There was a time when Googling for “how to erase background in Photoshop” meant something. Budding graphical wizards understood that software existed to accomplish fantastical things such as removing a background and coloring it with something else, but the process was complicated. It required supremely expensive software, plenty of time for research, and the patience of Job. But it was easier than doing it by hand, so we were grateful.
I also recall quite vividly the first time I set out to slice a segment of an MP3 I had in order to create a ringtone. I wasn’t keen on paying $0.99 for the convenience of having some store deliver the clip in question directly to my phone, so I did what everyone else did: I searched for a how-to guide. The results were many, and the tactics varied considerably. Eventually, I discovered a successful mixture of freeware, filename changing, and syncing luck that generated a sizable grin. Now, there are not only apps that’ll do this in a fraction of a second, but there are websites that tell you what apps are similar to ones that you download and aren’t perfectly fond of.
In a sense, software has continually evolved to make our lives easier. The latest iteration of Photoshop is arguably easier to wield than the first one. What were once manual processes in Microsoft Excel can now be batched and automated without relying on third-party plug-ins or coding knowledge. But the creation of mobile app ecosystems has taken this concept to an entirely different level. In fact, I’m confident that part of the smartphone’s rise to success is due to the commoditization and simplification of software. Computer programs used to scare all but the technologically inclined; now, they’re as approachable as a phone dialer.
A major trend in the simplification of software is unbundling. While Microsoft has long hawked its entire Office Suite, app ecosystems have made it possible for curious consumers to search for (and find) programs that do precious little. Need an app that just views PDFs? How’s about one that lets you digitally sign a real estate document? What if you need a mapping application only for those times when you’re overseas and offline, and a different one for your connected journeys across domestic soil?
While there are certainly suites that encompass each of these tasks, the app has made it possible for devs to serve extremely specific needs. Those comfortable wading around in menus and navigational mazes wouldn’t mind a routing program that combined online and offline modes, but for those just dipping their toes into this universe, having specific apps for specific purposes is just so much less daunting.
The top 25 apps in the United States are all fairly predictable, and it gets really disassociated after that. In my view, the struggle for an app to reach critical mass is part of why apps (and phones in general) are surging in popularity across regions, income levels, and everything else. The ease and ability to download yet another app to address yet another immediate concern is allowing devs to create one-off programs that answer simple questions. That solve simple problems.
In fact, one has to wonder how much longer we’ll be leaning on the Photoshop we know and love. At some point, the mobile version is going become the dominant one, with more “traditional” software being reserved only for universities, institutes, and sector professionals. My gut tells me “some point” is far closer than anyone would’ve guessed just a couple of years ago.