Ok, I have done my rant. The tech press is ridiculously obsessed with a totally trivial and currently meaningless tidbit of the mobile telecoms industry, apps stores. Yes, there is a giant opportunity in mobile data and services, but currently it is all in the services side - and a massive one at that, worth 285 Billion dollars. The total global app store opportunity is roughly speaking one thousand times smaller. Less than trivial.
With all that being said, I don't want the media to waste limited attention of random readers on today's count of who has how many apps on their store or how many billion downloads. Its now similar to trying to count how many emails are sent or how many books sold by Amazon or how many searches. Lets agree, its a big number but as the revenue is near meaningless, lets not bother to study this several times every week, ok?
I LIKE APPS
Enter Ahonen, your friendly schitzophrenic consultant (and me too). I like apps! I really do. Apps allow us to do many things for which a service - usually paid traffic in most cases - is not practical. And in many cases the web service variant would be cumbersome on networks that are perennially congested. An intelligent mobile data solution will be optimized based on user needs, handset capabilities, networks and the actual service or experience we want to deliver. If we want to have say a measurements-translator, centimeters to inches, gallons to liters etc, then those don't change essentially 'ever'. There are relatively few actual formulae for them and makes much more sense to do it as a stand-alone app, once installed, never to connect via the network. but equally, there are conversions that change by the minute - foreign currencly exchange rates. IF you are in international banking, this type of service should be real time and utilize the power of connectivity..
But yes, I've been with this mobile services industry since it was a baby, reporting from the very first downloaded mobile content, and I can say with happy heart, that I LIKE apps. Apps will help reduce load in networks on specifically cellular networks, where there is a physical barrier an absolute limit to how much spectrum there is available. Lets not waste it with stupidly designed solutions.
Games are a huge category where this makes sense, at least part, often even with multiplayer games, most; and if single-player game, the total game can be installed as an app, not a service. Again, we have mobile as the 7th mass media and this blog credo is 'communities dominate' so probably almost any game can be improved with some community dimension, and with that, should have some connectivity.
I LOVE APPLE APPS
Now, one of the magical changes that Apple brought with its Apps Store (and - I expect this to be also a big impact of the Google open developer effort) has been innovation in mobile data. Yes, that includes the fart apps, but silly apps make big money on mobile. And all sorts of just funky and weird and wonderful and pointless apps. Lots of innovation and experimentation and trial and error. Its very expensive to do trial and error on WAP on a major network in America. But a modest cost effort to do the same on an iPhone. And obviously with only one phone and form factor, there is the ease of not having to do thousands of variations to fit every permutation of phone models and interfaces.
I am telling my workshop audiences that for any app development or prototyping, they should always try to start with doing first an Apple iPhone version. Its fast, its easy, its sexy and it looks good when you demo it on the iPhone. BUT DON'T stop there. Assuming your service or idea works and is launched, then the moment you know it is a 'success' for whatever you wanted, then next step, do the other bigger smartphone platform of your market, immediately. If you're in America this is Blackberry (twice as big). If you're in Europe or Asia its Symbian (ten times bigger). And yes, its not as easy but you already have a proven 'winner' and now you are expanding your reach.
Next you go for the mass market. Take your concept and consider, can you do it on Java and reach roughly speaking half of the phones (not smartphones, all phones). Can you do it on MMS and reach three out of every four phones. Can you do it on WAP and reach over 90%. Can you do it on SMS and reach all pockets. Here is the mass market, far bigger than smartphones, for many years to come.
I LIKE THE APP STORE
And one more bit. I really do like the Apple iPhone App Store. There were apps for more than a decade. There were app stores for the past decade since first introduced in Japan. Nokia had an app store - before Ovi - as the gaming apps store for N-Gage (which bypassed the operators/carriers and this infuriated the operator/carrier community). I thought the early app stores were good ideas and was disappointed the operators mostly were hostile to them like N-Gage. And the Apple App STore, for all its faults (approvals etc) offered 70.30 revenue deals, a nice development for the industry. Not 90:10 of Japan but for the USA, this was a very welcome development. And it was user-friendly! We, the industry, need to be more user friendly at everything. This is Apple to the core. Usability. Always most user-friendly in everything from Macs to iPods to iTunes to iPhones to App Store.
Now, is it smart that everybody and their mother in the industry is rushing to do apps stores. No. Its silly and wasteful and dumb. But I can't stop that. I can protest when the press hypes up some download numbers (or try with my rants haha). But I like apps, I like the Apple Apps and I like the App Store. These are all very good developments for our industry. Only please lets give this concept time to grow in peace. Lets not kill it with hype, a bubble, and make every developer stressed and disappointed due to ridiculous expectations, to find there is no money. We can make money - often far more easily than with an app - through MMS, SMS, WAP etc. I want developers, and brand and content owners, and media houses, to understand the real opportunities today, not chase useless fantasies.
Welcome to the party, Apple App Store. Here's to celebrating with you when you pass 1 billion dollars sold. May that milestone be passed in this year still !