Local apps are just around the corner

Aug 17, 2010
Finance

Classix Axe in Gainesville, Va., is a great little independent guitar shop – one of the few places in the region where you could pick up the kind of Rickenbacker 12-string that Roger McGuinn used to play in the Byrds. Sooner or later, Classic Axe will have an app.  So will the nearby Fairfax Ice […]

Classix Axe in Gainesville, Va., is a great little independent guitar shop – one of the few places in the region where you could pick up the kind of Rickenbacker 12-string that Roger McGuinn used to play in the Byrds.

Sooner or later, Classic Axe will have an app.  So will the nearby Fairfax Ice Arena, so geezers who are still playing in an old guy’s hockey league can tap on their iPhones and see which teammates have been suspended for what some might call “fighting” but which many onlookers would call “tripping over each other.”

Local apps are around the corner. We’re not talking about localized versions of global apps – since Google Maps or Zillow or Open Table can certainly be very local. This is about locally-created apps from independent businesses, local governments, and regional organizations. But local apps are really just beginning.

Similar to the early days of the web

In a lot of ways, the development of mobile apps has been an echo of the development of Web sites starting in the mid-1990s. At first most Web sites were silly, useless or experimental, as were the first apps (woo-hoo, iFart!). Then came some epiphany-inducing apps, like GPS-based search or Shazam, and a rush of big-media, big-brand apps that included The New York Times, Amazon, and Wells Fargo. Again, the pattern was similar to the follow-on waves of Web sites.

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Finally, Web sites got easy enough to build to go local – really local. The tiniest little shops had to have a site – check out mndrnuts.com. Little league teams have sites. The mayor of Scranton, Pa., has a site. And, for the most part, if it’s on the Web, it’s eventually going to migrate to a mobile app.

We’re starting to see some examples. The Harmony Festival, a concert in Santa Rosa, Calif., built an app to help attendees find the closest bathroom and keep track of the acts that were playing. The Boston Public Library created the Overdrive Media Console app to check out books and hear audiobooks, as did the Hong Kong library system. EcoFinder is a San Francisco Bay Area app that helps you find where to recycle just about anything. The Carolinas HealthCare System has an app that shows average wait times at emergency rooms in the state’s hospitals.

Texas church builds app for the almighty

The West Houston Church of Christ has a pretty innovative app. As the description says: “View the prayers of other Christians and commit to pray for them. They will be notified that they are being prayed for – and you can send and receive comments with that person.”

Of course, for most major cities around the world, you can find a few standard kinds of apps: maps of the local mass transit system, tourist guides, the city’s newspaper.

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Still, apps haven’t really taken on a local flavor. One sure sign: despite all the categories in the iPhone App Store or Android Marketplace, there is no “local” category or any great way to find all apps associated with, say, Cleveland or Madrid.

And the really small businesses and organizations generally don’t have the resources to build apps. Yet. The task is still too hard and expensive, but as happened on the Web, that will change. Then you’ll be ordering that Rickenbacker on the Classic Axe app in no time.

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