The app Internet…

Next big thing, the current tech gold rush, the perfect companion to your mobile device, or something more evil?

Yesterday was the quarterly Dell Executive meeting, hosted by Michael Dell. We got some great internal news and direction, company progress on the companies’ transformation. Michael invited George Conoly, co-counder and CEO of Forrester Research along for a Q&A session with Michael at the end. They effortlessly flew through a number of subjects, it was a great session.

When it came to the open Q&A, I got to ask the first question. which was on the subject of the “App Internet”. Rather than try to rehash the conversation here, I went looking for George’s blog and appropriate commentary to link back to. There is an entry here which doesn’t quite capture George’s cup-runeth-over-enthusiasm for the “App Internet”. What follows is my open reply to George.

It would have been fun to explore this subject further, maybe we can do it online, but lets start with what we agree on:

  1. the app Internet provides a rich user experience and good response times for local data and actions
  2. Because of this users are “thirsty” for Apps rather than zooming in and out of random, dissimilar webpages, using a brower which doesn’t really integrate with your “platform”. This makes app stores a great way to make money, and provide a key opportunity to “lock-in” the user, if you control the platform, and the download utility, you control both ends and the middle. Think your local cable company, great model, eh? 100% lock-in, your device and apps are just like cable boxes, as soon as you terminate your contract, you risk losing access to your service, your “cable box” and your secret stash of data on the cable DVR.
  3. Apps are the current tech’ wild west; the new gold rush; because of the effect of 1. and 2. and the democratization of platform app development, anyone can do them.

While there are some limits in place to control what apps do and validate them before they make it onto the store, after that its open season. Until the mobile platforms implement at least Facebook app Privacy-like controls(*1), no one, except those wanting to make a fast buck should touch them. Google Chrome browser apps have paid some design attention to this, but unless the browser app/extensions is stupidly simple, you’ll end up getting prompted to give access to all data, never anything else. So, before I download any app for my platforms I always think, do I trust the provider, the platform and what is the worst it could do?

The problem is that currently none of the mobile app platforms(except Blackberry which uses a legacy server redirect structure) allow you to intercept marketplace calls; white list apps; block downloads; scan downloads for known problems; block installs; automate post install cleanups, or provide you any real hooks to do any of these things. You are left trusting the marketplace, and at least for Apple, Microsoft, RIM and some of the ereader/ebook type devices, there is ONLY one marketplace, to ensure the validity of their apps.

Once you’ve got the app you have no real idea what data the app is accessing, what it’s keeping, what it’s downloading, more importantly, what its uploading and why.

Now, hopefully there are a fully set of rehearsed comebacks on these points. If not, then beware, make sure you know how what your platform is and how to change when the time comes. Jim Louderback has a good perspective posted in response to Colonys blog.

I’ll write a follow-up on some of the miscoinceptions about HTML5, and mobile apps, which are mostly because people are working with a pure browser, non-platform integrated model when they start their dismissal. I’ll close with this quote from my 1989, Enterprise Workstation Management from Chaos to Order presentation, available on

A Workstation is a platform where people sit and wonder when the train will finally arrive. After a while they get anxious and start wondering whether they are on the right platform after all

(*1) Who’d have ever imagined a world where you’d hold up facebooks privacy model as something you’d actually want? Think about it though, wouldn’t it be nice to have a settings/privacy page on your phone that showed you what apps had been run when, what level of access they had, what websites/addresses they’d accessed(*2) and allowed you to selectively block access, block the app or remove or reduce it’s privileges. Great eh?

(*2) Actually facebook doesn’t provide this, but heck at least any server side app should be tracked and optionally logged…

2 Responses to “The app Internet…”

  1. 1 Darcy Demianoff-Thompson April 20, 2011 at 6:31 am

    I knew it would just be a matter of time before someone caught onto how to turn ‘app hwy’ into a gold mine. Looking forward to see how this progresses through time. Great article Mark.

  1. 1 Coté's People Over Process » Links for April 16th through April 20th Trackback on April 20, 2011 at 10:10 pm

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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