Apps & Misfits

Songkick is one of those killer iPhone apps that any music fan immediately falls in love with. It’s utility is simple and straightforward: it scans the iTunes library on your phone and tells you which of the artists in your library have shows upcoming near you. It even notifies you when a new show gets added to your geographic area.

Rdio is another killer music app. It’s a beautifully designed all-you-can-eat music service that puts just about everything worth listening to into your hands. It’s sort of like Spotify, except more elegantly executed. After subscribing to Rdio, the whole ritual of purchasing, syncing and moving files around on iTunes feels utterly silly. Rdio and its ilk are clearly the future. Rdio and Songkick. I’m in digital music heaven.

Except there’s one big problem: they can’t talk to each other. Now that my iTunes library has gone stale and my Rdio collection has come alive, Songkick has gone silent. It can’t tap Rdio on the shoulder and find out the latest music I’m into. Because Songkick and Rdio are iOS apps, they’re aggressively sandboxed.

There are probably a host of reasons to sandbox apps. I suppose you don’t want any single app of “polluting” the overall experience of using the device. I’m sure there are security reasons as well. Undoubtedly, iOS is the least messy of the mobile platforms because apps are so effectively policed. The crime rate on iOS is near zero as a result.

You know what else has a very low crime rate? Police states. States where creative and innovative ideas that question the political-operating system have difficulty flourishing or even seeing the light of day. Even if the leadership is draped in benevolent intent, the voices that want to innovate across and beyond the sandboxes are silenced.

The example I’ve shared here isn’t even revolutionary. It’s a basic bridge between sandboxes. For all we know, Rdio and Songkick may talk to one another and partner up one day. What should concern us more are the revolutionaries that want to play outside the rules. Yes, innovation can happen inside the sandbox. But real innovation transcends the rules. The tinkerers – the ones that hold the ideas that have exponential potential – can’t…tinker. They can’t dismantle, reconfigure, mix and match. They can’t play around.

There are 118 known chemical elements. 118 baseline ingredients that are manipulated, matched up and configured to solve everything from curing diseases to challenges around energy. Apps may be the hot space for innovation right now, but we should be wary. We’ve stepped away from the fertile soil of the web and towards beautifully paved and rigidly constrained environments. Cleanliness and safety are virtues, but we need that strange brew to play and invent as well.

This isn’t a plea for stereotypical rebellion. This is also good business. There will be no billion dollar app. There will be no Facebook or Google on ITunes or Android Market alone. Limit mobility and you limit potential.

At first, I struggled with how to end this post. Eventually, that famous “Think Different” Apple ad began ringing in my head. Try to ignore the irony and just embrace it’s brilliance at face value:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Inc.