Month: July 2009 (Page 2 of 4)

Mobile App Market worth $25 bn by 2014!?

Juniper is a research firm that regularly puts out 5-year forecasts, which it then varies equally regularly with new 5-year forecasts. So following on from the app vs web debate, Juniper rides to the rescue of the app world with its latest (well, not so fresh anymore really), predicting a not so modest $25 bn industry from mobile applications by 2014. There you have it, Google…

The big hockey stick will kick in from 2011 and it will come from value-added services rather than revenues from one-off downloads. Games will remain the biggest

So with this I wholeheartedly agree (as I pointed out here): the sector went from innovation through handsets to innovation through apps and is starting to enter innovation through services. If it will be a $25bn market in 5 years time, I don’t know. But then: the report is from April, so maybe they have varied it since.

The underlying rationale however is correct: mobile applications are merely a facilitator for the delivery of services to mobile devices, and there lies a lot of revenue hidden. So upwards, onwards!

Gamevil IPO

Did you ever want to do an IPO under the radar? Do it in Korea as no one in the ignorant Western world will be able to read your prospectus (or, if you are in the US, S-1). Game maker Gamevil, which created one of my early favourite mobile games, NOM, and has shot to fame with its less quirky Baseball Superstars franchise, which topped 10m downloads, has apparently filed for an IPO as early as April of this year and will go public at the end of the month. Did anyone know? I couldn’t find anything…

Anyhow, Gamevil wants to raise c. $10m (12.6 bn KRW) on revenues of c. $12m (15.4 bn KRW) and profits of c. $4m (5.6 bn KRW).

The press release is fairly mum for the remainder. In particular does it not say how much of the entire share capital the 840,000 shares that it will put on offer represent.

Anyhow, I am extremely happy that the guys pull this off! Congratulations, folks!

So, Google: App Store or Web? Or Both?

Last week, there was the Mobilebeat conference on, and – amongst many other things – a lot of guys felt they had to air their opinions on the future of mobile apps or, errh, no apps. They spoke so elaborately about it that even the revered FT (albeit in its blog section) and the BBC felt compelled to run stories. Amongst others, the CEO of “indie” app store Get Jar and Google’s wonderful Vic Gundotra, VP Engineering and also equipped with this most valleyed of all Silicon Valley job titles, i.e. “Evangelist” (I would really like one like this, too!), in his case for developers spoke about where they saw information and entertainment on mobile phones going in the future and how the ecosystem would look like.

Now, let’s get serious.

What was Said?

First, GetJar‘s CEO sees the market for mobile applications becoming – get this – as big as the Internet (woah!). He then said also that it would peak at about 10m apps (in total?) by 2020. Hmm. GetJar then went on to warn that the number of developers would drop “drastically” and that only about 10% would be able to survive. The others would take their skills elsewhere. So where then? To the web? (This is of course interesting also because GetJar will deliver Sony Ericsson’s App Store…).

It is here where Google comes in. Gundotra said that, according to Google (and who would question them), the web had won. Even (!) Google was struggling with the device fragmentation in mobile and many, many applications could be delivered through “incredibly powerful” browsers as well. He even borrowed Steve Jobs for his argument, pointing out that the Apple CEO had announced that the iPhone was “Built for the Web” upon its launch.

There were others who contributed: Nokia’s Head of Services reminded everyone that Nokia was there to help with its Qt (Cutie, geddit?) cross-platform application network . The Symbian Foundation’s Executive Director, Lee Williams queried the need for more app stores and called, instead, for more than “just a bucket of apps”, which should look like an aisle with the very stuff that specific consumer is interested in and which (s)he could wander down at leisure.

