Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Where are the Cool Mobile Apps?

A lot of action in the mobility space this week, most likely prompted by the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. I've written before about mobile phones, pda's and applications on this blog before, mostly from the perspective of a enthusiastic consumer of mobile technology. However, a couple of data points today make me but on my business thinking cap.

1. This blog post by Tom Yager at InfoWorld ("The mobile app god rush"). Tom writes about the opportunities and roadblocks to developing mobile applications with slick GUI's, super fast response times and integration with the mainstream developer community. I love my PocketPC, but I have to put up with a fairly serious step down in prettiness when I view a web site, play a game, or view a spreadsheet. I can voice activate my phone using Microsoft Voice, but the feature isn't integrated into each and every application.

2. My colleague, Chris Parente, posted today about a new report on trends in mobile TV users. He says,

Here’s that survey I hinted at in the post last week and released today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. M:Metrics and Tellabs surveyed 34,000 mobile TV users in Europe and the U.S. last year. Here’s the verdict:

The Good: The market grew 36%, and is estimated to be a $270M opportunity

The Bad: Former users grew 68%, faster than the market growth. Too many people don’t like the experience and are dropping.

I think this backs up Tom's point that the user experience on broadband mobile devices isn't quite good enough and needs improvement. The question, as always, is when are the carriers going to open up their platforms to small, innovative application developers. As Tom mentions, Adobe Flash is ubiquitous on PC's but is tied down in agreements with carriers. He writes (my emphasis added),

Adobe had a shot at defining an even more appealing common ground with Flash, but it made a strategic decision that brings up the second roadblock to rich mobile apps. Adobe could have made a business of making sure that either the full Flash Player, or the embeddable content player called Flash Lite, runs on everything that moves, just as the desktop Flash Player does now. Flash Player drives sales of Adobe dev tools and back-end servers. Imagine extending that model to millions of devices, and allowing every Flash developer -- and there are so many -- to target phones. Instead of taking Flash to mobile developers and users, Adobe brought the best of Flash to wireless operators who will keep it under lock and key. Must-have features such as widgets and customizable home screens done up in Flash will exist on phones but only as created by wireless operators, who are likely to bill you for your maps and weather just as they charge for ring tones now. Even Apple saw the folly of putting developers at the bottom of the mobile food chain.
I see a slow process as the carriers slowly evolve and respond to the changing market. It's going to be frustrating for me and other consumers, however. You would think that they would make mobile apps not only easy to use but make them cool to look at too.
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