What are the odds that Blackberry App World will emerge as strong player in the App Space?
It is us, or did the big news out of last month’s CTIA (i.e. RIM’s announcement of Blackberry App World) didn’t really get much attention? Instead, what we heard most was a great collective gnashing of teeth over the absence of new Android handsets, and of course everyone and their mother getting all lathered up over something iPhone-related.
Could this be the moment when Blackberry became irrelevant? The moment when we’ll all look back and say, “Yep kids… before we had the iThisOrThat, we all had these funny little Blackberry dodads… they had these pesky scroll wheels and track balls and we pecked email out with our thumbs.” Perhaps so. Here at mobilestance, however, we think the ‘Berry’s not going anywhere, anytime soon… and that their “App World” is an important development that deserves its proper due.
That said, with competition in the Smartphone space getting so fierce, so fast, we thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and attempt to forecast whether App World has real legs or not. Our system uses a “thumb scale” of one to five thumbs (OK, the thumb metaphor breaks down a bit when we get to five thumbs, but who cares? We can have five thumbs, can’t we?).
The Experience (weak thumbs-up: 3/5).App World’s failings, when compared to the Apple App Store, have been well covered elsewhere, but the long and the short of it is that while App World isn’t half as slick, robust or easy to use as Apple’s App Store, it does the job well enough to satisfy your average user. Entertainment-starved BBery users are voting with their thumbs, downloading apps such as the ClearChannel iheartradio app over 257,756 times in two short weeks time – a positive sign to be sure.
Developers, developers, developers (strong thumbs-down: 1/5). Developing for Blackberry has always been a less than ideal experience. In addition to universally-panned, couldn’t be more cumbersome developer tools, RIM has a certification process akin to the old BREW system or Carrier model. Sure… once your in, you’re in – and access to those sweet device API’s must be fantastic (seamless add-to-cal, push notification, etc), but having to jump thru hoops just to be an “approved developer” is a little much… in light of *ahem* – much more open platforms… and especially since nowadays Android and Apple can match most of what RIM is offering in terms of API integration (except that pesky calendar integration – Cupertino, are you listening!?!).
Pricing (weak thumbs-down: 2/5).I’m sorry, but anyone who’s taken Economics 101 can tell you that artificial price floors like what RIM is doing with the $2.99 floor for paid downloads only serve to deflate consumption, clumsily pushing the market off the organic price/demand curve. Yes, yes… we are aware of the argument that $0.99 iPhone app downloads have eroded the value of mobile applications to the point where the paid model is no longer viable. To that we would say, “Come on! How much is iFart really worth (to users)? Let the developers charge what they want, already. Consumers will pay more for the good stuff.”
User Base (thumbs-up: 4/5). In terms of scale, Blackberry’s clearly got the edge over Apple and Android here (I’m ignoring the Nokia app store for now, because… well, mobilestance is published in the US, and let’s face it… ignoring Nokia is what Americans do). Even though BBery users need to be running version 4.2 or higher to use App World, that’s still a lot of Bolds, Storms (both come preloaded with the new OS), as well as those with relatively newer models that can handle the firmware upgrade.
On-device Competition (Strong Thumbs-up: 5/5). The dark horse in all of this, and the primary reason why I believe App World will be relatively successful right out of the gate, is the simple fact that the Blackberry default browser is just terrible… and that our assumption is that Blackberry users will jump at the chance to have ANY positive on-device experience with the brands they love – and this means downloading applications from App World. Comparatively speaking, Blackberry apps are simply MUCH better than the comparable browsing experience, far more so than on any other smartphone platform (and I’m including Microsoft here). Quite simply, for many Blackberry users browsing is so poor an experience that (relatively) few bother with it at all.
Final score: (Weak thumbs-up / 3 out of 5 “thumbs”) . So there you have it. When you average it all together our quick and dirty handicap on whether App World will be successful is a somewhat lukewarm “yes.” Not exactly a contender, but a long term player that deserves our attention, and respect.
Now… anyone want to take a stab at the over/under for total downloads in the first six months? Medialets? Pinch? comScore? I’m looking at you, Eric.
Does the mere presence of Google’s HTML5 Apps Cast Doubt on Their Commitment to a Robust Android App Environment? Short answer – it depends… or so it would seem, as Google expresses a desire to move to the cloud, but is held back by poor web app performance versus locally hosted software. But for how long?
Google’s recent demo of their slick HTML5 version of Gmail, which was shown running on a Palm Pre at Mobile World Congress a little over a week ago, wowed onlookers with its native app-like functionality, particularly with respect to its ability to allow users to draft and organize emails while offline. Google accomplished these feats by taking advantage of the local databasing, geolocation and “AppCashe” functionality of the new, HTML5-based Webkit browsers, like those found on the upcoming, Palm Pre. Both the Apple iPhone and Android-based HTC G1 and G2 “Magic” handsets also incorporate Webkit browsers.
This demo of the HTML5 version of Gmail seems so good, so solid, robust and scalable, that one has to wonder if the conspiracy theory half-heartily put forth in our last post (i.e. Google encouraging Android OS fragmentation among device OEMs to favor web-based apps over locally hosted solutions) has any real merit. While undoubtedly interesting in its salaciousness (after all, who among us doesn’t enjoy a good Google conspiracy theory from time to time?), the theory seemed a bit flimsy… until Google’s recent HTML5 web app demo.