They all however concluded that it [scil. the mobile web] was not there yet. Hm again… Let’s try to disentangle this all:

The Needle in the Haystack

Upon the launch of the app store and the wondrous stories of the iShoot developer Ethan Nicholas who coded in his bedroom after work only to resign from his day job weeks later because he made more money than he had ever thought. A lot of developers read that and, since it is the wet dream of every games developer (earn cash with an honest game without the “suits” fiddling with your game in between; anyone remember Copeland’s skateboarding turtle?), embarked on the journey themselves. And then they found, oops, it does not work that way? Why not? Well, because there are more than 400 applications going live every day. And with the sheer number of them, it could well be that the best app ever written is already out there but buried deep a couple of categories down in the app store.

This is no big surprise. It is how it works in any sector: one smart kid is not enough, you also need the environment and a lot of other building blocks to have a winner (as reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton is painfully realizing this year).

In the app store’s (and a gazillion other) case, this means that you have to make sure that you gain some attention. From Apple (or any other app store operator), from the press, from the users out there. And this is not news. There have been very well written pieces about this galore (see here for just one of them).

So will this mean the fall of a lot of the developers that went about their business thinking the app store magic would do away with centuries of business logic (there is a reason why companies have sales & marketing departments, you know…)? Yes, very probably. But does that mean the app model is flawed? No.

The Hit Dilemma

One of the Mobilebeat participants, namely Playfish, creators of some of the most successful Facebook games who released on the iPhone, too, complained about the hit-driven nature of games on the App Store. Whilst I am painfully aware of this dilemma, one has – again – to point out that this is pretty much how most of the economy works, too, unless, that is, one builds a superior and dominant brand (Tetris would be the example for the games world).

Other industries know this, too. Everyone knows IBM is a leading computer maker. Hardly anyone remembers that the Dutch electronics giant Philips used to be one of the biggest players in that market (not even Wikipedia mentions this); their CeBIT booth was bigger than IBM’s throughout the 70’s and early 80’s (my dad worked for Philips then; I need to dig out some pictures). What happened? Hey, they missed some crucial disruptive innovations and they were history…

What I want to say is that no one is immune to the demand for constant innovation and improvement (otherwise some Firefox will sneak around the corner and steal market share). The reason why this hit dilemma is more painful in mobile games than elsewhere is the relatively small size of the market to date: it is more difficult to build reserves than in other, more established sectors.

How Many App Stores? Mee too, me three, me four, …

With Apple’s roaring success with the app store, the whole industry stampeded to put out their own, and they have been moderately successful or failed. But it is early days! Why did they fail? Because they equally had hoped that one thing and one thing only (just name your bucket of apps an “app store”) would heal the painful failure of the sector in converting otherwise gladly paying users to also using, consuming, contributing to entertainment and information on their mobiles. Now, this overlooked that Apple’s model did not only consist of a storefront. It also consisted of a fairly simple developer programme (with a click-through agreement), a fair(er) revenue share to the developers and unprecedented ease of use in getting to the app of one’s choice. Try and apply this to, say, the launch of Nokia’s Ovi Store

So do users need more than one store? No, not in general. If you can get all you ever need, want or desire from one destination, you don’t need another one. This however becomes a little precarious with a view to monopolizing channels. You would never know if there are not some that are a little more equal than you… So, having Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc. next to Internet Explorer did the world a ton of good. And having Nokia, Sony Ericsson, the carriers working on alternatives to Apple’s app store is arguably of equal value. Will the user care? It depends on the execution: Google’s superior search algorithms made the old-style catalogue model previously found in search engines superfluous; why do I need to sort something if I have a little fairy that races to get me what I want in no time? So: if I have a bucket that comes with a little fairy, I don’t need long, long supermarket aisles. I’d rather get it home-delivered by the search fairies.

It’s the Usability, stupid!

Now to the key question: separate apps or web? Now in Google’s case, their pleading is somewhat obvious: well, they would, wouldn’t they?

Google, on the other hand, has apps out on most platforms for most of their web services: Be it Gmail (great Blackberry app!), Maps, or – all in one – their iPhone Google app, it comes as an app. And why?

