Pretty sure the future belongs to people who write apps, not people who just use apps.
These words are from a tweet by Alfred Thompson, an ex-colleague who used run the academic developer programmes for Microsoft in the US. He's worth following on Twitter for all things computer-science related.
It got me thinking about the fact that we're going through a cycle where apps have come down from being massive enterprise-wide systems to being things that individuals and small groups can write. There are three factors which are driving it:
- App stores popping up all over the place, with low app prices
- The ability for an individual to write an app and publish it to a global marketplace
- Users' changing mindset of buying an app and just 'giving it a go' to see if it helps them
Before I first started in the IT industry, I was a part-time developer. I wrote a business graphics software suite that worked with spreadsheets (before they could do charts themselves), and then sold it to a multinational. It got me started into an IT career. But when I have talked to students over the last twenty years, I've always emphasised that route would be really tricky to do.
But now, I think things are changing back. Suddenly, anybody with the right skills can develop an app and start to sell it or give it away – and any of those people could be the next app developer who's hit 100,000 downloads. That change is going to challenge the conventional software houses and educational publishers, and we're all going to have to get more agile.
Why Education is becoming an 'apps' market
The changes are going to be especially profound in education. With the consumerisation of IT happening, teachers are feeling that they can choose the apps, the systems and the devices that they want to use in the classroom – and if their IT teams don't give them what they want, then they're going to bring along their own device and use that. Even when IT think that isn't happening, I see it happening all the time – it started with phones and apps, then moved to tablets and apps, and I've even heard of teachers bringing in their own servers to be able to do what they need to teach their students!
An action plan to deal with consumerisation of IT in education
So, if BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and consumerisation of apps, data and devices is ramping up, what should developers be doing?
- Create Apps for teachers
Start with the app model – producing apps that teachers can use to make a part of their teaching more effective or efficient. Perhaps it could be an app for students to use, or perhaps an app for teachers themselves.
- Make them widely available
There's all kinds of marketplaces for apps – some are for a personal device (like an iPhone, Windows Phone or Android Phone); others are for hybrid or institution-owned devices (like laptops, iPads, Windows tablets etc); and some are marketplaces for add-ins (like the Office Store, for distributing apps as add-ins for Office or SharePoint)
- Let teachers connect your apps to their data
The reality for teachers is that have big pools of data – if only they were a single pool of data. But in many cases they have lots of disconnected puddles of data – a bit of attendance info here; a marksheet there; some official stats somewhere else; high-stakes testing data in another system. Helping teachers bring that info together, without simply hoovering it up and creating another pool of out-of-date data, is going to be a valuable bonus for teachers. (And if you start creating new data, make sure that teachers can export it out from your app to their data system)
Want to know where to start on building education apps?
I've written before about building Windows 8 education apps:
- Why building an education app for Windows 8 is about designing an experience, before writing code
- Where to get the free download Windows 8 programming ebook
- How to sell Windows 8 apps to education customers
- How to list Windows software (existing ones and new apps for Windows 8) in the Windows Store
But how about the new idea of developing apps for Office and SharePoint? Given that Microsoft Office is installed on pretty much every teacher's computer in Australia, then there's a potentially huge market going to appear over the next six months, as teachers are upgraded to the latest release of Office – and discover the 'Apps for Office' button. The Office Store has only been live for short a while, and has a reasonably long list of apps from recognisable brands like Britannica, LinkedIn, Kodak, Avery and Hertz. But the small number of apps in the Office Store Education category (which is promoted on the Office Store home page) means that there's a greater opportunity to get discovered and recommended in the early days. And small apps that save time for teachers are likely to get widely shared and talked about (even simple apps like a 'class list creator' or a 'marksheet maker' will save teachers loads of time).
Even more helpfully, we've got two free 2-day events coming to Sydney and Melbourne, where experts in developing Office and SharePoint apps are coming over from the Seattle to share their experience. If you're a developer, and you've got an itch to get a foothold in the new Office apps market, then this is the best investment of two days you can make:
Learn how to develop and sell apps for Office and SharePoint at our two Office DevCamps in Australia:
4-5 February in Sydney
7-8 February in Melbourne