Ultimately, the question is if Google is truly committed to fostering a stable, robust Android development environment or is the Android SDK merely a stopgap measure for the search giant, until such time as most major application functionality can be migrated into the browser? At a recent Android Developer meetup I had the chance to ask Google Product VP Bradley Horowitz this very question.
Throughout the event Horowitz habitually brushed aside specific questions about the future of Android by steadfastedly emphasizing his lack of his direct oversight or visibility into the OS’s development roadmap. His perspective, however, did seem to change somewhat when asked about Google’s plans to eventually abandon a focus on native Android apps as soon as Browser-based solutions were up to the task.
For the record, Horowitz startlingly confirmed that “the end goal” for Google would be that “Webkit would swallow up” all the rich functionality which now can only be accomplished by native apps. Horowitz went on to express “frustration [that] even in desktop apps” there’s a performance hit when migrating app functionality to the browser, although one might argue that with respect to the mobile devices, with their limited processing power and available memory, that the performance difference between the two might not be so great… and the “uber” web app might just be the silver bullet we’ve all been waiting for. Ultimately, Horowitz hedged a bit in his closing remarks, stating that both web apps and the local Android SDK might align on parallel paths in pursuit of richer, more functional and higher performing solutions.
Weird stuff. One has to wonder if all the paranoia isn’t starting to make just a too much sense. Stay close to mobilestance.com for more on this and other popular conspiracy theories… Next week we’ll take a deeper dive into Sasquatch sitings at Area 51 (“couldn’t be a man in a gorilla suit, no f*ing way man you know he’s real”).
What’s Behind What Some View as Android’s Growing List of Self-Inflected Problems. Conspiracy? Complacency? Or Raw Genius At Work?
At first glance, it might appear that things are going pretty well for Android. The free-to-license mobile OS has quickly become popular among many cash strapped mobile OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Heavyweights such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG and Motorola, along with handset newcomers Garmin and even Dell (hold for laughter) have all announced plans to develop handsets for the Google-run platform.
Supposedly, T-Mobile even managed to sell roughly one million Android-powered HTC G1’s last quarter… a respectable, yet not exactly iPhone-worthy performance (but to be fair, Apple and AT&T set an impossibly high standard with iPhone 3G, accomplishing in three days what Android did in three months – who knew AT&T would deliver on their promise of “Raising the Bar” so literally!).
Yet a quick peek below the surface reveals a conflicting scenario emerging for everyone’s favorite “Little (open-source) engine that could.” Depending on your point of view, the OS is either plagued with systemic flaws, or designed with a profound sense of Machiavellian perfection. The exceedingly real threat of viruses, worms and other forms of malware, combined with a system seemingly “design to fragment” (read: seriously frustrate application developers) leaves one wondering if (as the conventional wisdom would have you believe) that Android’s model scales so well, and its backers so powerful and smart, that it can’t fail to become a serious contender over the long term… or what we’re really looking at is nothing more than “Yet Another (seriously flawed) Google Beta Product.”
The issue of Android’s well-publicized “open door” security policy reared its pathogenic head again last week in the form of an all-out malware scare, and although the jury’s still out on whether or not the now infamous “MemoryUp” application did (as was accused) take over a user’s mobile, spam out its contacts and wipe its memory, or is just (as was suspected by cooler heads), merely a poorly designed, near universally-panned app… the frightening fact remains that the only thing standing between us and just such a dark reality is the relatively low profile group known as the Android Security Team.
Unfortunately for Android users, this team (of which whose public presence appears to consist entirely of one message board post dated August 18, 2008) seems to operate in a decidedly passive capacity: rather than vigilantly seeking and tracking down security flaws wherever they might appear in the system, the model works more like a ticket-based complaint counter, addressing user-submitted security threats when (and only when) the Goog Squad is alerted to their presence by the public. It would be as if the local police force was replaced by an automated 911 system (and we all know how efficient that system can be). While it wouldn’t be 100% accurate to say that “no one’s minding the Android App store” (er, market) – there’s far more truth in that statement than many are willing to admit.
Moving on, the other significant issue facing the Android system – that of the looming threat of OS fragmentation – has (unsurprisingly) garnered scant attention in the trade press. I say “unsurprisingly” as so far the threat of OS fragmentation is fairly complex and has yet to be an issue as, with only one Android handset on the marketplace (so far) – the HTC G1 – there just isn’t that much of a marketplace to fragment. That said, this issue seems to have some real legs, not to mention real intrigue, and is, in our opinion, very likely to seriously impede Android application development over the long term.
Before we get into all the wide-eyed intrigue and half-baked conspiracy theories, a little background information on the subject of OS fragmentation is in order. At its core, the issue revolves around the fact that Android, as an open source software platform, freely publishes its source code to the world under the general assumption that under “the eyes of the world’s” constant viewing, tinkering, and deploying – the software will ultimately become more robust, stable and efficient than any system created and maintained by a finite number of (paid) employees. As is the case with a great many subjects, the devil is in the details. It seems that when Google formally launched the Android project back in late 2007, it chose the to advocate a licensing model (Apache) whereby third parties could maintain private ownership over any modifications made to Android’s publicly-available source code, and would not be compelled (as in other open source licensing models) to turn over said software modifications or enhancements back “to the public domain” – so that (among other reasons) these modifications could (potentially) be incorporated into future versions of the software… thereby making the whole system more unified, and less “fragmented.”
