Apps that know about you before you do (and I’m okay with that)

TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino wrote this interesting article about Foursquare’s new app Swarm. A recently minted app, Swarm is the check-in side of Foursquare compartmentalized. It’s tiny, non-invasive, and prescient. Taking advantage of the myriad of sensors in our phones, it serves us up location-friendly information about our favorite hangout spots.

What really caught my attention was the final byline:

...We could see another whole class of apps that not only don’t need to fight for a home screen slot, they don’t need to be opened at all to add value. And that’s interesting.

Although Matthew focuses on the location apps and mentions social networks and shopping apps in passing, I kept thinking of Moves. Yes, that Moves. I remember when it first came out. It was during this frenzy of wearables coming out on the market. Jawbone and Fitbit, sleep trackers, and everything in between. They were all trying to get a hold of our vitals. But they all required extra expensive accessories tethered to our wrists.

After a quick download, Moves worked with my iPhone immediately. I never had to worry about it working. It passively tracked my locations and counted my steps. It could determine what mode of transportation I was using based on the speed I am traveling. It felt like magic. Data that I had been passively producing turned into actionable data.

In the future, the invisible app will be similar to Moves. One that is smart enough to annoy you at the right times. It knows when to talk to you. It helps you make meaning out of the basics of your day. And with minimal battery drain, more sensors being integrated into our phones, and new contextual, augmented frameworks being developed, you can be sure to see apps start to give us a knob of control in what was the abyss. I could imagine that one day, Nicholas Felton’s Reporter app would become a marquee feature of iOS: Built in, actively listening, reporting on my daily habits, and giving me an overview of my life.

The invisible app is a powerful method to wrangle more control of our lives in our own hands.