Display? I saw it and was tempted but was trying to think how I’d use it. If it had a Windows server I’d buy it to use at work but at home I don’t have much need for two displays.

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    1. I’d been considering this too Phil. I used to have two 24″ display but now have one 30″. I used to have Outlook on the second display or would use it for dragging windows out the way or even watching Video while working/surfing. With the iPad I can use the native apps for these, plus the 30″ res allows for more window space, so not sure I’d use it.

      Any chance of a short video review James, to show it in action?

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      1. I’ll probably review it in the future. I’ve just gotten to use it so I’m feeling it out. When I bought it a good use for it for me that never occurred to me is while working mobile with the MacBook.

        I can actually have a highly mobile two monitor setup while working in the coffee shop. Not that I need to but I have the iPad and I have the app. It works over Wi-Fi so no overhead.

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      2. Of course! Ideal for being out and about.

        Sigh, thanks James, off to spend more at the App store….

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      3. Gavin Miller Thursday, June 3, 2010

        OK, so works very well at home between Macbook Pro and iPad. Mouse movement is just like a normal dual setup and setup was very easy.

        Not fast enough for Video, maybe only 8fps.

        Now, this was on a fast home ‘N’ network. How it would work on the road would depend on network congestion of the wifi network you were using.

        Now, off to test on the MiFi……

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  2. Hmm, you should do a Mobile Tech Minutes video showing off your iPad/monitor contraption. As far as app purchases go, I read an article on LifeHacker that basically said that smaller purchases bought rationally often, keep you more satisfied than larger purchases spread out over a longer period of time. Going by that logic, you should be fine James, and I can’t blame you for buying cheap apps.

    I download all sorts of freeware/opensource software for my Windows PC, and if I dont like it I remove it. The only problem with that, is that the sofware has to be from a reputable source. One of the pluses of a walled garden approach is that you don’t have to worry about malware.

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    1. The video is a capital idea, and the only way to show off how well this works. Look for it in the next few days.

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  3. Uhmm, it sounds more like you’ve been lulled into a use, or way of computing, with your iPad that is less restricted than that of your iPhone.

    Have you considered reassessing the iPad in light of tighter restrictions on use? Speaking as a fairly new iPad owner, I can see the allure to do many things, but restrict myself from those extras for a simpler and tighter experience. And while that has also meant that I don’t do apps (I have 3, mainly live in the browser), it’s kept that behavioral addiction to download at bay. Could such an approach work for you, or at least point to a different perspective of use that might be less wallet draining?

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    1. It would certainly be cheaper but the apps do make it possible to do many things on the iPad that had not occurred to me. It extends the usefulness of my investment, and for just a few dollars.

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  4. My hand is shaking as I reach for the app store icon for another rush. :) Great post!

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  5. It is not really an addiction until you run out of the little dots on the bottom of the screen. Based on your screen shot you have a long way to go :)

    On a side note – I ran out of space on my iPad, something I thought would be impossible based on my iPhone usage.

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  6. Even though I do not have an iPad yet, the addiction is still there. Between the Android Market place for my Incredible and the App Store for my iTouch, I can not help but to grab more apps every day!! I can’t stop!!

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  7. I honestly think you need help, that and well, you have too much money to blow. I understand that they are not expensive, but seriously getting three apps that do the same thing is a waste. Just research the one you see is better, and then buy it. I have used the Ipad and while it is not for me, I can say without a doubt that it is a good device. Just don’t see the App addiction you guys seem to have to be that justified. I do wish the app store was a little like the Android store, wherein, the Android store there is a 24 hour return policy.
    Then again, I am a minimalist, so ignore me.

    Also, my first time posting here but I have been a long time reader; Love the site.

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    1. The RSS reader is a crucial app for me given the work I do. I bought the first one after good reviews, then discovered a major interface problem given the way I work. So I bought the second one and while it resolved that problem it had another one that affected my work. Thus the third one that is working well for me.

      I wouldn’t do this except for tasks critical to my work method. That said, it’s great these apps are not expensive.

      Thanks for hanging around with us, we appreciate it. :)

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  8. Wang Hung Lo Saturday, June 5, 2010

    The Apps are what sets the iPhone/iPod/iPad apart from all the other smart gadgets and why they all pale in comparison. Yes the Android Market is close (most Android Apps are just copycat Apple apps) but is not as innovative as the original Apple apps.
    As long as Apple maintains there huge lead in Apps (specially Quality Apps) they have nothing to worry about with all the copycat smart devices (you know who you are). The only real reason why anyone would consider Android would be for its use as Pornography Tool.

    I hope a law is passed soon that all those registered sex offenders are not allowed to own pornographic Android phones.

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