So here’s where things can really get messy. As said, mobile handset manufactures designing smartphones are turning to Android in large numbers, driven mainly by its price point (free), as well as its many innovative design features. That said, not all of these “Android” devices will be running the same version of Android, as handset manufactures will be under extreme pressure to modify Android in order to maximize the performance of the particular hardware components making up each of their individual handset models. This means that Android developers will soon have to create multiple versions of each Android application they develop in order to insure that their apps will run correctly on each “version” of Android in the marketplace (i.e. all the different handsets running “Android”). This time-consuming and labor-intensive process, known to overworked software developers the world over as “porting,” significantly drives up the cost of software development. Ultimately, Android developers will need to limit the number of Android handsets they can support as simply a matter of cost/benefit. This well-known problem has been identified as one of the primary barriers that has held up mobile software development to date, as the current crop of Java, Symbian and BREW feature phones are simply fragmented beyond belief.
We’ve already seen the beginnings of fragmentation in the Android system, as differences in handset specifications play out over the various geographic regions – and with the sheer number of players about to enter the space in the coming year this issue is bound to accelerate dramatically. That said, it is inevitable that that this scenario will negatively impact the development of innovative, new applications for Android over the short term. The only real question is to what extent will Android innovation be stymied?
What makes this issue to interesting to many is that, due to advocating the Apache licensing model for Android, Google seems to be actively encouraging Android fragmentation. Ironically, this apparent paradox was first identified by Sanjay Jha, Chief Operating Officer of Qualcomm’s chipset division (ironic in that Qualcomm is one of the founding members of the Open Handset Alliance and the Android initiative!) who, in a Register story that emerged out of last Spring’s CTIA conference, was quoted as saying that “Google wants fragmentation in the [mobile] industry.”
Here’s where the conspiracy theories start kicking into overdrive. Keeping all of this in mind, some have speculated that – in a thinly veiled strategy against its old desktop rivals (Microsoft), Google would potentially benefit from Android fragmentation in that it would be prohibitively expensive for any one developer to dominate any fragmented system with a mainstay-like platform such as Microsoft Outlook or Office, both “heavy clients” that rely on sophisticated software applications running on the device’s (local) hardware (e.g. the desktop PC, or the mobile handset). A fragmented system would ultimately favor companies like Google that favor thin client / “cloud computing” models (e.g. Gmail and Google Docs), where all the application’s heavy lifting is done on the server side (via the network), rather than on the client side (i.e. the mobile handset) – in this case the actual applications on the client/handset side usually reside in nothing more than a decent web browser. All of this poses a very intriguing question: Could Google be subtly sabotaging device-side Android application development in favor of its browser-based / thin-client model?
Bringing this post full-circle, it is possible that both these two issues (fragmentation and security) may cancel each other out, sort of… again, ultimately resolving in Google’s favor. The theory goes a little like this: The folks that write software viruses, worms and other such programs do so primarily for the notoriety that comes with affecting many systems/users all at once – either with benign or malicious intent. Platforms that don’t scale simply are unappealing to most virus writers. Similar to the natural virus protection afforded by using a niche desktop system such as a Macintosh (sorry guys, I love ya but you’re still using what I would consider a niche product), few developers will waste their time writing a virus that only affects a (relatively) small number of people, when they can get better “bang for the buck” elsewhere. The same forces that make it prohibitively expensive for (most) application developers to support a wide range of devices in a fragmented system will also similarly affect virus writers. In affect, by encouraging fragmentation, Google could be enhancing Android security while simultaneously crippling many of its former rivals in the desktop space (or is this giving Google just a little too much credit?).
Thoughts? If you have an opinion, share it… as there’s nothing like a good conspiracy to spice up the industry some!
Peer into Mobilestance’s Proprietary Crystal Ball!
Well it’s that time of year again… when pundits and publishers large and small exploit the slow end-of-year news cycle to recap the old and forecast the new. Here at mobilestance it’s a extra-special time of year… as it was nearly one year ago when we formally “came out” of beta with our 2007 Recap piece and spammed it out to our publisher’s 3,000 + email address book. Ahh… memories!
This year, rather than spend the next thousand words rehashing what was undoubtedly the most exciting year in mobile since the advent of the crazy frog ringtone, we decided instead to take the easy way out and peer ahead to future… casting our lot into a sea of like-minded posts from across the blogosphere.
So what will occur in 2009 at the intersection of Mobile and Marketing? Will location become (as Dan @ Organic so eloquently put it in a recent Facebook status) “just another input”? Will MMS finally become interoperable between carriers and ShortCodes, and finally emerge as a realistic marketing vehicle? Will a wave of consolidation sweep the industry, as smaller independent mobile agencies, technology vendors and ad networks become casualties of the “great recession”? Will newly legislated digital privacy-controls arrive just in time to kill the mobile web? And of course the big question on everyone’s minds: Will mobile finally jump from the backwater of marketing budgets known as “emerging,” grow some legs, ditch the tail, and finally walk upon solid (budgetary) ground?
So read on then, fearless time shifters… and arm yourself for the ensuing complexities that will envelope our fledgling industry in the coming year!
Mobilestance’s Top 10 Mobile Marketing Predictions for 2009
2009 Will be the Year of Mobile. After many false starts the Long Joke will finally end… and Mobile will finally have its moment in the sun. With the rising popularity of smartphones; the lower cost of mobile data; and the pervasiveness of mobile broadband, internet and other “beyond voice” services, Mobile (with a capital “M”) will finally achieve critical mass in the US – and agencies, brands and business infrastructure providers alike will finally start paying attention with the purse strings.
