Mobility Matters: Classifying Locative Mobile Apps through an Affordances Approach

Mobility Matters: Classifying Locative Mobile Apps through an Affordances Approach

Brett Oppegaard (University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8838-4.ch011


Researchers generally have not been able to keep up with the rapid pace of mobile app innovation in many ways. One of those holes is with typology. Not being able to clearly describe mobile app artifacts, as a way to start a discussion about them, is a key factor holding researchers back. This chapter splinters off a promising but relatively underdeveloped genre of mobile apps, the locative ones that juxtapose interactive digital media with particular physical environments, for closer examination and better labeling. This piece quickly provides theoretical, historical, and contextual overviews to help situate locative apps as a genre of importance. It then provides informal frameworks, as thought exercises, for examining and understanding apps through a locative perspective. Two cases, also led by the author, will then be taken through this process to illustrate what can be learned from it, followed by reflections and suggestions for related future areas of inquiry.
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Just before the iPhone’s original release, on June 29, 2007, MacWorld magazine published a story about customers waiting in line for the new device. This account featured the proclamation by an early adopter that “Today, I’ve got three things in my pocket,” a cellphone, a PDA, and an iPod; “Tomorrow, I’ll have one” (Barylick & Honan, 2007). Combining functions, it turned out, was only a part of the wonders of the smartphone emergence, and convergence was just the start of our understandings of mobile technologies as a new medium. To demonstrate how disorienting this mobile shift has been for society so far, the generally prescient Steve Jobs at first touted the iPhone’s music storage possibilities and then its telephone capabilities. He only reluctantly opened the App Store, 18 months later, and stated that he didn’t expect “much profit” from it (Kerris & Dowling, 2007; Wingfield, 2008). More than 10 million apps, though, were downloaded on the App Store’s first weekend, and, as tallied at the five-year mark, the App Store was paying out $400 million a month to developers, after Apple took its 30-percent cut from each app sold (Friedman, 2013).

On the other side of the spectrum, BlackBerry, formerly known as Research in Motion, seemingly had control of the smartphone market in the early stages, in the mid-2000s, with a focus on business clientele and a carefully controlled system of information management that matched the initial needs and activities of mobile users. As of this writing, though, less than a decade later, BlackBerry’s market share has fallen to virtually zero (Silcoff, McNish, & Erman, 2013; Surowiecki, 2012). Nokia – the first global developer of mobile hardware, and at one time, the largest – has slumped as well, selling its mobile division to another teetering technology titan, Microsoft, which, despite enormous resources toward the effort, has been unable to gain much traction with its mobile devices (Ali-Yrkkö, 2013). As demonstrated in these examples, society quickly has been evolving its conceptualizations of mobile technologies, through exposure and use, and of being immersed within the complex, fluid, and varied confluences of communication, people, and place, which mobile technologies enable. Some highly paid and highly educated industry leaders, such as those within Apple and Google, have been deftly responding to this environment, while others – even those similarly paid, educated, and deft, such as those in the once-prominent Palm, Nokia, BlackBerry, and HTC companies – have suffered an inglorious fade from relevance.

Rather than the mobile content domain solidifying around a coherent industrialized vision, and parts falling into orderly place, based on commercial precedents, it has erupted into a heterogeneous and fragmented ecosystem. Classification systems have been proposed, in response, to provide shape to these ideas, and as fuel for development, yet attention to mobilities needs as much of a focus on the future as the present, with novel uses and interactions continually expected to emerge from new products, platforms, and services (Feijóo, Maghiros, Abadie, & Gómez-Barroso, 2009). While much of the early mobile media could be classified simply as shovelware, or repackaged material dumped on mobile screens, mobile-born forms are surfacing through novel device and platform affordances at various points of inspiration ((Feldmann, 2005; Jaokar & Fish, 2006). These innovations will produce both incremental and divergent developments as well as recombinative and convergent ones, that will require regular reevaluations of content types and characteristics across multipurpose as well as special-purpose devices (Kim, Lee, Geum, & Park, 2012; Rawolle & Hess, 2000).

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