Because it would otherwise be unusable! OK, let me rephrase that: the delivery of browser-based applications through mobile phones suffers some very severe setbacks today, amongst which usability on a small screen, constant connectivity and bandwidth. Whilst the latter two are arguably solvable some time soon, the former is a little trickier: when delivering to a mobile device, you not only have to download all underlying data (graphical assets, etc) but also an interface that works on that device. And because of the small form factor of mobile phones (even in the case of large-screen touchscreen phones like the iPhone), this is likely that your user experience will be significantly worse than on a large screen equipped with mouse, touchpad, etc. Apps can bridge this usability gap, and I would argue that this is precisely why Google is producing them. The underlying content can often (not always) well be delivered from the cloud but the UI of small devices is crucial to their sensibility.

With both (mobile) browser technology and handsets improving, the space available for services that can sensibly (and with superior costs) be delivered from the cloud (i.e. through the web) will increase, and steeply. However, there will always be applications that will either be impossible to deliver via the web (name a high-end 3D racing game on the web) or where a specific mobile UI would greatly improve the usability of any service.

It is another question if these will be delivered via flexible widgets or larger, more comprehensive apps (functionally, a lot of apps effectively are covert widgets); this will simply be (and remain) a question on the complexity of any given task and the ease and superior (or not) delivery an app would provide over a browser-based service. There will be an equilibrium between the two but I posit that there will remain large areas where browser-based delivery will not be able to compete with specific applications (that will draw on data from the cloud as well). Incidentally, 58% of Wired readers agree with me (and another 17% don’t care; check the bottom of the article) 😉

This can be seen on the (“normal”) web, too: Google Docs (Google’s online suite of office applications) is, despite a lot of effort and being free to use, an utter underdog to MS Office or Open Office (the only numbers I could find give Google Docs a market share of between 1% and 5%). It is, I think, because downloadable office “apps” are so much more usable (and react instantaneously irrespective of my ISP’s moods) than online services. The complexity of the computing (and – more importantly – the bandwidth necessary to deliver it) is just too overwhelming (see here for a previous post on this).

More evolved mobile apps often are (and/or will be) a hybrid: they offer a front-end that optimizes the data drawn from an online environment for use on a specific mobile device. It will not be an “either/or” but an “and”. Anything else would anyway be so last century!

In Conclusio:

Whenever possible, services will move online because it is cheaper to produce. Whenever necessary, they will be delivered through dedicated apps because it is required to use them!

Carnival of the Mobilists #183

Another week, another Carnival of the Mobilists. This week’s edition is hosted by Tam Hanna on their TamsIJungle blog. Read it here. They have included two of my posts this week, namely my look on mobile cloud computing as well as my response to Robert Scoble on mobile innovation.

Is Apple to break iPhone exclusivity?

There have been rumours galore about Apple’s exclusive deals for its iPhone all over the place (see e.g. here for Verizon). New reports have now surfaced that appear to confirm that Apple is looking at this option for both the US and the UK (and, if this works, presumably also for other territories):

In the UK, T-Mobile confirmed it was in talks with Apple over stocking the iPhone 3G (the 3GS remaining exclusive to O2, which also has its hands on the Palm Pre) and Orange is “believed”, to be as well.

In the US, the Verizon discussion has been around for a while. A new report now suggests that losing the exclusivity would spell doom for AT&T: the report estimates that as much as 30% of AT&T’s customer are with the carrier solely because of the iPhone exclusivity. This sounds a little high to me: after all, the iPhone penetration in the US is much lower than that (it held just under 11% market share globally in Q1/2009). Are they saying that all the other users (those with the less fancy handsets) just stay on AT&T to share into the iPhone limelight? No, I thought not…

