Andrew on Apps and an Empower Companion Sneak Peak!

As the capabilities of devices and software continue to advance, it can help to reduce the tether educators have to their laptops or desktops. Today we are going to cover the difference in companion apps, versus burdensome apps. But let’s first take a scenic detour through the history of the current app landscape.

Since the launch of the iOS App Store in 2008, developers have raked in over $70 billion in revenue from app sales and in-app purchases. The result of this booming marketplace was a huge influx of applications. Applications we wanted. Applications we didn’t want. By far, the best applications where the applications we didn’t know we needed. “There’s an app for that” started to overshadow the long-standing Visine catch phrase.

“The result of this booming marketplace was a huge influx of applications. Applications we wanted. Applications we didn’t want. By far, the best applications where the applications we didn’t know we needed.”

As an early-adopting technologist, I set out to explore as many applications as possible. If humans are faced with an issue or challenge, there is usually an app (or perhaps a Visine) designed to assist. The ultimate result was that apps were created that provided powerful functionality in a mobile form factor, dramatically changing our behaviors and allowing certain tasks to be done much more efficiently. These apps are able to compress what used to take a variety of devices, or physical trips around town into an ultra-portable multi-tool. Whether you are depositing checks, scanning and creating PDFs on the fly, DocuSigning contracts, or ordering groceries, there are great apps that address some of the previously-burdensome aspects of each of these activities.

Many of these apps only fully came to fruition over the years on the shoulders of many failed attempts. Developers learned from these early iterations, improving and optimizing over time, based on a combination of competitive offerings and end-user feedback. The result of this iterative process is a few common categories of apps:

1. Greatly-designed apps that solve problems we have.
2. Greatly-designed apps that solve problems we DON’T have.
3. Poorly-designed apps that solve problems we have.
4. Poorly-designed apps that solve problems we DON’T have.

It also quickly became increasingly clear what was and wasn’t useful on a phone. Let’s take a brief look at each of these categories.

Category 1:
Greatly-designed apps that solve problems we have.
Scanning a few pages into a PDF document on my phone? Great! For certain scenarios, the best tool is the one you have on you. Scanning a 60 page case study, or expense report? ..not so great. Just because you can do something on a phone, doesn’t mean it is the right tool for the job. 

Category 2:
Greatly-designed apps that solve problems we DON’T have.

This is an increasingly popular category in any industry designed to make money. When there seems to be a great solution for all the problems we DO have, the only alternative to competing in a saturated market, is to create problems users don’t have, along with an app to fix them. (Bluetooth-enabled smart tooth brushes come to mind.)

Category 3:
Poorly-designed apps that solve problems we have.

These do everything you need, but could be improved in a variety of ways. Most of these suggestions are prominent in the reviews section.

Category 4:
Poorly-designed apps that solve problems we DON’T have.

Lucky to make it past the review process, these are usually the apps that attempt to cram an existing webpage into a wrapper resulting in a forced experience just so people can say they have a mobile app. These apps are routinely uninstalled in about 10 minutes, or collect the digital equivalent of dust in an unused apps folder.

Great, so how does this apply to Education?

In the education world, instructional time is a precious commodity. There are plenty of apps that look great, but some end up causing more of a burden than they alleviate, resulting in a loss of instructional time. These join the long list of tools, devices, and technologies that were once “a must have”, but ultimately went unused. The sweet spot consists of well-designed applications that help to alleviate the manual effort in time-consuming tasks, improving the lives and day-to-day activities for teachers. These can help educators explore new and unique ways to deliver concepts to students, resulting in a much more engaging learning environment than the feeling of being tethered behind a podium clicking through slides, or spending the last 15 minutes of class trying to scan documents with their phone. Mobile apps also allow students and parents to stay better-informed and engaged, even without a laptop.

“In the education world, instructional time is a precious commodity. There are plenty of apps that look great, but some end up causing more of a burden than they alleviate, resulting in a loss of instructional time. These join the long list of tools, devices, and technologies that were once “a must have”, but ultimately went unused.”

That said, we are pleased to provide a sneak preview our Empower Companion app, coming this fall to iOS and Android Devices. Our philosophy: Easy-to-use, powerful solutions that are a true companion to Educators, Students and Parents. We decided to skip categories 2-4, resulting in a quality, native application that offers features that truly take advantage of the smart phone form factor. Empower has been used on iPads and tablets for years, but our smartphone companion app showcases our commitment to ease-of-use, design and utility. As such, we will continue to extend some of the same tools users enjoy on their desktops, laptops, and tablets to smart phones, in a way that is easy to use and makes sense. At launch, users will have access to the Empower Bulletin Board, allowing them to compose and receive messages and announcements on the go. Profile will offer Student and Staff Information on-the-go.

Check it out, below!

Andrew Bassford
SchoolSpire, Inc.

 

About Andrew

Andrew is a member of a unique generation whose years as a public school student spanned from landlines to iPods. From Apple IIs to being a B.Y.O.D. test subject in high school, Andrew experienced the growth and adoption of technology in the classroom first-hand. From development to client management, Andrew helps share his passion for technology with educators. Andrew has been with SchoolSpire since 2009, as has over 15 years’ experience in education technology.

References: 
Rossignol, Joe (June 1, 2017)
“Apple Says Developers Have Earned Over $70 Billion From App Store Since It Launched”.
MacRumors. Retrieved May 17, 2018