2009 Won’t be the Year of Mobile. What would a mobile marketing prognostication piece be without some conflicting signals? Call it hedging my bets… but I just couldn’t resist punching up the contradiction that is the current state of mobile marketing. Sure, everything I said in the previous ‘graph is dead on… the crystal ball is crystal clear on that. But will that make 2009 “The Year of Mobile?” Hardly. Sure, mobile has made some great strides of late in terms of its effectiveness as a marketing channel, and there is NO doubt that will come even farther, faster in 2009. But sorry kids, it simply will not find its way out of the “emerging” bucket when it comes to budgeting. No, the “Year of Mobile” can only be declared after we see dedicated “mobile” advertising, CRM and/or marketing budgets… or (at a minimum) a substantive breakout from a larger “digital” line… and with 2009 shaping up to the second coming of the “Flight to ROI” of 2002 (warning: pdf link) , we’ve probably got until 2010 until we can finally herald the end of the Long Joke. In the meantime there’s still plenty for Mobile Marketers to do – namely, hone our skills and prepare ourselves for when the money spigot really opens up in 2010.
Mobile Search Comes of Age. OK, enough with the levity… let’s get into some serious forecasting. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about mobile usage in ‘08, it’s that smartphones = search volume. While previously a mere academic curiosity, this correlation will show real legs in ‘09, as legions of iPhoners, Crackberry Addicts and the like will continue take to mobile search like a longshoreman on a bender (read: heavy consumption punctuated with colorful language) . We’ve already witnessed both Google and Yahoo fine tuning their mobile search products – albeit in very different ways – and in 2009 we will see the beginnings of a real business emerge in this sector. Watch for the leading engines and agencies make a major mobile plays in ‘09, as both will look to the sector to help sustain revenue growth and counter the “leveling off” of the (once interstellar) growth trajectory of “traditional” online paid search and/or SEM – as both (especially the former) begin to show early signs of maturation.
Mobile Video (finally) Gets Interesting. Along with search, the other interesting affect that comes with increased smartphone penetration is increased consumption of mobile video. I say “interesting” as in “somewhat viable” or “worth experimenting with”- which should not be interpreted as “it’s going to explode” (or even that I’m reasonably bullish on the channel). No… while I’ve been a mobile video hater for many years for reasons too numerous to count, we’ll see enough scale in 2009 to merit some testing… as after all, leveraging the moving image remains (arguably) the most effective method by which one can influence consumer behavior.
Apples Grow on Trees… While Android Picks up Steam. A no brainer that simply cannot be ignored… and the importance of which cannot be overstated. Most likely, Apple will successfully keep its momentum into ‘09 by rolling out popular, yet evolutionary iPhone models (think new colors and modestly increased storage capacity/performance, rather than new form factors or revolutionary new features or price points). Android will likely see a bigger increase in Mobile OS share (albeit from a smaller base) than Apple, as Samsung (Spring) and Motorola (Fall) roll out hot new handsets utilizing the Open Source mobile OS. And speaking of Open Source, it will be interesting to see if the (reasonably) open Android starts “out innovating” Apple’s proprietary mobile OS when it comes to features and applications. As it is we’re still waiting for Google to integrate a working commerce model (safe money is on Google Checkout… duh!) into the Android Marketplace so that developers will have an easier time charging consumers for applications (expected Spring, 2009) – so it might be awhile before developers truly embrace Android as tightly as they have with the iPhone SDK. Our prediction: in 2009 Android will become the “hip incubator” for mobile application and/or OS innovation… with Apple and/or independent iPhone developers skimming the cream and co-opting the most interesting ideas of the bunch.
Biggest Losers of 2008: Motorola, Palm and Sprint Stay Alive. Notable for their ability to keep breathing, the “Crap Pack” of ‘08 will not kick the bucket as so many are predicting. Sprint will slowly turn the corner in ‘09 under Dan Hesse’s steady hand (is it us, or is anyone else getting a “Fred Thompson” vibe from his gently reassuring, speak-directly-into-the-camera series of commercials?), making incremental customer support improvements and leaning on that “Clearwire Thing” to leapfrog ahead in the bandwidth arms race (see “Wi-Max Casts Wide Shadow” below for more on this). The great recession saved Motorola’s Wireless business, as the venerable Schamburg, Illinois red ink factory likely found no suitable suitors. Now the company is forced to do what it does best… crank out a hit product to save the company – which we believe we’ll see in the form of a swank Android handset sometime late next year. Until then Moto will occupy itself by doing the other things it does best: bleeding market share and taking on further debt… which brings us to our last lovable looser, Palm. The fact that Elevation Partners decided to invest $100MM to keep Palm afloat just last month proves that there’s somebody out there for everybody… no matter how unsightly, aged, infirm or otherwise unappealing. Seriously, we’re not entirely sure know how much lifespan $100MM buys Palm, but we’re betting 18 months, at best.
Cash Poor Mobile Start-ups Get Snapped Up by Web, Traditional Media Players. Another obvious one that needed to be said: the credit crunch / recession combo will start claiming casualties among the most vulnerable in the mobile sector, while traditional media giants and other web firms lacking mobile chops go bargain hunting. Specifically, the time might be right for WPP’s 24/7 RealMedia to formally acquire one of their partner mobile ad networks (such as JumpTap or Millennial), should the opportunity present itself. On the Cable side both Comcast and Time Warner have already made big bets on wireless with their Clearwire investments… yet neither have much else to leverage here in the form of inventory of other mobile-ready assets. A mobile video acquisition for each of these players on the order of a Rhythm NewMedia or Transpera might just be in the cards.
