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Mobile Network App Stores: Vast room for improvement

Dominic Travers was at Mobile Monday London last night. After attending — and then reading the piece I posted last night — he sent me this rather large commentary on App Stores, MoMo London and his perspective on the way ahead for developers. Thanks Dominic!

Here we go. Over to Dominic.

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From my perspective Apple have completely stolen the march on everyone by making a capable device and making it easy to develop and distribute apps for. I think that they have pulled a fast one, to a certain extent, on the operators that carry the iPhone worldwide. These MNOs are now looking on with incredulity wondering how they allowed themselves to be so cut out of the revenues. T-Mobile have been astute in demanding a greater cut of apps in the forthcoming paid for Android Market will continue to use bandwidth on their network.

To say that the Apple model is totally successful however is utter folly. Apple have created long term problems for themselves by cutting themselves off from the rest of industry, both in the capabilities lacking in the phone itself and in ignoring emerging standards. I think Tomi Ahonen’s classic post likening iPhone to the Mallard Steam Engine sums these issues up perfectly…

More recently there has been growing frustration from iPhone app developers at the lack of stats on app use coming back from Apple. I don’t know the whole story but the gist is one of massive reluctance from Apple. The recently published stats from Pinch Media, who have their own analytics embedded in a few iPhone apps tell a shocking and very interesting story…

This indicates that the vast majority of iPhone apps are completely ephemeral, much like the cheap toys won on a visit to a pikey fairground. If each iPhone app took up one cubic foot of landfill when it was discarded, we’d be in a lot of trouble.

Many development companies that have easily spent a £50k sum developing iPhone apps have been shut out of the market place for a variety of reasons. This high level of control is beginning to thwart some good ideas and is creating intense bad feeling from the companies who invested heavily and unsuccessfully in this platform. The makers of Southpark spent lots of time and money developing what is most likely a brilliant app only to loose a five month battle with Apple and consign it to the trash. Imagine the kind of moral degradation I could suffer, from being able to play with the characters of a popular cartoon series in my hand, were it not for their cloak of protection.

Now I really don’t want to denigrate too far as there are hundreds of incredible iPhone apps that display totally ground breaking thinking in the function and delivery of mobile services. This is what the MNOs, mobile platforms and developers should take heart and inspiration from. The publishers of the best of the quality apps are making very good money from their endeavors.

I don’t really think the operators, and competitors on the scale of Symbian, are as far behind Apple as many claim. Their models need years to mature compared with the months it has taken with the iPhone. I think they rightly view the volumes of crappy apps and popularity of the iPhone as a trend that wont last forever. Here in the UK Vodafone have Betavine and O2 have the recently launched Litmus project. Their aims are broadly the same, garner an active community of developers and enthusiastic users to create a hothouse environment where the healthiest ideas can grow.

I attended Mobile Monday London yesterday evening where Betavine and O2 Litmus both presented and participated in a panel session where they had to answer some difficult questions from the audience. We are truly making some progress when both Vodafone and O2 actually pay for the opportunity to come and sit in a room and take criticism from an expert audience. Some good blog posts and video of the event are…

http://adamcohenrose.blogspot.com/2009/03/momolondon-what-have-operators-done-for.html

http://www.puddingrelations.com/

http://www.vimeo.com/3556996

Again the operators here talk up the access to millions and millions of customers, I don’t think they can help themselves. Then, I would imagine that if the board of Telifonica discovered a presentation that didn’t emphasise the size and reach of their customer base, there would be hell to pay. All the issues highlighted in Ewan’s previous post are massively relevant. The vast majority of mobile customers neither know nor care about mobile apps. Terrence Eden pointed out that the most popular phone by a long margin in the UK is the Nokia 6300, and that developers should develop for it. My view is that 6300 owners are not a viable application market. The 6300 is chosen by so many because it looks like the least complicated phone in the shop, these customers are not going to suddenly develop an appetite for widgets and apps any time soon. At their next upgrade, a few, who may be envious of iPhone users may look for a more capable handset.

Just for example Telefonica can offer the developer just shy of 50 million customers in Europe. We know that this number is fairly meaningless. However, there is a good chance that the number of customers with a capable device and a desire for advanced mobile services is over 2%. This is over a million real potential customers for the developer. This is enough scale to make the £50k investment in a good idea very worthwhile. Both Betavine and Litmus look to take the most viable apps and make them available to the wider market place. The danger here is that within these communities, cleverness for cleverness sake will be rewarded. The apps may not address the real needs of day to day customers. Not being a developer, I have little interest in how smart the code is. If a mobile app does something I require in the simplest and most efficient manner, it becomes my favorite solution. This mindset perhaps mirrors that of the majority of smartphone customers.

