Web 2.0 – Software Above the Level of a Single Device

As discussed in my previous blog, “Rich User Experiences” you have already learnt how powerful Web 2.0 and the applications that are built off it are becoming and how they are now reaching far beyond that of our everyday desktop computer; hence the ability to reach target markets has increased dramatically.

In 2010 an astounding five billion devices were connected to the internet an incredible number to reach users and target markets. These 5 billion devices were certainly not limited to your traditional desktops, but including mobile phones, tablets and any number of other devices. Clearly, one version of an application cannot suit all devices due to the variances in the features of devices. Even more amazing was a prediction made by CISCO in 2011;

“By the end of 2012, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on Earth, and by 2016 there will be 1.4 mobile devices per capita.”There will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices in 2016… Exceeding the world’s population at that time (7.3 billion).”


Today I will be discussing the next pattern of Web 2.0 identified by O’Reilly in 2004 “Software Above the Level of a Single Device”. Even those that are unfamiliar with how certain applications work most would agree applications that are limited to a single device are less valuable than those that are designed across multiple platforms. In an era of ubiquitous computing, the PC is definitely no longer the one and only device that we use to connect to the internet. Therefore, this has resulted in billions of devices in all shapes and sizes that can be connected to the internet.

So what does this have to do with “Software Above the Level of a Single Device” you ask? The whole idea of this core pattern is that web applications should be tailored to meet the needs of individual devices by focusing on the most important aspects of the service and then customize it to the resources available on the various devices. By doing so the application can create a rich and tailored service that can be used efficiently without the need for a PC.

The benefits of ‘Software Above the Level of a Single Device’ include:

  • Opens new markets
  • Access to your applications anywhere
  • Ability for location and context awareness

One such service that is a perfect example of this pattern is iTunes. iTunes which is a proprietary digital media player application, which is used for organizing and playing music and video files on a Mac or PC, which is then usually added to an iPod, iPhone, iPad or Apple TV.

The application works extremely well in seamlessly breaching the gap between handheld device to a massive web back-end, with the PC acting as a local cache and control station.  Although iTunes was not the first of this type of service, and there has been many attempts to bring web content to portable devices, iTunes has been by one the most successful and was one of the first such applications designed from the ground up to span multiple devices.

Ultimately iTunes, and other services that expand their applications among many different devices, demonstrate clearly that the PC is no longer the only access device for Internet applications, and ultimately if the application is designed only for a PC then its value is considerably less than those that expand into multiple platforms. In the end the main goal for any designer of a Web 2.0 application should be to produce an efficient and useable application for Internet services across all platforms, and push the limits of the technology.


Brodkin. Jon (2012) Mobile Internet devices will outnumber humans this year, Cisco predicts. Retrieved 20th April from, http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2012/02/mobile-internet-devices-will-outnumber-humans-this-year-cisco-predicts.ars

O’Reilly. Tim (2007) Software Above the Level of a Single Device. Retrieved 20th April from, http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2007/11/software-above-the-level-of-a.html



Filed under Web 2.0

10 responses to “Web 2.0 – Software Above the Level of a Single Device

  1. Itunes must be one of the most used tools over different devices. Do you know if we are able to access the online itunes library from our portable devices, so we can download media on the go? I have noticed many different types of ipods around today. Do you think smartphones will eventually replace ipods as smartphones become capable of holding increased amounts of data at a lower price?

    • I believe that you can stream the contents of your iTunes library on your Mac or PC to your iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, 4th generation iPod touch, or either versions of your iPad without using third party applications. Simplify Media was the first to bring the iTunes music sharing to users, but Apple release an update that includes home sharing which enables you to stream your iTunes Library via your home Wi-Fi network.

      Unfortunately though as far as I know you still can’t share your library outside of your network using the Home Sharing feature. Using an application like Zumocast is the application you will need to do that.

      Maybe iCloud does this?

      I definitely believe smartphones will replace all mp3 players eventually. The only two limitations that are currently stopping this, is battery life and as you said storage space… both of these I think will be rectified in the near future.

      • Actually Apple released a feature called iTunes in the Cloud. For a yearly subscription one can download any songs from your library (even if the songs / videos were not purchased through iTunes) to any Apple device.

        However, I believe this feature is more about trying to gain money from pirated songs through ease of sharing as apposed to offering a better service for Apple Users.

  2. I think it will be hard to replicate an application/service such as iTunes. iTunes just worked perfectly with Apple’s Business Strategies. That’s a crazy stat from Cisco that there will more computing devices then the number of people by the end of 2012, but still waiting for the day where we see flying cars.

    • Yea with most of Apples technology, they definitely weren’t the first at creating ideas, just much better than the rest at executing them. Music library’s and mp3 players had been around for years, but until iTunes it was only reserved for people with IT knowledge, now everyone can utilize a simple and easy to use service.

      HaHa yea, unfortunately I don’t think flying cars will happen in our lifetime Tony….but you never know…

  3. zhuoranzhang

    if only focus on iTunes, i do not think iTunes can be considered as web 2.0 app. But it give people a view that keep data sync in difference device is important. in my opinion, iTunes is one of key technology to make sure Apple Co. can success no matter what new product they release. just like the benefit, you have mention in your blog, “Opens new markets” , apple can success in to mobile phone or tablet field. i am very happy to see that iTunes match and iCloud provide possibility that Data can be sync through the Internet(even only among iDevice). I like Apple, they are leading the way!

    • Though you are correct that it might be better to describe iTunes as Web 1.5. iTunes demonstrates many of the core principles of Web 2.0. iTunes is not a web application per se, but it does leverage the power of the web platform, making it a seamless, almost invisible part of their infrastructure. As mentioned iTunes seamlessly reaches from the handheld device to a massive web back-end, with the PC acting as a local cache and control station.

      • zhuoranzhang

        i think the reason why Apple does not implement stream iTunes library is that they are worried about copy right. And it may be the most serious problem which hole web 2.0 industry is facing. maybe they have got a idea that they use the user payment for iTunes match to pay for the copy right cost. at least Jobs think that is a good idea.

  4. Hey there Bret, interesting read for this week’s topic, iTunes came across my mind immediately as well . I like your CISCO facts; it’s pretty crazy to think that there will be more than a phone per person so close in the future. You make a really good point throughout your post, which is that applications that are less diverse and only cover a single device are less valuable. This could not be further from the truth and I think the way the world is going with ubiquitous computing (which you also mentioned) we will see every new application developed include a mobile version. Thanks again for the great read, I will be coming back to your blog every week to drop you a comment and read your blog!

    • Hi, thanks for the comment! I think its just common sense that if; software company (A) provides an application that is only supported by a PC, and software company (B) provides similar software that is supported on multiple devices, long term company (A) will always win. As consumers we expect to be able to utilize the technology we have at any time we see convenient. It’s just how the world is!

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