24 Jul

Are we still talking about WORA?

A friend of mine who works at Phunware recently pointed me to their blog to read about a recent acquisition they have made; very cool, congrats.

Then a recent blog post of theirs caught my eye (as it is a topic close to my heart): The Delusion of “Write Once Run Anywhere” Mobile App, where Phunware’s CEO writes:

“…I turn my attention to another popular myth about the development and publication of mobile applications: the delusion of “write once, run everywhere” mobile applications and the fallacy of their existence.”

WORA? We still taking about WORA?

…deja-vu!

Today, talking about WORA is similar to the debate on mobile apps vs. webapps — seems it will never end. But I guess since for many mobile is still a new space, it is good someone writes about it.

True WORA will never happen. Not back in 2004 during my J2ME days when I wrote True WORA will never happen, and not today.

For certain classes of mobile applications though, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, as “close to WORA” can be achieved — for native apps with the help of cross-platform development tools, and for webapps thanks to toolkits such as WebKit, jQuery Mobile, Sencha, and so on.

But today (still) once you go media-rich, highly-sensor and context-based, it starts to break-down.

Even popular tools like Titanium and PhoneGap have limitations when trying to maximize the experience/goals, or maybe the problem is with the folks using such tools, but nevertheless, a number of companies that I have talked to recently and which have advised on the benefits of native app vs. webapp, have given up entirely and instead have explicitly asked for target-specific (Android vs. iPhone vs. mobile web) development only vs. trying to go cross-platform with the hope of reducing development costs.

At the same time, some of companies do realize that while mobile webapps won’t able to deliver (today) the level of functionality and user-experience that is as rich as native apps do, they do understand the trade-offs where the functionality and experience of mobile webapps is sufficient-enough for their goals, their customers, across mobile platforms, with respect to their development budget and expectations.

So yes, for certain application classes WORA is possible today, while true WORA across all classes of applications is not.

Related to this see: Mobility in 2011: Mobile Apps, Webapps and Tipping Points

ceo

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”.

…where:

  • 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:

ceo

14 Aug

SXSW 2011 PanelPicker | Vote now; voting ends Aug 27, 2010

A reminder that the 2011 SXSW Interactive PanelPicker community voting is open and that voting ends Aug 27, 2010. SXSW Interactive is on March 11-15, 2011.

For SXSW Interactive alone there are 2344 sessions! Wow. And for mobile/wireless and mobile apps there are 96 sessions.

Please remember that SXSW is a community-driven event and that your vote literally accounts for about 30% of the decision-making process for any given programming slot.

So go ahead, find the proposals (and mobile proposals!) that most interest you and vote!

Voting ends 11:59 CDT on Friday, August 27.

See you March 11-15, 2011…

ceo

21 Sep

On App Stores (Guest Post by Kiran Mudiam)


This week guest post is by Dr. Kiran Mudiam, a long time mobile technologist and a researcher.


Here is my take after reading all the letters sent to the FCC.

We all know that there are positives and negatives to open and closed App Stores. And not everyone is happy with both models. For example, too open, such as the Android platform, we find lots of spam and light-p0rn. On the other side, too close, we have the Apple police, which results of lots of missing apps.

I have seen Google Voice and Google Latitude on the Android platform, and I believe that they need to be similary implemented on the iPhone as well; many, including myself, would want that on their iPhones. And to make it clean, Latitude should be integrated into the current iPhone maps app just like it is done on the Android, and it also makes sense to try to get it running in the background.

I am still hopeful and waiting to see these apps on the iPhone as they fit nicely; but that will only happen as long as they play nice with Apple. If not I would argue that Google can find another app store such as Cydia to release their apps if they want stick to their guns. I already have seen the availbility of the Gooble Voice App through Cydia.


About Dr. Kiran Mudiam

Kiran

Dr. Kiran Mudiam is a long time mobile technologist and a researcher with several years of experience creating mobile software products and end-to-end mobile computing. He recently was a Mobile Architect at American Express – Technology Strategy and Innovations, driving the next generation Mobile Payments for American Express. He is currently at Trimble Outdoors working on their next generation of GPS based mobile applications.

twitter: @kiranmudiam

06 Sep

The Google App Market – An Analysis

I’ve written a quick analysis on the Google App Market situation… Looking forward to your feedback/opinions!


You can download this article in PDF format. Download The Google App Market – An Analysis (PDF).


The Google App Market – An Analysis

September 6, 2009 | © 2009 C. Enrique Ortiz — http://CEnriqueOrtiz.com

This article is about App Stores/Markets. It is a personal view on the Google App Market and thus it is totally unscientific. It focuses on Google App Market but it applies to all app stores. In this article “App Market” and “App Store” are used interchangeably and refer to the application catalog on the Web that allows for the discovery, payment and download of mobile applications.

There are like four ten thousand applications on the Android Market while the iPhone App Store has many, MANY times that. Everyone knows that the Google App Market is not doing as great as the iPhone App Store. Even when trying to compare oranges-to-oranges, this is, for example, the number of apps and apps-downloaded and paid-for on a given/same period of time or the same age-period of the store themselves, for some reason the iPhone has clearly done a much better job.

It is a very interesting problem. There are so many variables involved in this problem, starting with the human-factor variable, that makes this nut so hard to crack. Bring on the human-factors experts! Bring the designers and engineers. And let’s not forget the marketers! This problem is way beyond pure engineering — I’ve always said that the iPhone was created by designers and marketers and engineers, while the Android was made by engineers.

Why such big differences between both stores?

  • Are iPhone users really unique/different?
  • Are Android apps “sucky” or are Android users cheap?
  • Are the reported store/market numbers skewed?
  • Does it have to do with “critical mass”?
  • Or is it all due to user-experience — the experience finding, buying and downloading applications?

Perhaps it is all the above. But before I take a stab to the above questions, let me talk about a higher-level view to this problem. To be successful, App store/markets must be built on top of a number of foundation steps as illustrated next.

Figure 1 – Basic Ladder for App Market/Store Success

…where:

  • At the bottom of the ladder as first step is critical mass, as without critical mass there is insufficient effect to realize a long-tail effect. Handset positioning, marketing, pricing, region, all have part on critical mass adoption.
  • The next step up the ladder is user-experience, which perhaps is one of the most difficult steps to get right and is covered in more detailed later in this article.
  • The top step on our ladder is the ecosystem and quality applications as without these there is no app store/markets.

The above foundation steps are critical to the success of app stores/markets. Next let me go back to the questions above and how they relate to this Basic Ladder.

iPhone users have proven to be a unique/different bunch. They are more consumer-oriented than Android and even BlackBerry users. For some reason those users do get applications. Perhaps thanks to marketers (TV commercials | “There is an app for that”) iPhone users see applications as “things that solves specific problems”. The iPhone has critical mass, but BlackBerry has critical mass as well; the BlackBerry store should be a great tester of the theories written in this article (once they implement the two top steps of the Basic Ladder above). Yes, critical mass is one of the foundations for success. As a side-note, while the iPhone has an attractive critical mass, it is not as attractive in all countries due to cultural preferences/differences. Device manufacturers must understand and find what creates critical mass for their own products on specific regions.

Today Android apps are less sophisticated when compared to iPhone applications. On the iPhone it is expected that applications are somewhat sexy/eye-candy. This helps with application quality perception. Applications must just work well and be useful. Good quality apps is another foundation for success. In theory and over time, Android apps should become sexier as well. Should there be an approval process that enforces a minimum user-experience and eye-candy for Andorid apps? Hmm that is a tough one, and doing so go against the idea of a true open platform.

Android users are cheap; Android users don’t buy as many applications as iPhone users do! Maybe this has to do with demographics. Based on observation the majority of Android users are the techies-type who prefer free stuff and who are not willing to pay for applications that aren’t great. But the demographics for Android users will soon shift with the plethora of devices coming from emerging markets and other. (For the record, I’m an Android user)

While we always have to be careful when interpreting industry metrics, as collected numbers, by definition, are and alway be *relative* to a particular set of conditions and data set, existing metrics/numbers do show that there is not enough critical mass (a foundation for success) for Android at this moment. I expect numbers to shift in favor for Android as mentioned above. And the top reason I believe this will be the case is economics — more and more device manufacturers will introduce Android devices because using Android reduces their initial investment and maintenance costs (due to reduced Build of Materials) when introducing a new mobile handset. As you know software and especially Operating System software is a very complex piece and it is very expensive to build and maintain and it is just logical that manufactureres will take advantage of all the research and development already done by Google and that is available for “free” or “at no cost” to them.

And what about the user experience? The user experience, another foundation for success, can definitely be improved on the Android Market. The current experience is not terrible, but it is not helping maximize the transactional opportunity. Towards this goal of improving the user experience Google has been working on a new version (v1.6) of the App Market application which includes a number of improvements including screenshots and more descriptions and new categories — see Some News from Android Market (Google Android Developers Blog) including a short video of the new client.

While I’ve no insight (beyond the above) on what Google will be improving on the Android Market, they must take into consideration a number of additional things, including improving the user experience beyond the on-device client and helping the Search function a bit more.

On User-Experience

User-experience can enhance and promote usage, or discourage it. If the (app store/market) is too hard to use, or if it is too hard to find apps, then people won’t use it. And as the number of applications increases, better ways to find applications must exist.

Recently AdMob reported (PDF – AdMob Metrics July ’09) that over 90% of users in their study reported that most of the application discovery efforts are done on-device instead of their computers. Below are other insights from the AdMob report:

  • The most-cited ways of discovering apps are browsing the Android Market/App Store Rankings and searching for a specific type of app. Over 90% of users who cite these activities do them on their mobile device instead of their computer.
  • Android, iPhone and iPod touch users are all highly engaged with apps. Android and iPhone users download 9-10 new apps per month, while iPod touch users download 18. Over half of Android and iPhone users spend more than 30 minutes per day using apps.
  • iPhone and iPod touch users are more likely to regularly purchase paid apps than Android users. 19% of Android users download at least 1 paid app per month, compared to 50% of iPhone users and 40% of iPod touch users. However, of those users who regularly purchase paid apps, downloading behavior is similar across platforms.
  • Requests from the Android Operating System increased 53% month over month. Android has 7% worldwide OS share.

The above goes back to better ways to discover, buy and download applications is key. I do believe though, that a web-based companion will also improve overall Google App Market performance.

Search is good, but even Search needs some help. And this help is about filters, good filters. Imagine the right filters, including self-organizing ones. With the proper Search and Filters we have the first step towards improving the app store user experience. The other two steps are related to buying and download.

While search by categories, “featured apps” and popularity is important, quickly filtering by “free vs. paid” and “new vs. old” is probably even more so. And to maximize the usefulness of the filters and maximize the transacttional opportunity (minimize incorrect bias) the filters must all be visible and accessible just “one click away”. Let’s take a stab at a potential UI design for such an application discovery application:

Figure 2 – Potential Enhanced UI Design for App Store Client

Note the emphasis on filters by categories; here categories aren’t fixed and will adjust based on historical usage, or preferences. This is important as my favorite categories not necessarily are your favorite ones, and once categories are fixed it translates to exclusion; indiscriminate exclusion is not a good thing. Note the “free vs. paid” and the “new vs. old apps”; the latter should be familiar to Google Reader users. Other useful filters are the ones found on the iPhone App Store client such as “featured” and “Top 25”. But again, it is very important that search and filters are ALL visible and also are “one click away”.

A complete discovery solution must not only be on-device but must have a desktop companion. Apple has iTunes. Google has the Android Market, but it is incomplete in my opinion. See the areas in red below: few filters, incomplete applications catalog, and no push-to-handset method, just to mention the obvious limitations.

(Part of the discovery — the App Market/Store shall also only show the applications that works on the user’s device — here works means resolutions, platform version compatibility and other).

Figure 3 – Current Android Market is Unnecessarily Limited

The enhanced web-based “desktop” market (companion to the on-device market client) shall provide the complete catalog of applications, provide and maintain download and purchase histories, but also must allow for the ability to initiate the download (push) of the application to the handset over-the-air (OTA). In other words, a user should be able to use their browser on their desktop/laptop and go to the Android Market, discover, buy and push applications to their Android handset. This market user interface shall provide all the same search functionality/filters as the on-device discovery UI illustrated above.

Once The App is Discover, what is Next?

Once the application has been found, it is about learning more about the application: here things like screenshots, ratings, descriptions are all important. And the upcoming version of Google App Market client v1.6 will try to improve on all of those areas. What about the ability to share the application? Yes, very important! Google must add such facility (i.e. “Tell a Friend”) as well.

The following illustrates the App Market/Store Cycle and Support Triangle that shows the three main phases a user goes through when interacting with an App store/market including some important characteristics for App Market/Store success.

Figure 4 – App Market/Store Cycle and Support Triangle

You should be able to extrapolate from the above app discovery, payment and downloads diagram and about the transitions in between them.

Last I would like to mention the importance for a super simple payment system. In the past I’ve written about “integrated payment with the operator” approach which should be a very simple approach for users (this of course would only apply to operator-subscribers scenario). Another solution to this is the App Market/Store PC (web) companion that I mentioned above that would allow a user to not only discover and buy applications, maintain existing download and purchase histories, but also easily setup and maintain account and payment histories; for Google this would be Google Checkout in the back-end.

In Conclusion

App Stores are little strange, difficult entities. At this moment it seems that Apple has gotten it right, but not the others yet (others are RIM, Google, Palm, Microsoft). App Market/Store success is dependent on a number of different moving parts, including the most difficult one of all: human-factors. It takes designers, engineers, marketers and human-factor experts to get it right. And it is important to get it right, as the future of the mobile handset useful relies on software and applications, and software and applications are the bread and butter of the developer community, you and me — the Ecosystem.

ceo


V1.5 | September 6, 2009 | © 2009 C. Enrique Ortiz — http://CEnriqueOrtiz.com


11 Nov

App Stores are the New Deck

Andrea Trasatti wrote that Everyone wants an App Store these days.

Yes, very true.

I was talking about this with Brian Fling at Mobile 2.0.

Apple, Google, BlackBerry. The number of independent vendors. Next, network operators…

App Stores are the new Deck. But a very deep deck. A searchable deck. A deck-catalog.

The new deck gives or moves the power to the subscriber/end-user, who can search (discover) and decide what application (content) to install or ignore, and even say which applications are great, OK or bad thus having a direct influence how a given application will do on the store/market.

The new deck makes developer’s life much easier and with better returns.

The new deck is about the ecosystem, making participation and related business model effective and attractive to everyone.

Next, future mobile stores will go beyond local/native applications and also offer web applications, widgets, and other types of mobile content.

ceo