Jameson Simpson

Been to a restaurant lately? Did the host take down your party’s name with pad and pen, or with an iPad? More and more, the answer is proving to be the latter.

The explosive growth of the tablet computer has sparked an entire new industry—an app economy, writes Reihan Salam in a March op-ed for The Daily (a tablet-only newspaper). The numbers speak for themselves: Some 75 million tablets have been sold since their introduction in 2010, driven by sales of the iPad. Apple alone may sell 60 million tablets in 2012. The key to the tablet’s success is its versatility—which is fostered through apps.

Salam describes the app economy as “a form of knowledge-intensive service work,” as opposed to, say, manufacturing. But the apps themselves appeal to a broad set of users. The productivity company ecoInsight, for example, designs building-audit apps for the hard-hat set. Some 2,000 users rely on ecoInsight’s Mobile Audit app to collect and analyze performance data previously gathered by hand. A new blueprints app by Plangrid, a startup, allows users in the field to manipulate plans, avoiding the costs and time associated with reprinting expensive blueprints.

The Windows 8 app store, which launched in February, currently features free apps by invited developers. If it’s a success, it will add another forum to the app marketplace—one that may augur big changes to the way that architects, engineers, and builders collect, create, and communicate data.