WiMax Casts Wide Shadow. While 2008 was all Apple and Google, newly-formed Clearwire (not to be confused with the “old” Clearwire, which had the same management yet different investors – a confusing situation that deserves a dedicated posting of its own) quietly rolled out what we believe to be the first real mobile broadband network in the US… (OK, well in Baltmore, MD – but heck, it’s a start!). As Clearwire partner Sprint Wireless brings new WiMax hardware to market, and the high speed service rolls into new markets like Portland and Chicago in 2009, look to Verizon Wireless and AT&T to fall all over themselves to attempt to bring their competitive 4G “LTE” (Long Term Evolution) product to market by the end of the year. It’s a moot point if Clearwire ever really rolls out a national WiMax network, or instead (like many are predicting) runs out of cash sometime in 2009 (prediction: cash-laden Clearwire partners Intel and Google will pony up an additional round of investment in the network while cash strapped partners Comcast and Time Warner sit this round out – slowing, but ultimately sustaining, Clearwire’s national rollout) what matters most is that Clearwire and WiMax is giving the industry a huge kick in the pants… and with this we’ll finally get the true mobile broadband experience we’ve all been waiting for. Cue the brass band!
MMS Gets its Act Together (Just in Time to Become Totally Irrelevant). It’s no secret that MMS never really caught on with the public… and even when the carriers got their act together in 2006 and brought cross-carrier MMS interoperability online, the bloom was already nearly off the rose, as it were. Marketing applications remained uber-niche, as lack MMS support for cross-carrier short codes left brands with two, equally unappealing options (e.g. the use of either a ten digit phone number or an email address in the primary Call-to-Action). Still, while some consumers are giving the “Most Morbid Service” a second chance, the last nail in the coffin may have come from Apple, when it shafted the technology by not supporting it on the iPhone. Now it seems the CSCA , along with their strong-armed cousin, NeuStar, are working with the US carriers to bring MMS support to intercarrer (common) ShortCodes… which, if achieved, would greatly expand the effectiveness of the channel as a marketing medium. The question is, will this work be completed before the technology becomes altogether irrelevant? Perhaps… although no one (including us) is betting on it.
Application “Bubble” Doesn’t Burst… Yet. A minor one, but just squeaks into our Top 10 (take that, “Privacy Concerns!”). First, in order to predict that a bubble won’t burst, you need to prove the existance of a bubble. Case in point: iFart (point proven!). Now just when will the “App Bubble” burst? Well, it would seem that in order to “burst”, the bubble would first need to achieve maximum volume, which won’t happen until iPhone and similar “ReallySmartPhones(TM)” achieve critical mass (we’re thinking 15-20% penetration) – and that’s not happening for at least a year or two – even in the rosiest of scenarios. Still, for all the whooplaa around “+300MM iPhone app downloads in the first six months of app store,” some have acutely pointed out that the iPhone app growth curve has already started to flatten out. That said… we’re likely to see a whole new crop of iFarts-like hits in 2009 – and needless to say Mobilestance awaits on baited breath.
Well folks… there you have it – our top 10 predictions for 2009. Feel free to leave a comment if you feel we’ve missed something… or if you just want to throw some gasoline on the fire… and check back with us throughout the year as we continue to chronicle this thing we call Mobile.
Mobilestance.com is back! Now with More Polling (our homage to the polled out US Presidential election cycle, see end of post!)
After a disastrous night spent marching as a human mobile in the NYC Halloween Parade (note to self: find a new place for the “zero” button), I have successfully exercised the demons of Summer and am ready to return to blogging. I sincerely apologize for not “returning in September” as promised, but there were… well, complications.
So much has happened in mobile during my three or so month hiatus! Android arrived in the form of the HTC G1 on T-Mo, and so far hasn’t (yet) taken over the known universe…. The mobile-centric top level domain “Dot Mobi” passed the one million mark in registrations, as thousands of major publishers and brands launched mobile-specific versions of their websites… The AT&T Blackberry Bold was announced, then delayed, then announced, then delayed, then recalled (on Orange in the UK), then announced for release in the US sometime next week.
With all that, the biggest story by far was the iPhone going 3G (I was in St. Petersburg at the time, and it even made the headlines there). The iPhone juggernaut, and it’s partner the iPhone App Store, have been fueling excitement in the US and (to a somewhat lesser extent) across the globe. All of this – the growth, the applications, the new business models, are exciting enough – but what really turned my head was story in the new iPhone comScore study, which found that since July sales of the handset have been driven by relatively low to middle class households – those making between $25-50k (+48% growth).
Some have theorized that the recent economic “downturn” is spurring many low income households to substitute iPhone for not only their landline telephones (as expected), but also their landline broadband lines as well (fixed line broadband revenues have also been declining with this same income segment, over this same period). If this were true, it would place the US Middle Class on par with that of many emerging nations, B.R.I.C. and the like – where most people, even the “rising middle classes” simply cannot afford both a mobile and PC internet connection (or fixed line internet simply isn’t widely available, again ultimately due to price).
In my opinion this may be a bit of a stretch. I for one absolutely LOVE my iPhone… and I use it for many, many things that I once did exclusively on my desktop PC. But as a total replacement? I suppose there have been other, less expected affects resulting from the current economic crisis than a shift from fixed line to wireless broadband subscriptions among the US lower middle class.
iPhone, Android Developers Race to Bring Highly Anticipated Technology to Masses.
