Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

All Grown Up: Apple Apps Are for Adults (There, We Said It)

When Apple releases its third-quarter earnings after the close today, Wall Street will be looking hard for a solid performance from the company to help buoy a tech sector smacked silly by weak reports from industry leaders Microsoft and Google last week.

It’s a lot of weight to put on the slim shoulders of Apple (AAPL), even though the company has shifted in recent years–largely due to the iPod and now iPhone phenomena–from a maker of devices for the elite to a mass consumer icon and a major influencer of key technology trends.

And, as has been much written about, Apple’s iPhone has brought the vision of a touchscreen minicomputer-on-the-go to the kind of reality that seemed impossible only a few years ago.

But more important to me is what is happening with the plethora of third-party apps now available from the iTunes App Store–both free and paid (picture below)–for use on the iPhone platform.

That’s because Apple has built a platform for adults.

Like many, I have downloaded dozens of iPhone third-party apps over the last several days.

And–unlike what one can discover on the other hot apps platform–namely Facebook–they are uniformly superb, lovely, useful and fun in a really nonjuvenile way.

The iPhone Facebook app is, by the way, stellar.

It’s more than a little ironic, then, that about a year ago it was the social-networking site that reinvigorated the idea of the importance of having a platform that a multitude of developers could thrive on.

It’s not exactly a new idea–Microsoft has nourished an ecosystem of developers for its powerful Windows software platform for, like, forever.

But Facebook surely made the idea bigger, looser, wilder and more exciting. Except that a lot of what has been created for Facebook has been profoundly stupid.

Last year, Boomtown set off a mini-tornado of debate when I suggested that I was less than impressed by the quality and endurance of most of the new Facebook apps–also called widgets–that began to take off.

In a post called: “The Children’s Hour: Facebook Apps Are for Toddlers (There, We Said It),” I wrote:

I get it, I get it. Millions upon millions of people are downloading and using these apps, part of a very clever ecosystem [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg unleashed in late May.

Under the scheme, widget-makers got to go wild on Facebook, and Facebook got to offload a chunk of its feature development onto others.

‘Until now, social networks have been closed platforms,’ said Zuckerberg at the [f8] event, calling on outside developers to integrate their applications into the service. ‘Today, we’re going to end that.’

But so far, as popular as those apps have become, what Zuckerberg and the widget-makers have wrought is mostly silly, useless and time-wasting, and the kazillion users of these widgets are pretty much just acting like little children.

I never thought I would call the often frivolous AOL back in the day–very simply, a Neanderthal version of Facebook–a mature offering in comparison.

While I will admit when I am not chewing nails that a lot of these apps are somewhat fun, I can’t help but ask myself that lyric from the old Peggy Lee classic: ‘Is that all there is?’

And if that is all there is, can Facebook really build a viable and long-lasting business on what is essentially a bunch of games that will ultimately become wearying for users? Doesn’t it need more robust apps that actually are useful and relevant and make Facebook the service that Zuckerberg has often told me was a ‘utility’?

While Facebook–with a cleaner and more strict look and a better navigation–is surely less goofy than rival MySpace for anyone over 12 years old, and its video, photo and email features are nice, the vast majority of its apps are still mostly as dumb as a box of hammers.”

Too harsh?

I think you would not say so after looking over a lot of what is available at the App Store on iTunes.

Lots and lots of the apps there are games, of course, which are the most popular.

But what amazingly clever games, like MotionX Poker with the delightful rolling dice, or the humming swish of PhoneSaber (totally silly, but in a profound manner that Vampire-biting on Facebook will never achieve).

And the list of useful stuff–Pandora Radio, Starmap, WeatherBug, Evernote and WHERE (pictured here)–is long and growing longer, and these seem to enjoy as much prominence and popularity as the sillier stuff.

In addition, the ability to truly use other Web services in a mobile setting–from Photobucket to Yelp to AIM to the New York Times–makes the iPhone an even more useful device to me.

And for each of the apps I can also imagine various monetization schemes that now make a lot more sense since the iPhone platform enhances them with mobility and simplicity (Carling’s branded iPint is very smart, for example).

I also get the feeling that, knowing they would otherwise not be granted entrance into the elegant kingdom of Steve Jobs, developers tried to design their apps just a little more perfectly.

I cannot say the same about adding widgets to Facebook, which only seem to put more burden on my experience there.

Some are great and some are truly awful, but you never know exactly what you are getting until you go through the typically onerous addition process.

That will soon change with the new Facebook redesign.

I do have great hopes for it, as it gets rolled out this week for users, because it looks like it will make the service much easier to manage and enjoy.

I hope so, because right now, Facebook feels too much like a garden in constant need of weeding.

Perhaps this is because these apps or widgets are more useful in a mobile setting, when you are truly looking for a wide range of discrete pieces of information, rather than on a large screen–which gets larger all the time–at home when the browsing experience lets you handle more information coming at you from all over.

I don’t know, but I do know that I have gotten more use out of my iPhone apps than any Facebook app so far, making me more productive and happy in the process.

Yes, the BubbleWrap app is pointless, but it did give me a few minutes to decompress and read the newspaper as my six-year-old son digitally popped away in glee this weekend.

You know what I mean–it’s called adult time.