Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Future of Genealogical Software

Warning: This blog post contains my opinions. In the past, these opinions have proved to be controversial. So, if you are avoiding controversy right now, for any reason, you might want to wait to read this post until your controversy tolerance has re-booted.

First off, I think the concept of an isolated, unconnected "desktop" computer is very close to dead. The average U.S. household has 5.7 Internet-connected devices and the total number of these devices, just in the U.S., is more than half a billion. See "Internet Connected Devices Surpass Half a Billion in U.S. Homes, According to the NPD Group." Quoting from that same article:
Overall, the number of connected devices per U.S. Internet household has grown to 5.7, up from 5.3 devices three months ago. In that time frame, the installed base of tablets increased by nearly 18 million and there are nearly 9 million more smartphones users. Amongst this growth, Apple and Samsung remained the most prevalent smartphone brands consumers own, and Apple continues to dominate the tablet market.
The number of smartphones and computers has now exceeded the number of computers. It is important to look at the variety of devices that connect to the Internet:
More than 4,000 U.S. consumers, age 18 and older were surveyed in the first quarter of 2013. The number of installed and internet connected devices includes those that deliver broadband applications such as computers, tablets, smartphones, HDTVs, Blu-ray Disc Players, video game consoles, and streaming media set top boxes.
Many of the genealogy related programs, particularly the dedicated database programs, have recognized  this expansion of devices and have designed apps that work with mobile devices to some extent. But to a greater extent, the more traditional genealogical database programs are ignoring the larger changes in the dynamics of the marketplace. Focusing solely on hardware devices is misleading as to the direction of the market. The real battle is being fought in the realm of operating systems.

It is abundantly obvious that one company, Microsoft, has dominated the operating system market for many years. Historically, the commercial battle for market share was viewed as taking place between Microsoft and everyone else. The statistics continue to show an overwhelming dominance of the Windows operating systems on desktop computers. In that area, for example, Apple computers have never risen above about 3 or 4% of the market. See Desktop Operating System Market Share. This is the classic story of winning the battle but losing the war.

The reason for this is simple. Remember, the number of non-desktop devices now exceeds the number of desktop computers. So who is winning the battle of operating systems? The company that controls the mobile/online market share. In the 1st quarter of 2013, Google's Android operating system had a 75% share of the mobile market. That is everything else besides the desktops. In that same quarter, Apple's iOS had a 17.3% share. Windows had a 3.2% share. See "Android and iOS Combine for 92.3% of All Smartphone Operating System Shipments in the First Quarter While Windows Phone Leapfrogs BlackBerry, According to IDC" So who is developing genealogy software for Android devices? The answer is any company using the Web as the primary provider of services and software.

It doesn't take a crystal ball to see where the market is going. Who uses the smartphones and tablets? Overwhelmingly younger users. Among the 18 to 29 age group cell phone ownership is at 93% and smartphone ownership is at 65% of the population and rising rapidly. While in the 65 year old plus population, that smartphone ownership is only 12%. See Pew Internet: Mobile. Only a very, very small percentage of those users are using Windows. If you want to involve younger users in genealogy, you have to provide a way for these mobile users to be involved.

How does this relate to genealogy software? If the genealogy software companies want to stay in business, they have to move to mobile devices and use Android and iOS. Are they doing this? Sort of. But who is doing this? Let's look at the top three online genealogy companies and see. has had apps for some time now, that run on both iOS and Android and connect directly to their database of Family Trees online. So their millions of online Family Tree users can access their data directly from mobile devices and they are not tied to Windows. But still has a Windows 8 app also. But the key here is that emphasis is on the Web based data, not the desktop. But their programs run on mobile as well as desktop devices. So benefits from the changes. is the newcomer. But it has already gotten into the game with apps for both Android and iOS to access their huge online family trees. They are working on a Windows 8 app also. But the key here is that they are developing powerful online tools that benefit the online family trees. They also provide a desktop solution that integrates with their online family tree for free. But the emphasis is on the online tree. has, since the beginning of 2013, been saying that Family Tree is a complete solution (or will be) for hosting your genealogical information. There is no mention of having your own genealogy on your own desktop based program. Notwithstanding this reliance on an online program, is looking to third party developers to provide mobile access to the online Family Tree. There are already Android and iOS apps that will directly access Family Tree. Additional connectivity is inevitable.

So, what about the issue of having your own data on your own program on your own computer. This still seems like a good idea, but my guess is that in the future, the mobile operating system market (young people) are not even going to recognize this as an issue. Keeping all their data on the Web will be as natural as eating and drinking. Unless the genealogy software developers recognize this change, they will simply go out of business. The idea of having your genealogy "online" will not be an issue because it will not be an option to have it anywhere else. Guess who wins in the end? Google and the online genealogy family tree providers.

Guess who loses? The software companies that are still Windows dominated and slow to take advantage of online databases. Who wants to buy a program that will only operate on one computer and cannot connect to any online database? Think about it. Genealogists who presently focus on their insular desktop computer and the unconnected database programs will disappear. What is an example of the type of program that will succeed? Something like Heredis that runs on all sorts of devices? Or's Family Tree Maker and MyHeritage's Family Tree Builder that will likely, in the future do the same? Think some more about it.


  1. James, the major Windows based systems (FTM, LFT, RM, TMG) are able to connect to database websites (using a Web Search feature) and can integrate records from those sites into a user's database. They can "connect." They just don't do it very efficiently and seamlessly.

    Mobile devices are difficult to type ("tap") information into - in the current App environment, People can attach records from Ancestry now, but I don't think that users will be able to enter data (names, dates, places, sources, notes) effectively, or create charts or reports. Voice commands may work, but seem cumbersome and complicated at present.

    1. I realize that the programs can connect and do so. The challenge isn't necessarily connectivity, it is finding ways so that the mobile devices can overcome their inherent limitations. I understand that there a several wired keyboards being developed for the tablets including iPads.

      Family Tree Maker does a good job of integrating records from their own database. I think this automated record gathering or inclusion will make a big difference in the program in the future.

      Thanks for your comment.

    2. James,

      It's been the goal for Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch and others to everyone's data in their control in their databases online. But that's no reason why developers succumb to them.

      Smart genealogists understand the importance of keeping and working with their own copy of their data. And smart developers will help them. There are databases such as SQLite that runs on all desktop, web and mobile platforms.

      Don't discount the speed of data entry from mobile devices. There are Bluetooth keyboards, but most young people don't even need them,as they already type faster with just two thumbs than they can talk.


      (This comment made from my Windows Phone)

  2. You may be looking into a crystal ball, James, and I find it rather scary, but not unrealistic. Medical records -- the beacon of privacy -- are going digital for easy access; why shouldn't all kinds of personal data? That's not to say I like it, but I think you are very probably correct in seeing Internet-based databases as the new norm. Which probably leaves many researchers back with word processors, notes, and head scratching in worthington with generational history.

    Thank you for this thought provoking discussion.

  3. My understanding is that a "smart phone" or "tablet" IS a computer. After all, isn't the word "tablet" just shorthand for "tablet computer"? Consequently, smart phones don't outnumber computers; they are an increasing percentage of those items we call computers.

    David Adams

  4. The statistics move forward to show an overwhelming dominance of the Windows managing systems on desktop computers.The firm This controls your own mobile,online market share.System Software

  5. Awesome and thought provoking. Thank YOU! I am teaching a class and this was very helpful to relate to our choices for storage of our record keeping and stories that we want to share with our descendants in thinking of the future.