Every global tragedy teaches humanity something about itself. Of the many lessons we may learn from the recent Japanese earthquake one could be this: we've come to think of smart phones not as tools of convenience, but of survival. According to Phandroid, a free flashlight app for Android phones was downloaded by more than fifty thousand users just hours after the earthquake struck. "Tiny Flashlight+LED" created by Nikolay Ananiev isn't the most sophisticated app on the market, but it allows you to use either the screen or camera flash as a reliable electric torch. It's a free app and doesn't require any internet connectivity once it is installed - perfect for use in the aftermath of a disaster. Watch the video below to see how the program works. The surge in flashlight downloads is another sign that we depend on our phones for so much more now than we could have ever predicted.
I'm a little doubtful as to whether the people downloading Ananiev's app are actually in the disaster zones of Japan. Many of those locations have intermittent access to telecommunications, and it makes just as much sense that unaffected users sought out the app once they were reminded by the earthquake that such measures could be helpful in the future. For my part, I no sooner read about this surge in downloads than I got a copy of a similar app for myself on my iPhone.
No matter its cause, recent success for the app hasn't gone without notice by its creator. According to Phandroid, Ananiev reached out to them to notify the site of the app's popularity. The page for "Tiny Flashlight+LED" on the Android Market even has this to say: "If you are currently in Japan, you may want to download this app just in case the electricity stops." Clearly everyone is aware that the app fits into a valuable niche at the moment. It's not alone, obviously. There are dozens of free flashlight app for all manner of smart phones. Looking at the Ananiev's app in action, however, you can see how this one may be particularly appealing. It's pretty versatile and even without the recent surge, it's enjoyed more than 2.5 million downloads - a testament to its usefulness:
While many other disaster minded apps take an all-encompassing approach to saving lives through smart phones, the success of "Tiny Flashlight+LED" may tell us that a compartmentalized tactic may sell better to consumers. Do we want to believe that we'll need a disaster recovery app? Perhaps not, but maybe a flashlight app, with its more mundane uses, seems like a less tragic purchase we'll be willing to invest in. Not sure. Yet I have little doubt that however we get these emergency apps onto our phones, they can save lives - we've seen it happen before in Haiti. Hopefully the lessons we're learning in Japan now will help convince app developers to pursue this market aggressively. Humans are depending on their smart phones for more and more every day. We need products that make such dependence something besides a recipe for disaster.