Does it seem to you, like it seems to me, that iPhone apps are the new way to drive traffic to various websites? With the always-on Internet connection of an iPhone, why bother building all the content into your app when it can simply phone home to fetch what it needs? In principle I have no problem with this: avoid duplicating data, and focus on providing a great product. In reality, though, people seem to abuse this model by quickly throwing together a decent looking app that doesn’t really provide much value to the end user. Case in point: Palo Alto Networks’ Applipedia web site and its associated iPhone app.
I’ve never heard of the Applipedia before. It “empowers security and IT staff, execs, and even users get a better handle on what they’re using, and even how to configure it safely with regards to certain features/functionality that may represent risk.” A quick look at the website confirms that: yep, it’s a listing of applications, with some decent descriptions and a risk rating. I’m a bit skeptical of arbitrary numbers to represent application risk assessments, but whatever.
I found the web site to be annoying to use, but that’s just me. Maybe their iPhone app will be easier to use? Nope. It’s no easier to use than the website. It includes icons along the bottom that look like the Apple App Store, so you can easily move between featured applications, the Applipedia app categories, search, articles, and videos. The featured apps listing includes the “New” and “Hot” buttons at the top, but includes no meaningful explanation of what makes an app “hot”. Is it a popular app? Does it have a lot of security vulnerabilities? It seems like they’re shoving the square peg of their data down the round hole of the Apple UI with no appreciation for how an end user will utilize this information.
The categories are overly broad, and all spaces have been inexplicably replaced by dashes. “File sharing” is, in fact, “file-sharing”. “General Internet” is “general-internet”. Have we some how gone back in time to those dark days when spaces were verboten in file names?
Anyway, here’s what you see for two applications I selected from their lists: google-earth and worldofwarcraft.
Oh noes! They “consume big bandwidth”! The display looks like it helpfully provides drill-down options to learn more about these applications. What does a risk level of 3 actually mean? Sorry! Tapping that field does nothing at all. The same holds true for most of the other fields, too: no means to see a listing of all apps that match “Use by malware” or other apps in the sub-category of “client-server”. There is a helpful link to Wikipedia. But why are Palo Alto Networks sending me to Wikipedia of all places, if its their Applipedia I’m using to evaluate application security?
The “Articles” button along the bottom of the screen pulls up a list of headlines, presumably from the Palo Alto Networks website somewhere, that you can click through to read. If I’m a Palo Alto customer, wouldn’t I want to subscribe to their news feed in my RSS reader, rather than use an app to fetch that same data?
And finally, the “Videos” button. This is a list of titles that link to YouTube videos. Most appear to be commercials for Palo Alto products. A few were mildly entertaining. A few were horrifically boring. This is not the stuff I want to watch on my iPhone, let alone use a dedicated app to access.
I like the idea of using the iPhone — or any mobile device — to access data stored on the Internet. I like the idea of the client-server model where the client is mostly a display, and all the application magic happens on the server. Alas, I think the Palo Alto Networks Applipedia product is a gigantic waste of time.