Tuesday, June 2, 2009

iPhone Apps - Report from May Mobile iBreakfast

iPhone & Mobile Apps

As cell phone users increasingly turn to smart phones – how important is it to offer a mobile App? It is cheap ($99 registration fee with Apple), relatively easy to develop and distribution is assured. However, with 35,000 apps out there, it is tough to stand out from the crowd.

If you are lucky, like iBird (see NY Sunday Times) and Apple thinks you can really showcase the iPhone - they will give you millions of dollars of free advertising. A little less lucky - and you become the featured selection and so on. But this is a kind of lottery, most developers have to think about the long hard slog and such time-tested techniques as piggy-backing on other platforms.

According to Eric Litman, whose company, Medialets helps companies track and optimize the use of apps, having a mobile app may be a necessity of doing business. Instead of selling them though, many will become ad-supported. Think mobile widgets…..

More significantly, as mobile increasingly becomes a business platform as well as a lifestyle utility, the applications will become useful extensions to existing businesses – whether it is mobile sales people on a contact- and order-management system, or field engineers using specialized software to solve technical problems. These will be more than cool apps - they will be the future of the workforce. Any business that can put you in the field, will. And they can manage their workforce through control software - and stop paying rent on your cubicle.

While Apple is leading the mobile App charge because of the iPhone’s extraordinary range, power and graphics, the other platforms are already in the game and are likely to follow their example. In the case of Alex Muller’s Slifter, local shopping has been an important driver. Since his company began developing in 2007, having reached out to many platforms and worked with many telcos - they are mindful of the developments from Google’s Android, Nokia, Palm Blackberry and that dark horse in the race, Microsoft. Apple is hot but still has only 26% of the Smartphone marketplace.

No one expects Microsoft to lay low for long. When they wake up to this marketplace - it could spell opportunity for developers since Microsoft has a way of spending itself to the top.

Mobile use is not only likely to grow, but it is poised to become a ubiquitous platform: it is a computer that happens to be a phone. In many parts of Europe, where the telco’s charges are less onerous, it is a kind of charge card. In the 3rd world, especially Africa, phone usage has grown in 15 years from a few million landlines to over 50 million cell phone users with generally high quality service. As smart phones enter the picture they have the potential to become the standard trading platform that could transcend national borders and economic systems. Ditto for many parts of Latin America and Asia. The new versions of SmartPhones (iPhone 3.0) will greatly enhance the eCommerce possibilities of this platform.

The specifics of Ken Engels' Curious Brain, a guitar teaching tool that uses the sound and graphics of the iPhone in an extraordinary way – think iChord instead of iBird - make it clear that the iPhone's potential to train, inform and empower will be tapped worldwide.

That may just be the beginning - Version 3 of the iPhone adds the ability to sell within applications. This way users of an app – say a training store - can buy more lessons or other content while they are on the training site. This opens to the door to new kinds of upsells and giveaways. The current model is typically, the Fremium – give away a trial, low-cost or free app and then upgrade the user. Now it’s about selling add-ons or more content – giving away the razor and selling the blades.

While no one thinks that mobile will displace the laptop or even the desktop, it is clear that a reordering is taking place – technology will exist over a complex system with a server, a network, possibly a desktop and a laptop workstation. In all cases, whatever can be done quickly, on the road or on the run, will be on a smartphone. Everything bigger will be support or back-up, the smartphones will be the tip of the technology spear

So have have you taken your place in the mobile App space yet?

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