08 Mar

Mobility in 2011: Mobile Apps, Webapps and Tipping Points

(This is part of a series of blog posts on Mobility in 2011)

The debate of mobile (native) app vs. webapp is not new. This is a decade-old topic that has been debated since the days of WML.

Today the debate is pretty much the same debate.

The debate’s topics and considerations typically center around “design, experience & capabilities”, “marketing & monetization”, and “code-building-effort”.


  • The “design, experience & capabilities” part of the debate is about the application design, features & technical capabilities and its effect on the user experience; today this favors native apps;
  • the “marketing & monetization” is about awareness, visibility and discoverability, for example, creating a popular app will give you lots of visibility and direct and indirect monetization methods, and today it currently favors apps thanks to the app markets and stores, and;
  • the “code-building-effort” part of the debate is about ROI. This is mostly debated by those responsible for creating and delivering great applications and solutions as efficient as possible: fast development cycles with minimal resources, minimizing code duplication & maximizing code re-usability, better and cheaper ways for distribution and deployment. Topics like fragmentation, browser capabilities and centralized distribution come to light. This part of the debate favors webapps, unless you focus on a single native app platform such as the iPhone. Android is fragmented but this should improve over time as the platform matures (in theory). The webapps centralized model is a winner, but so is the centralized model of app stores. At the end, due to the previous two debate points, native apps are leading the way with iPhone and Android as the platforms of choice. But this is changing as well, thanks to toolkits such as jQuery Mobile which helps bring consistent webapp development and user experience across browsers. While apps are a clear winner today, an increasing number of customers are asking for mobile web versions of their apps before they commit to native apps; these typically are customers who want to go mobile now and who understand the ROI benefits of webapps across mobile platforms, yet are doing this as a starting point before introducing the app version of their applications (since they too understand the user and business benefits of native apps). It is important to note that hybrid app approaches that brings together the benefits of webapps into native apps (containers) is something to consider in the meantime.

Two Important Tipping Points

Below I cover two thoughts on the matter of app vs. webapp, and two tipping-points that most occur before the debate of apps vs. webapps become a moot point .

While the browser of today is a number of magnitude more advanced than its predecessors from the days of WML (and CHTML, etc), the relationship between apps and webapps have persisted over time; that is, from the application perspective the native app has always been ahead when it comes to features, user experience & capabilities. This answers the “design, experience & capabilities” part of the debate and the top reason why still today mobile apps are more popular than webapps.

But it is just a matter of time before webapps will be very close or equal to apps. If you were to picture this in a chart, based on experience, it would look something like the following:

…where: while the native platform and apps have had more features & capabilities than the webapp, as the browser becomes more capable (including performance) and the markup language becomes more “expressive”, the two lines will meet (but will they cross?); this is the first tipping point. And recall that “…after the tipping point has been passed, a transition to a new state occurs.”

In the chart above I also attempt to capture the impact the iPhone, Android and the Webkit, as well as sensors such as touch & location all have had in the progression of apps and webapps, and how they have contributed to awesomeness for both app and webapps.

But there is a second tipping point to be crossed. The second tipping point is related to user experience & perception. If we were to visualize this as well, it would look similar to the chart above, but with additional/different triggers. Apps have been very successful in creating analogous experiences to the physical world and its attributes, in ways webapps haven’t being able to achieve yet. Apps you can find, buy and own, see, listen to and touch in ways webapps don’t offer at this point. The way apps are owned is unique too. And people even socialize about apps in ways we don’t see yet about webapps. Before this tipping is crossed though, tipping point #1 explained above must be crossed first.

Will these tipping points occur in 2011? I don’t believe so. In the meantime, this has major implications on marketing and monetization which favors native apps.

So the debate of mobile webapps vs. native apps is not new. The debate of app and webapps is really relative as dictated by specific needs. We can debate the technical merits for each, the business merits or both. Today, the the user experience and perception favors apps which translates to business benefits ($) and thus outweigh the benefits of webapps. But there are business reasons why go webapp such as going mobile faster across platforms. The app is still ahead of webapps when it comes to the combination of design, experience & capabilities + marketing & monetization + development ROI, but the gap continuous to close; it is a matter of time. From the capabilities perspective such as a graphical and transforms, performance, sensors, connectivity, storage and offline behavior, the mobile web browser is rapidly advancing, and when combined with better webapp discoverability, marketing and revenue models, then we will be closer to the “features & capabilities” and “experience & perception” tipping points at which time the distinction between mobile apps and webapps will become a moot point.

