Many of us create mobile apps for a living. Of all the software being made today, mobile apps have the saddest future. Little fragments composed by ones and zeroes working on a device that fits in your pocket. Some use smartphones for communication, others use them for entertainment, working, etc. The mayority of users ignore the enormous effort and dedication that is required to give life an app. It's a shame all those hours that developers, designers, managers and other people invested in the app's creation process. Will be lost and forgotten forever.
It is frequently, but not necessarily, celebrated in the context of a funeral.
The term has subsequently been applied to other musical compositions associated with death, dying, and mourning, even when they lack religious or liturgical relevance. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Requiem.
Brace yourself, iOS 11 is coming. https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-11-preview/. But it's more than that.
This is a translation of my original post (in spanish) in medium. Written in 2015.
Let's go 15 years to the future. Year 2032. Maybe you formed a happy family. Your friends and relatives will have kids, nephews, grandchildren, and so on. One of them ask you how it was living in the year 2017 as a Software Developer. What was an iPhone?, How apps were made?, How they worked?, Can I still use them now?. As a software developer you could tell them by your memories and experiences. But people in the future will never experience apps the same way we do it now.
If we want to experience software made 15, 20 or 30 years ago, we can use them without much trouble. Simply use a virtual machine, emulators or using the original hardware if you are lucky enough. We can learn from those software applications by using them.
Software made 15 years ago required little or no internet access to function. They didn't need "cloud" servers or "social media platforms" to deliver access to the features. Now you can easily play games, and use enterprise or offimatic software by using virtual machines or another techniques.
Today such kind of software is made too (that could still be used in 15 years), but for mobile apps is a totally different scenario. Mobile apps can't be preserved for future generations and will fall in a digital black hole.
Let's look to this example. The Space Jam movie website (https://www.warnerbros.com/archive/spacejam/movie/jam.htm). More than 20 years have passed since it's debut in 1996 and still we can enjoy it with a modern browser. Also it can be easily preserved using tools like the web archive (http://web.archive.org/web/20170102152426/https://www.warnerbros.com/archive/spacejam/movie/jam.htm) so if Warner Bros decides to shut it down we could still see the website.
With the new iOS 11 many 32 bit applications will die for ever. https://developer.apple.com/news/?id=06282017b. But this is not the first time an operating system update causes troubles with mobile apps. Let's see this page from 2015 https://www.polygon.com/2015/10/7/9470351/telltale-games-titles-removed-from-app-store-due-to-ios-9-issues.
"Back to the Future, A Wolf Among Us, and other mobile ports of Telltale Gamesâ€™ adventure tiles have been removed from the App Store following problems with the new iOS9.â€Šâ€”â€ŠPolygon.com"
Many motives could be behind an app's shutdown. The following motives could affect most applications:
- An Operating system update deletes deprecated libraries and functions. Apps that use those libraries and functions will cease to work.
- A cloud service changes it's api structure, policies or it's deleted. Services like Facebook, Twitter, iCloud and many others. A clear example was the death of Parse (A Backend as A Service). http://blog.parse.com/announcements/moving-on/. Causing a lot of apps to be re-enginered or simply left for dead.
- Hardware device is obsolete and not supported by manufacturer any more. Some apps are highly coupled with the device's hardware. If the hardware changes too much and the app is not updated, slowly the app will be forgotten.
- Google, Apple, Microsoft or "Company X" will cease to exist. These big companies control the application stores. We can not guarantee that in 500 years these companies will still be alive and supporting the eco-systems made today. They have total control of the mobile app's enviroment. We can not archive such enviroments or create emulators that can re create what we have today.
- Original creator of the application is dead. A bankrupcy or simply bought by a bigger company that is not interested in maintained older apps.
- App was removed due to other motives like legal rights problems.
- App does not make enough money to justify or pay maitainence efforts.
Initiatives like The Internet Archive (https://archive.org/index.php) try to solve this "blackhole" problem of our digital age. Millions of documents, audios, videos, websites and older software are being preserved for future generations. But it's virtually impossible to replicate and archive the same environment needed for an App that uses Facebook, Parse.com and some other services to fully function.
It's reasonable to think that many apps could be saved from total oblivion. Maybe not by preserving it's binary form and execute them in virtual machines. But we can create videos about it's glory days and the people who made and used the app.
Document people interactions. I'm not talking about software specifications. Create videos, photos, anecdotes. All the possible little things that happened in the making of the app. Have a team for curating this "people docs".
If your team uses Slack, Rocket Chat, Mattermost or similar chat app. You can create a dedicated channel called museum and upload photos and fun events relevant to the app. (Try to use something that could be backed up and not depends on external services that may die some day).
Many apps rely on just quick marketing videos and customer support. But they do not document detailed videos about the app that could help other people learn from their design, animations or ux patterns. Documenting how people used the app it will be helpful for other generations too.
If The Internet Archive tailored a specific place for this kind of documents it could help to at least tell our children how apps worked and the people behind those apps in a more truthfull way.
I personally belive that mobile applications are in the risk of oblivion. As well as all the efforts that were invested in creating them. Not only mobile apps, but the whole software industry fails to document people interactions and other important data. Software is an evolving creature and many times is not properly documented. Not only the technical docs, but the people behind them too.
Mobile apps are different than a website or other software. Because mobile apps depends on ecosystems highly controled by companies like Apple or Google. They use cloud services that could die. This causes that mobile apps have a short life span of a couple of years, depending on the original creator to maintain them and if the conditions to work (servers, apis) don't change or a kept up to date in the app. If any condition changes and the maintainer is gone. People will lost the oportunity to use the app and learn from it.
It's tremendously important to create audio visual records of the app working and the people behind it. So history could be preserved and future generations can learn how apps were made, how they worked. This way we can teach how software was made in the "smartphones" era.