Apple iPad: Feeding the App Addiction

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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?

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