Apple is in any event in a beautiful position at the moment: so far, most of its competitors’ “iPhone killers”(Palm Pre, Blackberry Storm and innumerable devices from Samsung, LG and Nokia) have failed to challenge its numbers and, quite literally, all of the app stores set up by competitors showed meagre results compared to the – now – 1.5 bn (!) downloads in a little over a year from the Apple App Store. The good folks from Cupertino are therefore now in a pretty good position: they proved (a couple of times now) that they shift 1m+ devices – on the opening weekend! They bring a lot of sex appeal in which the carriers, not generally known for coolness, can bask. They cracked the content dilemma and produced a thriving developer community, which made people actually use their phones for all these things that have been promised for so long (iPhones are connected, most others can connect). In short: in carriers eyes, they are – aside from the horrible fact that Apple takes a healthy cut – a really good thing for networks that see themselves locked into cut-throat pricing wars over voice and SMS (bringing in, anecdotally, up to 50% of European carrier profits over the past 5 years) and craving for a way to increase user ARPU (app revenue on the iPhone is, apparently, $27 per device). Happy days…

Mobile Innovation; in Response to Scoble

Egoblogger extraordinaire Robert Scoble has never been known to be shy, and so he declared with his usual great fanfare that Europe did not matter any more in terms of mobile innovation. Why did he say that, you ask? Well, Nokia apparently took him to visit their research lab in Cambridge (no, not in Espoo) as part of a (Nokia-)sponsored geek tour. And Scoble was not impressed. Because (1) everyone appears to have been texting when he was on the tube (how quaint), (2) the N97 isn’t cooler than the iPhone and (3) Symbian is much clunkier than the iPhone’s OS or Palm’s WebOS, Scoble deduces that Europe has had it.

He reduces this loss of leadership in mobile innovation to handsets or, more specifically, to the coolness factor of handsets (“London’s cool kids are [not] hot and bothered” about the N97). And, with that somewhat tight limitation, he might actually be right. Nokia has been losing ground on the coolness and usability front for quite a while. However, when it comes to technical ability, their devices are still quite hot. Scoble basically uses the iPhone plus the first Android-based (Taiwanese [sic!]) phones to declare that the king is dead.

Hardware is a Commodity

Now, let’s try to differentiate a little. Would you say the US have the lead in computer manufacturing? Well, probably not. IBM’s ThinkPads are Chinese, then there is Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, and there is HP and Dell. There is of course also Apple (“designed in California”). Does it matter at all where the hardware is from? No, not at all, and no one really cares anymore. And why not? Because hardware is basically a commodity, that is in a world where one does not actually see that much of the hardware because the interfaces are software-driven. And these are from Microsoft, etc.

In mobile, this has not been true in the past because their were such vast differences in the available hardware that the usability was severely impaired should you have been using, say, a low-end Motorola device as opposed to a high-end Nokia. This is where the myth of European mobile superiority comes from. And, with Apple, RIM and maybe Palm again, this is firmly in North American hands. There are of course Samsung and LG, the Korean powerhouses who drive their market share up and up. Android devices G1, G2 and Magic are from Taiwanese HTC. However, given how far mobile software and indeed services have come: does it really matter either way today? I say it does not.

Here’s the Innovation: Services

If one wants to see where mobile innovation is happening, one would need to go to South Korea, Japan, Finland (not the Nokia research labs but, say, the public transport system where you can pay via SMS for the past couple of years already), Austria (mass deployment of mobile RFID-payments), South Africa (mobile wallets and very evolved mobile marketing services), Malaysia, the Philippines and even Kenya (mobile money transfers). Certainly not the US though, I’m afraid. They are still the country where “can you hear me now?” campaigns rule.

The iPhone has changed a lot of things of course. However, American Idol arguably did a lot more. It brought, shock, horror, texting to the Americans. SMS being, of course, a service. And why, Mr Scoble, should that be bad? Carriers (other than in the US) have made 25% of their revenues and 50% of their profits over the last 10 years with this unassuming little thing. That’s not too shabby, is it? The iPhone (and Palm’s WebOS) have introduced a new level of ease of use, and one that was long overdue. One that woke Nokia, which had comfortably dominated the space with less and less innovation on the software side, up (and Nokia might be a little slow to open their eyes properly). And one that will improve service levels all over the world.