I find the find the stated aims of MNO developer engagement projects are much more aligned with the needs of developers than they were a couple of years ago. It strikes me that the MNOs have really woken up to the fact they need listen to the development community to make progress. There is the common perception that MNOs are just brick wall barriers to innovation. This scenario, whilst based in truth, is becoming redundant. Developers should be embracing operator initiatives and doing as much as they can to shape their future. The operators are never going to throw caution to the wind and emulate the Android App market level of anarchy. Personally I love the freedoms of Android, but think that some serious issues will emerge when the user base is much greater. Google’s relationship with Android carriers is very close and they will push back together when required.

Both O2 and Vodafone stated that they want to bring the best apps to their full market quickly and easily. They also stated that developers still need to have a sit down commercial conversation with the operator before this can happen.

Getting a product to a mature stage, and getting it out to a viable number of customers looks to be getting easier. Operator app stores are crap now, but they realise they need to fight for the best talent to change this. Outwardly they are making friendly noises and being kind about each others efforts to build developer communities. From the conversations I have had this year, I get the impression that within the MNOs, this is the new front line of competition. This is great. The increased level of resourcing going in to these programmes will help drive the industry forward.

David Wood of the Symbian Foundation was also on the panel. He applauded the way in which Litmus and Betavine have addressed all the issues he has seen as inhibiting development. He also talked about the Symbian view on Operator App stores. Symbian are going to build and resource an “app warehouse” for developers. They will then use their influence in the commercial conversations with the networks to get the best deal for the Symbian development communities. This is particularly astute given the brand power that Nokia has and global reach of their handsets. With Nokia busy launching their own app store too, the competition is really hotting up.

The MoMo London back channel debate on Twitter went on quite a while yesterday evening. It lead me to think that when I can buy an app from Vodafone, over the air, onto my Orange contract phone, we’ll be getting somewhere. The developer gets 70% of the price I pay for the app. Vodafone get 30% for fostering the development. Orange get the revenue from my use of the mobile web to acquire and use the app. Until the mobile app market works in this way, it is commercially flawed.

The current Mobile Network Apps Stores are clearly not ready enough to gain adoption by the crucial 2% of customers, right now. But change is on the wind.

– – – – –

Thanks again Dominic — change is indeed on the wind. Finally!

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

4 replies on “Mobile Network App Stores: Vast room for improvement”

> Nokia 6300 … customers are not going to suddenly develop an appetite for widgets and apps any time soon

Are you sure? Why not? And why should iPhone customers be any different? My point being what if the 6300 (or any other handset) had an exact copy of the iPhone interface – by which I mean app discovery and use was as easy and pleasant as it is on the iPhone? I don't see how you can possibly make your assertion unless you can prove (or convincingly assert) that iPhone customers are drawn from a pool of people pre-destined to try and buy apps.

Sure people are attracted to one handset or another depending on various factors like easy of use, style etc. But if you make it nice enough and easy enough to try and buy apps on ANY phone, you will see significant numbers of people trying and buying. And if you make the actual app experience as good as those on iPhone, then I see no reason these numbers of triers and buyers should not come close or equal to iPhone.

Now, the upshot of all this is that if you have a great (possibly touch) interface to the app store (see the Visiarc deocuments demo video in the recent news on this site for proof S60 can be on a par with iPhone in this regard) then there is no reason something like Ovi Store can not give developers a huge potential userbase. And way above 2%. Of 300-400 million new customers a year. Yes, seriously. If the ingredients are right, the recipe will work. And this is not an all or nothing scenario. If the ingredients are partly right, the recipe will still work partly. And way above 2%.

This 2% thing sounds to me a bit like the boss of IBM saying there would only be a demand for maybe 5 computers in the whole world. Don't underestimate demand if things are presented and done in the right way.

Alex
phonething.com

> Nokia 6300 … customers are not going to suddenly develop an appetite for widgets and apps any time soon

Are you sure? Why not? And why should iPhone customers be any different? My point being what if the 6300 (or any other handset) had an exact copy of the iPhone interface – by which I mean app discovery and use was as easy and pleasant as it is on the iPhone? I don't see how you can possibly make your assertion unless you can prove (or convincingly assert) that iPhone customers are drawn from a pool of people pre-destined to try and buy apps.

Sure people are attracted to one handset or another depending on various factors like easy of use, style etc. But if you make it nice enough and easy enough to try and buy apps on ANY phone, you will see significant numbers of people trying and buying. And if you make the actual app experience as good as those on iPhone, then I see no reason these numbers of triers and buyers should not come close or equal to iPhone.

Now, the upshot of all this is that if you have a great (possibly touch) interface to the app store (see the Visiarc deocuments demo video in the recent news on this site for proof S60 can be on a par with iPhone in this regard) then there is no reason something like Ovi Store can not give developers a huge potential userbase. And way above 2%. Of 300-400 million new customers a year. Yes, seriously. If the ingredients are right, the recipe will work. And this is not an all or nothing scenario. If the ingredients are partly right, the recipe will still work partly. And way above 2%.

This 2% thing sounds to me a bit like the boss of IBM saying there would only be a demand for maybe 5 computers in the whole world. Don't underestimate demand if things are presented and done in the right way.

Alex
phonething.com

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