Related to this, see: Is 2011 the year of the Mobile Web apps? (Open Gardens)

Related posts from About Mobility:


11 Feb

Reaction to Nokia 2011 Strategy Announcement (and Microsoft relationship)

While a radical change in strategy was expected, it is not aggressive enough.

On my previous post here titled Mobility 2011: Nokia, I shared some thoughts on what Nokia should be doing; some implemented on this new strategy (such as transitioning out of Symbian), but more is needed. And while the new relationship with Microsoft is a start, doing this alone, and the way it was done, which seems one-sided, is the wrong kind of start IMO, and it points to the fact that Nokia is not understanding its real threats. Nokia’s real threats are:

  1. Apple with its iPhone, iPad, and family of products, and,
  2. The manufacturers of Android devices; this is, HTC, Samsung and the the like. Note that I didn’t say Google or Android. Google is the enabler and indirect beneficiary (in big ways).

Relationship with Microsoft will help fence off HTC and similar just on the WP7 front, but that is a tiny front. If Nokia thinks that Microsoft is going to take Nokia to the next level, they are not.

It seems Nokia’s board of directors made some decisions some time ago on Microsoft, then hired Elop from Microsoft as CEO, and then tied (or not) the CEO’s hands. In either case, this shows that Nokia needs to be completely revamped from the top, management and the board of directors. They need a management that understands the true challenges ahead.

Disappointing. Perhaps this is only the beginning of a series of changes that will expand across Mobile platforms, including the complete strategy for high-end smartphones I prev mentioned that puts emphasis on the app layer and services, in addition to spreading their HW design across mobile OSes; that is the differentiation Nokia must execute.

For low-end phone, S40 is fine. MeeGo should not be dropped as it gives Nokia an opportunity to innovate and differentiate on the mobile OS area; and it should be kept as an “R&D” effort; which means, continue investing on it while waiting what happens next.

But going half-ass with today’s strategy and announcement is as bad as not announcing anything at all.

Nokia must focus on a strong future proof strategy, for the next 10 years or more. For this they must execute much more that what it was announced.

I will give them credit that will Nokia will transition Symbian out, over time…

(From Forbes.com)

Elop: “Windows Phone is our primary smartphone platform. What are the implications to Symbian? We have over 200 million Symbian users out there today. As we transition to Windows Phone, we’ll ship another 150 million.” “But,” he adds, “it’s a transition program.” It’s a “Transition from Symbian to Windows Phone.”

What I really hope is the above leaves the door open for a Nokia Qt-based app strategy that brings returns to Ovi and its services vs. purely focusing on WP7 and its dev tools and apps.

And if you ask me, this looks like the beginnings of a relationship that may end up in Microsoft absorbing Nokia.

From the perspective of the layoffs related to the Symbian OS and other, a sad reality. Nokia’s loss is going to be someone else gain. A lot of unique expertise that will end up benefiting others, including new startups.



09 Feb

Mobility in 2011: Nokia

(This is part of a series of blog posts on Mobility in 2011)

Related to this see: Reaction to Nokia 2011 Strategy Announcement (and Microsoft relationship)

Nokia is in the midst of a major strategy shift; they have to. Nokia has an operational issue to address. The truth is that Nokia is losing traction while other platforms are gaining traction. They must address that trend. Yes, Nokia is still number one, but Nokia must put in place the framework if they want to maintain leadership over the next decade. 2011 will be a critical year for Nokia (and mobile in general) and operationally, Nokia must (should) do the following:

  • Invest on innovation and go-to-market strategies. By this I am referring to focusing on MeeGo and Ovi and cloud-services (Maps, etc). It is about focusing on great HW designs. And super important, it is about focusing on Qt and Qt-based apps across mobile platforms/OSes, a strategy that in turn will have returns on Ovi and their services and related ecosystem.
  • Cut costs. Here I am referring to “ditching” Symbian OS especially on their smartphones, starting with making such decision in 2011; this will take time to execute. Back in Feb 2009 I wrote a blog On Nokia’s App Store Strategy, where my main point was that Nokia had too many platforms and content portals and related strategies to deal with; very hard to focus and compete this way. Since then, Nokia killed N-Gage, but they should do more. They must kill their “cash cow” Symbian and related OPEX so they can invest/focus on few new strategies that give them traction, and as important, let developers focus on a given app strategy that helps them go to market more quickly.
  • Balance ego with business realities. This is hard. This goes back to balancing the above with respect to investing on innovation and go-to-market vs. cutting costs. Killing the cash cow is a very hard decision to make by current management, which is why bringing someone from the outside (Stephen Elop) at this stage makes perfect sense. Even if Symbian stays for now, the shift must be on the app framework (Qt) which, if they go across mobile OSes increases their reach, including Ovi’s reach.

The combination of HW and new SW and go-to market strategies, Nokia should be able address the current trends, restoring faith on the company, and helping fence off HTC and Samsung and the like.

It actually is a very exciting time for Nokia, and its positioning for the next decade. If Nokia plays it right, they will not let Operators dictate its own future; a strategy that let Apple and Google not only grow in mobile at an incredible pace in a very short amount of time, but also become leaders on mobile innovation.


Nokia sells bulk of Qt business to Digia; this is a very strange news, Nokia selling bulk of Qt. I don’t know what to think about this… total commitment to Windows?

Related to this see:

04 Feb

Mobility in 2011 – The Network & Operators

(This is part of a series of blog posts on Mobility in 2011)

Mobility in 2011: Networks & Operators

Operators will continue their shift towards mobile data and packet services, and value add services, with a large increase on mobile network bandwidth (10X according to IDC) thanks to LTE and 3G network and updates, as well as expected growth (as in massive) consumption of such bandwidth due to the smartphones and wireless modems and mobile apps, including real-time video services.

Mobile apps and data usage will be (a new) major pain-point for operators who will be looking for new application awareness methods to help them deal with the issues related to apps, across multiple mobile platforms, and the related services on the cloud, and last but not least, higher expectations from consumers. Recall that just a month ago (Jan 2011) Apple announced its 10Billion app download; very impressive. Yes, apps and data are the operator’s “new SMS”; as in cash cow.

According to Strategy Analytics, the expected Global CAPEX for service providers is in the $Billions: $270B in 2010 –> $310B in 2015; that is a 5 Yr CAGR of 2.8% (IDC); that is massive investment.

The expected growth of cellular subscription will continue its exponential growth; the following chart shows the global cellular subscriptions by technology (Strategy Analytics).

3G UMTS (and related upgrades such as HSPA+) and EVDO, will continue to persists as the dominant network bearers while LTE gets fully deployed; we are probably talking 3-5 years. Not shown above is the fact that WiFi now accounts for more than 50% of mobile user connections to the Internet, according to a new study from Bango (Feb 2011).

Operators will and should continue catering developers. Many will and are expanding their developer programs with the goal of expanding their own developer communities, via new APIs into operator-services and revenue sharing offerings. But to succeed, operators must really invest on such programs; it is not only about offering a developer website and some APIs, but it is a continuous exercise from enabling the developers but also offering go-to-market benefits.

Operators will use “network access” as leverage to maximize the monetization of their investments. One example is via new kinds of data access (plans) fees and caps; for example, access to LTE or quality of service might cost extra. This may impact developers in different ways, including pushing responsibility to app developers when it comes to data consumption and how to be deal with the consumer. Another example is going after service providers such as Google and other high-data driven services and companies which if they succeed may affect developers as new costs imposed by service providers will be passed down to the developers somehow.

In summary in 2011, we are seeing continuous massive growth on the number of subscribers, and have started to see the move to LTE and 4G, and 4G-like speeds via 3G network updates (which is what T-Mobile has been doing). The role of WiFi on Internet-connectivity from mobile devices is clear. Apps, apps, apps are the new cash-cow for developers and publishers, and operators as well since apps drive data-usage. Operators will look for and invest on new ways to gain visibility into the impact of apps on their networks. Operators will introduce their own app stores and operator APIs, and go-to-market incentives, which together with network access, they will use as leverage, mainly to tackle the issue of lost leverage when the control/power shifted to the ecosystem. But to be determined is how such Operator app stores and APIs will do, from the adoption perspective; they must win the developer first. At the end, network access, the pipe, is the Operator’s true leverage.