While we here at mobilestance prefer to poke fun at market predictions rather than make them, we’ve decided to go out on a limb and draw a big ol’ line in the sand: 2008 will be the year that QR codes become viable in the US, thanks largely to the efforts of Apple and Google.
While recent efforts by Scanbuy, Discovery Communications and Citysearch have been impressive in terms of ambition and overall scale, they were nevertheless hamstrung by two significant flaws: (1) they’ve relied on a non-standard, proprietary code format, and (2) nearly all participants were required to download a java app via SMS prior to engagement – a tall order if you’re activating an OOH general market ad campaign. That said, in either an odd coincidence or boldfaced market collusion (kidding), both Google (directly) or Apple (indirectly) have taken the necessary steps to breakdown both of these barriers… the results of which will begin to take affect in and around the third quarter of this year.
All of which makes for extremely fertile ground for the (third party) development of an iPhone QR reader, and develop they have. Even without a user-friendly distribution model in place, developers have been busy porting their existing QR readers for use on the iPhone. iMatrix has already developed an iPhone version of it’s dual use (proprietary shotcode + EZcode / standard QR / Datamatrix) reader, and no doubt many more will follow. The iMatrix reader utilizes the iPhone SDK’s relatively robust API set to not only launch web URLs and initiate messaging and voice call events, but can also “add contacts to your Address Book, add events to Calendar [and] add new notes to Notes.” Until the iTunes App store is online the only way to install the reader is a via a fairly manual process (and only on unlocked handsets), but it won’t be long before the average user can easily download and install the reader via what is sure to be a dummy-proof, Apple-branded experience.
Compared to Apple’s laissez faire attitude towards QR, Google has been far more proactive. In addition to make sure that every Android phone will include a non-proprietary reader preloaded as part of the standard application set, Google is also championing an open-source J2ME reader project dubbed “ZXing” (which supposedly stands for “Zebra Crossing”). Not only is Google helping the app’s development in terms of hosting / distribution, it has also been actively recruiting developers to help with the project (I witnessed this first hand at the Nokia Barcamp in New York last November, when Google’s Sean Owen led a packed house through a four-minute ZXing presentation that abruptly ended with a pitch to java developers to aid in its development).
So which will have greater impact on the market? Well, while Google’s approach has the advantage of having the reader app reloaded onto the handset, Apple has the (short term) advantage of actually having handsets on the market! Also, (as stated earlier) Apple could always add a reader app to the next firmware release and instantly increase the size of the US QR-reader install base by a factor of twenty or so. This scenario is not (purely) speculation, as Apple has been known to “pull a Microsoft” and co-opt a particularly useful software app or two… all in the name of “user experience.” Watson, anyone?
More to the point, the reason all of this is so interesting is because of the perfect intersection between technology and lifestyle. Start with the iPhone user base (mobile-dataphilic, upscale, big spending, early-adopting, Gladwell-style alpha-influencers), then add what we can assume to be first Android buyers (ubergeeks, tinkerers, mavericks and malcontents – i.e. current Linux users) and you’ve got the perfect launching pad for a QR movement – and not just any old QR movement, but one of the advertiser-friendly / “interesting to Sandhill road” variety.
Proof of concept video, iPhone QR reader, below:
Achung! Clip is punctuated with annoying whistling, nauseating camera movement and a few failed demos to boot!
On March 6th Apple gave the world its first peek at the widely-anticipated iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit), which developers will use to create native iPhone applications. In typical Apple fashion, the event was hosted by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and was held at the company’s Cupertino, CA headquarters. In a somewhat rare move, His Steveness delegated most of the announcements to Apple Execs Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall, choosing instead to serve merely as more or less the event’s MC – opening the proceedings with some iPhone growth stats, and closing the affair with a brief Q&A punctuated with his usual displays of hype and candor.
The Background: Without the iPhone SDK the only choice for developers wishing to create iPhone applications is to create a “web app,” which are vastly inferior to native apps in most respects: Web applications are inherently slower, less secure and powerful than native apps, and require a data connection to operate.
Apple is targeting a June, 2007 release date for the iPhone SDK. Key details are as follows:
Distribution. Simply put, the only way to distribute an iPhone or iPod Touch application is to go through Apple- via the (yet to be released) “App store” or on iTunes. This will likely require the application to be “certified” by Apple, considerably prolonging the development and testing process (this versus a 100% open system, otherwise known as the internet). Ultimately this means that while brands need to give developers more time to have their applications certified by Apple, distribution and discovery of iPhone applications will nevertheless be a relatively painless process for consumers. What’s more, if developers are allowed to “deep link” to specific pages on the App store, promotion of specific Apps should be extremely straightforward to marketers. (SMS “WAP-push”, email, web banners and paid search should all prove efficient promotional means).
Free or Pay to Play? For premium apps Apple has announced that they will be retaining 30% of net revenues for distribution and payment services, but the big news (for marketers) is that Apple doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of free (read: marketer-friendly) applications – whether sponsored, co-branded and/or ad-supported. Not only will they not get in the way, but Apple has gone on record as saying “Apple gets nothing” if the app is free. This is tremendously important for both brands and agencies wishing to enter the free-to-the-consumer iPhone application space.
Functionality. The real promise of the iPhone SDK is that, according to Scott Forstall (Apple VP of iPhone Software), Apple is “opening the same native APIs and tools to build our iPhone apps…[so that] 3rd party developers can build native iPhone apps using the same SDK that WE do.” It is with these set of APIs that 3rd party developers (read: anyone from agencies and brands to the kid down the street) can build native applications that integrate the iPhone’s address book, calendar, media player, 3D / OpenGL graphics layer, 3-axis accelerometer, camera, internet connection, databases and more. This is big folks…
Restrictions. So far Apple has stated that that the only applications that won’t be allowed will be those classified as “porn, malicious, illegal, infringing on privacy or bandwidth hogs.” Those last two are a bit nebulous and will need to be further clarified by Apple in the coming days (isn’t YouTube – a service already featured as a prominent iPhone web app – the world’s #1 bandwidth hog?). Also, applications will not be allowed to unlock the SIM – which should come as no surprise given Apple’s newfound wireless subscription revenue stream (subscription revenue shares only come from their partner carriers – hence the SIM lock). Finally, VoIP apps will be restricted to running over the iPhone’s Wi-Fi connection only; VoIP apps running over cellular networks will not be allowed.
Security. Much of the Apple announcement was dedicated to new enterprise-friendly enhancements, such as Apple’s licensing of Microsoft’s ActiveSyc (for integration with Exchange) and other iPhone software updates guaranteed to keep RIM awake at night. Nevertheless, while these enterprise-grade moves haven’t been positioned as related to the SDK, iPhone’s new enterprise-level security features, such as “Cisco IPsec VPN, authentication and certification, enterprise class WiFi (WPA2 / 802.1x), security policies, configuration tools, and remote wipe” are, coincidentally, many of the same security features that will also satisfy the needs of marketers looking to protect personally identifiable, commerce, and other sensitive areas of consumer data.
Analysis: Overall, marketers should be quite encouraged by what we have seen so far in the Apple SDK. No doubt the weeks and months following the release of the iPhone SDK will be peppered with numerous announcements of native iPhone applications of varying degrees of functionality and import.
That said, much of the discussion following the SDK announcement had been focused on Apple’s decision to restrict distribution of iPhone apps to their “App Store” – in that this decision constitutes a new “walled garden” similar to those erected by the Carriers (and AOL before them). What remains to be seen if Apple’s distribution barrier was created in the name of quality and security (as it claims), or solely for the purposes of greed. If the former, Mobilestance finds no fault with Apple’s decision to act as gatekeeper, plain clothes cop, judge, jury and executioner in the policing of the ecosystem it has created. If, on the other hand, shameless self-interest purveys Apple’s distribution policy (laborious approval policies, the hamstringing of applications deemed competitive to Apple’s other business units), we can only hope that either developer backlash or third party system hacks will force Apple’s hand towards a more democratized distribution model.
The slow news week after Christmas is notorious for the oft-derided “year in X” reports, but rather than take time exploring the value of such “Remembrance(s) of Things (less than a year) Past,” mobilestance.com would like to take the time to indulge in our own year end recap of the most notable US Mobile Marketing developments in 2007 (and yes, the illustration on the left depicts “Old Man 2007″ knowingly handing an iPhone to “Baby New Year 2008″).
And what a year 2007 has been. Between the flurry of VC and M&A activity, the reality of a declining global ringtone market and the re-orgs that followed, the explosion of ad supported business models, growth in consumer use of key mobile data services, notable marketplace exits, divestitures and bankruptcies, new entrants in the wireless space (yes, I’m talking about Apple here), and the aggressive moves on the part of the internet portals (most notably Google, but also Yahoo and even AOL and IAC), 2007 may yet be remembered as the year mobile finally “happened” -much to the delight of the Business 2.0 crowd.
After reviewing the list please take a second and weigh in on what you feel was the most important Mobile Marketing event of ’07 by participating in the poll at the end of the piece. Also, since 2007 was such a busy year no doubt there’s plenty more that could be added to this list… that said feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to add some additional insight or if you feel something crucial has been overlooked.
Thanks much… and now without further delay, mobilestance.com proudly presents “The 2007 US Mobile Marketing Game Changers.”
Google Steps it up.Not content to merely sit on the sidelines and play by the rules set forth by the US carriers, the search giant spent much of 2007 re-writing the rules of the US wireless industry.With their conspicuous “open access” lobbying effort, leadership in the Open Handset Alliance, the launch of their open Android platform, and their plans to enter the upcoming 700 MHz US wireless spectrum auction has a legitimate player, Google has stirred the 2007 US wireless pot like no other single corporate entity. While it remains to be seen as what will ultimately come of its aggressive moves in the space (although it seems Google has single-handily forced the biggest hole to date in Verizon’s vaunted walled garden) , it is clear that Google is determined to usher in a far more flexible (read: marketer-friendly) US wireless marketplace… a market that will likely be a boon to innovative third party mobile application developers, hybridized business models, and – most importantly – accelerate consumer adoption of “beyond voice” mobile services.
The Rise of MMS. 2007 was the year that US consumers finally got behind MMS in large numbers, exiting news for marketers not satisfied with the simple Joys of Text. In November of 2007 the MMA reported 33% of all US mobile phone users reporting monthly use of “Picture and/or Video Messaging” – that’s up dramatically from a paltry 16% in 2006. In the younger demographic segments the numbers are even more attractive, with monthly usage peaking in the 18-24 year old group at an astounding 55%. So what does this mean? Bottom line, now that MMS has reached critical mass in the US marketers are free to (finally) capitalize on the expanded interactive and multimedia prowess of the enhanced messaging channel. The possibilities are endless… everything from moblogging, MMS-based couponing, photo contests, video alerts, pattern recognition, html email-type CRM communications and so much more. Sure, there’s nothing actually new with all of these tactics… but now we’re talking about the difference between MMS-based marketing campaigns with real ROI back to the brands, versus the eternally frustrating”test campaigns” of earlier years.
Enter the iPhone. So much has has already been written on the sleek Apple device that it’s become extremely difficult to assess its actual impact. Never mind the recent eye-popping stats released on the iPhone’s disproportionate share of the overall browsing universe, or recent efforts (while fascinating and seemingly quite worthwhile) by marketers to leverage the device to deliver hypertargeted messaging to the forward-leaning, early-adopting, free-with-the-dollars demographic. No, the real impact of the device lies in it serving as a “showroom model” for the full potential of the mobile marketing channel. An independently sold (from the carriers, mind you) Wi-Fi/GSM hybrid with a beautiful touch screen, snappy web browser (snail-like AT&T EDGE network speeds notwithstanding), usable video, music and photo management options… and coming in February, a public SDK for the development of third party applications and a (rumored) flash plug-in for the device’s browser – a first for the “mobile” web (and hey just because it’s the holidays let’s not get into a debate on what is or is not actually the “mobile” web – for now let’s just go with it). It’s amazing how quickly the standard for what is “possible” in mobile has been raised since the release of the iPhone less than six months ago – and how what once passed for cutting edge has so rapidly become not simply dated, but altogether irrelevant. More than any other event in the mobile marketing industry’s short history, the entrance of the iPhone has fueled a frenzy of interest in the space – both from brands and agencies alike. The motivational equivalent of the ‘69 moon landing… with all the junior rocket scientists that followed.
Mobile Advertising Comes of Age. After a few years of luring in the shadows of the mobile marketing industry, the mobile advertising market became incredibly hot in 2007, punctuated by major acquisitions by leading interactive and mobile firms, as well as a dizzying array of venture-fueled deals in the space. The two leaders in the nascent mobile advertising industry, Third Screen Media and Enpocket were promptly acquired by AOL and Nokia, respectively – while Microsoft, once again outmaneuvered in the interactive ad firm acquisitions game, was forced to settle on European Mobile Ad Firm Screen Tonic. The remaining independent mobile ad firms were also firing on all cylinders, with Amobee, Millennial Media, AdMob, Greystripe, and Quattro Wireless all expanding on the heels of fresh investment capital raised in ‘07. Newspaper giant Gannett made a major investment in SMS-based ad firm 4INFO, while Google and Yahoo played a bit of small ball (we can gut Google a little slack here… they’ve been busy rewriting the rulebook for much of the rest of the mobile industry after all). The former taking the much anticipated step of expanding AdSense into the “mobile web,” while Yahoo! announced mobile publisher services and plans to integrate mobile inventory into their Panama ad platform. As for the internet display advertising giants, DoubleClick (soon to be Google) launched their publisher platform, while aQuantitative’s Accipiter Unit (now owned by Microsoft) tied up with NYC-based MoPhap to bring mobile capabilities to their publisher-side interactive ad serving platform. Add daily press releases by major web publishers bringing mobile inventory online, and I think you get this picture: 2007 was the year that nearly everybody in the space simply had to have a mobile adverting play. Sure, there was a bit of herd mentality going on, and no doubt we’re in for… shall we say, a bit of a “correction” in the coming years (this kind of activity surely cannot be sustained indefinitely) – but regardless, the business and technological systems are now in place for brands to reach out and communicate directly with consumers via the mobile handset. Keep in mind this is very different than previous (primarily SMS-based) mobile marketing activity that simply leveraged mobile as a direct response channel activating other forms of media such as television, print and radio (as so eloquently described by Jeff Minsky of OMD in a then accurate but increasingly outdated assessment of the channel – sorry Jeff, but I couldn’t take that one lying down!). Using mobile as a broadcast-type media may be a bit controversial to some, but as long as there remains checks and balances with regard to consumer privacy (yes, the carriers seem to be pulling their weight here, although some needed to be prodded a bit on the subject) an effective system of reaching consumers via their mobile devices should flourish in the months, years and decades to come.
According to Moconews.net, Nokia and Universal Music are adding their names to the long list of firms looking to unseat (or even gain market share on) the Juggernaut that is the Apple iPod / iTunes. The two are “teaming together to offer free 12-month access to music from Universal’s artists to buyer’s of Nokia’s musicphones… people will be able to keep the songs once the free-offer period expires. Nokia wants to get other labels to sign up to the ‘Comes With Music’ product, which it hopes to launch early next year.”
While offering free music isn’t (remotely) a new tactic in the digital music market space, what makes the move somewhat notable is the combination of the world’s largest handset manufacturer with one of the largest music labels. Likely this initiative is in reaction to the iPhone’s European launch, as Nokia tries to defend its turf from an invading, buzzworthy handset. Nokia has reason to be alarmed, as their musicphones have not sold particularly well (even in Europe, a market otherwise dominated by Nokia).
Should the iPhone successfully convert current iPod owners to the new device, suddenly Nokia has a lot bigger problem than an underperforming musicphone unit: Apple will have secured foothold in their core handset market – right in Nokia’s backyard. I would not be suprised to see more, even more aggressive announcements like this moving forward should the Apple iPhone gain traction overseas.