Where the Big Market is

However, let us also not forget that the best-selling phone of all times is the Nokia 1100. No, it doesn’t do Java. It has a battery life of close to 20 years though and comes with a flashlight installed. Both very handy things to have in rural parts of developing or emerging countries. Nokia is having a fairly comfortable market share in these countries. I am not sure if that is a good thing to rest on though: as these markets, they demand more sophisticated devices. And because the computer penetration is much lower than in Europe, Japan, South Korea and North America, the significance of evolved mobile devices will be even more important. Nokia thought this would carry it through. However, we are seeing now that that might not be so: its smartphone market shares are rapidly decreasing.

Europe is not Europe

One last word on Europe: distinct to what Mr Scoble appears to have in mind, Europe is not a country, and this is not meant to be sarcastic. Europe is a pile of little countries and in each of them a couple of carriers rule like little kings. It makes for an extremely complex (and, consequently, low-margin) playground to deploy services. The US (as well as some of the huge Asian countries) have the incredible opportunity to deploy applications and services in one language through less than a handful of carriers to hundreds of millions. No such thing in Europe.

And this is why the US should lead in every aspect really: it is an evolved, competitive economy and it enjoys the tremendous upside of being (almost) completely aligned as to the framework: language, currency, carriers, billing systems, legal system, etc. This is the reason why the US has indeed leapfrogged Europe, the continent, when it comes to basic mobile applications: economies of scale are much easier to achieve there.

Software, Services, Interfaces

When one looks at Nokia in its current state as the sole indicator of where European mobile innovation is, one might be disappointed (as I pointed out numerous times, e.g. here). However, when one looks at how concert tickets are being sold via mobile, public transport, parking fees and vending machines all using mobile as a wallet solution, or indeed Obama making his latest speech available via SMS (there are more than 10x as many mobile phones in Africa than PCs according to Tomi Ahonen), then one can and should still be awed. And, no, in spite of its President the US is not (yet) close in this respect.

I hope, however, the US will catch up on this front sooner rather than later, too. Because of the size of the market and the aforementioned advantages, it would unleash incredible opportunities that would bring all of us fantastic new services and applications. And, Mr Scoble, it does not matter if these are 160 characters or polished web pages; it depends on what you want to do with it (as you, being one of the most prolific Twitterati, surely know).

I did not text anymore because I hated the UI and could not stand the clunky interfaces (in spite of T9; I’m too old, I guess). I started again with the iPhone. Why? Because – distinct what some people say – it’s a great interface: it displays the conversation, it looks neat and I have a full keyboard (the touch screen works much better than I feared; and I used a Blackberry for years and years). But that is not a question of the device or the technology, it is solely a question of the software. I would be much happier if I could also use my iPhone (or any other phone) to buy my newspaper (which I can with an RFID-equipped credit card in this country and which I could do in, say, Austria, a country with 2/3 the population of Illinois and a footprint smaller than Maine).

What Scoble misses (or omits in his post) is that the next leap in innovation will be a service-driven one (just as we saw on the Internet: first hardware, then basic apps, now sophisticated services).

Mobile has had the hardware phase, it is going through a “basic” app phase, and some European, African and Asian countries have entered the value-added services phase already, some years and years ago in fact! Compared to the US, they’re leading, by a lot! They’re perhaps just too small for the Robert Scoble to realize they’re there… But, as I said above: this is not about Europe leading the US (apart from the fact that it would appear to being Asia that is truly leading and has been for a while): it is about the evolution of an incredibly powerful communication device that is being unlocked for more and more applications and services; and this is independent from country and nationality!

Along those lines: why, Mr Scoble, should it be a bad thing that Europeans now “must” visit Cupertino and Mountain View. California is nice, isn’t it? Not a bad thing to go visit every now and then at all! We’re living in a large world, Mr Scoble, not only on a single continent, and mobile is a facilitator spurning new ecosystems, not only a device.

Image credit drawing:

Carnival of the Mobilists # 182

This week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is a bit of a special one as it is the first one that is actually hosted on a mobile phone! The daring host is Antoine RJ Wright and the Carnival is here.

Page 2 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén