A brief history of legal apps by Alex Heshmaty
This introduction to legal apps first appeared in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
Oxford Dictionaries Online defines an app as "a self-contained program or piece of software designed to fulfil a particular purpose; an application, especially as downloaded by a user to a mobile device". It is the latter half of the definition - especially in relation to iPhones and other smartphones - which popularised the term, and it is this meaning with which this article is concerned.
The late Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011) was largely responsible for the emergence and swift growth of apps, following the phenomenal success of Apple's iPhone, which was released to the market in 2007. By March 2011 Apple had sold over 100 million iPhones worldwide, such was their appeal. Although iPhones are largely generic in their design and customisation options are limited, the ability to download apps allows its users to extend the functionality of their handsets. Hundreds of thousands of apps - which can be developed and distributed by anyone with a basic understanding of computer programming - are available for download from Apple's App Store
, and range from retro games to geo-positioning programs showing locally reviewed takeaways, to those with more business-centric purposes. The multitude of apps available led to Apple's catchphrase - There's an app for that.
Many apps are free and generate money through advertising, but others need to be purchased.
In the face of Apple's initial dominance of the app market, Google developed the rival Android operating system, which spawned a vast array of smartphones taking advantage of Google's version of the App Store (the Android Market
). Android-enabled phones are generally far more customisable than iPhones and its apps are easier to distribute, with fewer restrictions. Android phones also tend to be less expensive than their iPhone counterparts, with lots of manufacturers including HTC, Samsung and LG vying for market share. This variety and affordability has resulted in the solid growth of Android phone ownership, opening the floodgates for Android app development and providing some serious competition for Apple.
Forward thinking law firms have always sought to harness web technologies to promote their services and keep in touch with their existing client base. Web 1.0 technologies such as the humble website and email newsletters led to increasingly interactive Web 2.0 concepts such as blogging, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. The beginnings of Web 3.0 can be seen in certain apps, such as those making use of a mobile phone's geo-location data or its abilities to make sense of its surroundings. Current examples of this extension of web technology include proximity sensitive directory services which list the closest restaurants, pubs - or law firms - and QR codes which can, for instance, allow a potential house buyer to scan an estate agent's sign with a phone camera and immediately view information on the particular home for sale. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence, personalisation and the Semantic Web are the next steps for Web 3.0.
If you have developed, or know about, a legal app for lawyers, or for individuals, please contact Alex Heshmaty
Alex is legal copywriter and journalist, with a particular interest in legal technology and DIY legal services. He runs Legal Words
(previously Legal Techie), a niche Bristol based company providing copywriting and content creation services for the legal sector.
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