03 Feb

Mobile Future15 @ SXSW Interactive 2011

For the last number of months I’ve been curating the SXSWi Mobile Future 15 panel. This is a special kind of short-form panel content, fast-paced sessions, each title reflecting one 12-minute solo speaking slot, which is followed by a short, three-minute break before the next speaker begins his or her presentation. These proved to be very popular with attendees during 2010.

So I am very happy to announce the SXSWi 2011 Mobile Future15

When? Monday, March 14, 3:30-6pm.

Great topics and speakers:

  1. Mobile Opportunities for Entrepreneurs in 2011 (Raj Singh, Stanford Research Institute)
  2. Future of Mobile Gaming/Entertainment (Peter Vesterbacka, Rovio/Angry Birds)
  3. Designing for Mobile Web (James Pearce, Sencha)
  4. What Overseas Innovations Still Haven’t Hit the US Market Yet? (Debi Jones, Telefonica)
  5. Designing for Android (Amanda McGlothlin, Mutual Mobile)
  6. Tips for Getting Your App Approved (Michael Yuan, Ringful Health)
  7. Interactive Patterns in the Mobile Space (Barbara Ballard, Linchpin Mobility)
  8. User Experience and Cross Platform App Development (Carlo Longino, Wireless Industry Partnership)
  9. The Intersection Between Mobile and TV (Craig Negoescu, NAKA Media)
  10. Designing for iPhone (Chaotic Moon)

I am very excited about the quality of the speakers and the topics for this year’s Mobile Future15. If you are attending SXSWi 2011, make sure you stop by our Mobile Future15 panel session! It is going to be awesome…


02 Feb

Mobility in 2011

This is my first post of 2011. I’ve been wanting to make this post since early January, but 2011 already has proven to a very busy year.

A great year for mobility, 2011 should be.

As the year 2011 begins, it is good to understand where we are and what to expect in the new year. This is important for those who are planning their 2011 plan of attack, be it gaming, social, mobile commerce, or enterprise software/apps, services, just to mention a few.

I pay particular attention to the intersection between the state of the 1) handsets, 2) the networks, 3) the mobile lifestyle and 4) the business models that helps monetize the mobile opportunity. And I pay special attention to the intersections between mobility and context-based mobile computing and what I call augmented real-time interactions. And I am spending considerable amount of time on the Android platform, both native and web.

As these four aspects of mobility, mentioned above, continue to mature, they also continue to converge; the greater the convergence, the greater the commoditization, which translates into greater opportunities across mobile verticals.

2011 will see changes and improvements on the networks, the devices we interact with, and the connected lifestyle and how we interact with or through our mobile devices. This in turn results in new ways to monetize the mobile opportunity: mobile commerce, games, social, education, media-focused, operator-focused, or other types of apps, across mobile platforms, device sizes from smartphones to tablets and the connected TV, native vs. mobile web-based apps. The current state of the handsets and networks, and the role of tablets, NFC, app and content distribution, and new development tools for native and mobile web apps, will help unleash a wave of mobile activity like never before; even traditional non-mobile designers and developers, are now paying attention to mobile. Mobile startups are sprawling!

In the next couple of blog posts, I will expand on this:

Happy new year…


31 Aug

Taking the Pulse of the Mobile Tech Industry (2010-2011)

One of the cool things about helping judge/select the mobile sessions for SXSW Interactive Festival is that it is like taking the pulse of the Mobile industry — how the mobile industry and technologists feel about the state of things.

This year’s mobility and new technology submissions show how Geo & Social, AR and Big-Data continue to evolve and are key technology areas in the mind of many mobile technologists and marketers alike; a not surprising trend. Some NFC/RFID and barcodes came up. And the topics of native vs. web continues but not as strong, same with Flash, perhaps indicating native as the preferred approach to mobile apps, at least for now.

A lot of very good sessions this year; it was a bit tough to choose… congrats to all who submitted.


02 Jul

SXSW PanelPicker 2011: Send Your Incredible (Mobile) Programming Ideas Now!

It is that time again…

The 2011 SXSW PanelPicker launched on Tuesday, June 15: see PanelPicker 2011: Send Us Your Incredible Programming Ideas Now! (SXSW blog).

The entry process for the PanelPicker continues through Friday, July 9.

Then the public voting phase on these proposals will run from Monday, August 9 through Friday, August 27.

So go ahead and submit your cool ideas, especially the your MOBILE ideas, now!