Home Educational Trends How Mobile Apps Took Over the World (and Ed Tech)

How Mobile Apps Took Over the World (and Ed Tech)

by Andrew Roush
mobile apps

Steve Jobs saw mobile apps coming. In the summer of 1983, as Apple was preparing to launch the first Macintosh computer, Jobs gave a talk in Aspen about the future of computing. He wasn’t talking about the groundbreaking graphical user interface of Apple’s recent Lisa personal computer, or its 5.25-inch floppy drive. He did not sing the praises of the forthcoming Macintosh, which would help transform computers from business machines to personal devices. What he did talk about was apps.

Looking toward the future of computing, he told the audience in Aspen about the future of software. It would be like a record store, he told them, where you would browse through titles, preview them, and select the one you want. When you made your choice, you’d pay by card, like magic. It was a prediction that clearly presaged the App Store and iTunes. 

What Jobs had envisioned was the world of mobile apps that we live in today, an industry that continues to grow in every corner of society, including the classroom. How did we get here? Let’s take a look.

There’s An App for That…

The precursors to the apps we use each day were always there, just in different forms. In 1993, IBM released a proto-smartphone that came equipped with early productivity features like a calculator, a calendar, a contact book, and a world clock. By 1997, Nokia shipped its 6100 model — the iPhone of its era — with a compelling little game called Snake. A decade later, the iPhone itself would enter the marketplace, along with Apple’s App Store. 

Angry Birds came on the scene in 2009. Since then, it’s been played in space, turned into two movies, and been downloaded billions times. That same year, Apple’s TV commercials were reminding consumers that, whatever you seek, “there’s an app for that.” By 2014, apps were moving from games to a broad array of lifestyle and productivity solutions.

…Including Education

Today, smartphones are ubiquitous. That means students are growing up using these devices, and teens are using them up to six hours a day, according to a 2018 study that measured teen media habits from 1976 through 2016. With that much attention being paid to app-centered devices, it’s no surprise that apps quickly made their way into the classroom.

By 2015, there were 80,000 educational mobile apps available. Now in 2019, he App Store contains nearly 2 million apps, of which 8.5 percent were in the Education category. That’s more than 150,000 applications. Education apps, like apps in general, are likely here to stay.

Like other technologies, educational apps offer the potential to organize and streamline administrative duties, bolster blended learning and flipped classes, and manage student records and assessments. And the industry is busier than ever.

The Future App-ears Bright

As more and more of our everyday activities are moving online, and online interfaces become increasingly app-based, there’s no doubt that the app landscape will continue to change, improve, and expand. But it’s a lot to keep up with. In just the first decade or so in a world filled with apps, many have come and gone, waxed and waned in popularity, or been made obsolete.

Keeping up with the latest changes, tips, and guides for getting the most from the tech you use can be a challenge. Happily, TechNotes is a great place to start. Check out our ever-growing archive of tips and features of some of the most popular mobile apps, like OneNote, Flipgrid, or the ecosystem of Google Classroom

Caught on Tape

Jobs’ early insights might have been lost to history if it weren’t for old-fashioned analog technology. Although Jobs had predicted it way back in 1983, the world took time to catch on, possibly because all recordings of the 1983 talk were lost to history — until a man in Illinois discovered a cassette tape that contained a recording of the talk in Aspen. It in, the young Jobs explored a vision of learning, and of personal and mobile computing, that seems to permeate our world today.

“I think as we look toward the next 50 to 100 years, if we really can come up with these machines that can capture an underlying spirit or an underlying set of principles or an underlying way of looking at the world so that then when the next Aristotle comes around…” he said, according to Apple Insider.

“Maybe if he carries around one these machines with him his whole life and types in all this stuff, then maybe someday after the person’s dead and gone we can ask this machine, ‘Hey, what would Aristotle have said?’ And maybe we won’t get the right answer, but maybe we will. And that’s really exciting to me.”

Further Reading

  • Enjoy reminiscing about retro tech? Read about why we love old-school devices from CNN.
  • Check out University of Kentucky journalism and media professor John F. Clark’s presentation on the history of mobile apps.
  • We use them everyday, but do we know what information our apps can access, their security vulnerabilities, or how in-app advertising works? The Federal Trade Commission outlines the basics of apps use, including tips for using apps with kids.

Photo: Rami Al-zayat

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