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Canadians’ app fantasies pose a challenge for businesses

Use this simple trick to hide App Store purchases on your iPhone in iOS 8

It’s getting a little scary to see that Canadians believe apps are capable of doing everything except maybe fend off the next polar vortex.

Rogers recently published its latest Innovation Report, whose findings in many ways help explain the massive spike of US$10 billion in spending on apps reported by Apple over the last 12 months. According to the Rogers study, which was conducted by Harris-Decima, Canadians have an average of 25 apps on their devices. It’s what they see those apps doing in the future, however, that borders on crazy.

“While three quarters (75 per cent) of Canadian device owners agree (strongly or somewhat) with the realistic scenario of “mobile apps being able to control household appliances like hydro and electricity,’” the report says, “one quarter (25 per cent) agree that ‘mobile apps will make it possible to communicate with household pets.’”

It gets weirder. Rogers found that 39 per cent also believe apps will vacuum and do laundry. I could foresee situations where sensor technology will allow apps to turn these devices on, but good luck getting an app to sort whites and colours, let alone do all the folding afterwards.

According to Neil Shuart, regional marketing director, Rogers Communications, the feedback from consumers isn’t necessarily that out of whack.

“Some of the trends do play out quite nicely -- things like connected cars, connected home, using your smartphone for point of sale purchasing, being your wallet,” he said. “Other (app scenarios) are only bounded by the respondents’ imagination.”

The challenge for businesses, of course, is to manage the sometimes-awkward journey from imagination to expectations. The Rogers report shows Canadians getting caught up in the dizzying potential of apps. This is good for a company that provides the network to run apps, just as it’s good for platform providers like Apple, which said there was US$1 billion in downloads just last month alone.

For those actually making the apps, however, keeping up with the wild notions of excited consumers may be more difficult than anyone realizes. Five years is not a long time for some of these features to manifest themselves. In the meantime, how do you generate much buzz about an everyday mobile game or productivity app when what consumers really want is an app that will read their minds (which they also predicted in the Rogers study)?

Perhaps the surge in downloads reported by Apple and others is an indication that consumers are in a honeymoon phase with apps, where they are experimenting with as many as they can in order to figure out where the real value lies.

“I don’t think it’s going to be exponential growth (in apps per person) ad nausem,” Shuart said. “Even if I look at my own smartphone experience, I may have 20-30 apps on my smartphone, but I only use half a dozen of those daily.”

In other words, consumers may dream big about apps, but they’ll probably continue to wake up to a mere handful. The trick for businesses will be to weed through the pie-in-the-sky ideas and deliver an app that becomes one of them.