June 12, 2009

iPhone app? Mobile Web? Widget?

Written by Jon Arne Sæterås.Filed under Blog | Be the First to Comment

Almost every day we get questions about applications versus mobile internet sites. “What should we do?” iPhone applications are of course the type of application most of the people we are talking to mean. IPhone applications are currently very (very!) popular in all segments and gets lot of attention. Why isn’t Mobiletech surfing the iPhone wave? Well, we believe in the open internet as the platform for innovation and application development. In this blog post I will try to explain what that means and why we believe this is the way to go.

First, let’s talk some of the phenomenon of iPhone apps. I’ll not try to describe how, but Apple has done what so many have tried before; to create a closed ecosystem (similar to a good old walled garden), but more b2c, or even c2c, than the traditional walled garden. By this approach Apple, motivate the developers and early movers around the world to enter the eco system. Well, enough about that. Apples App store has proven to be a success.

Further, the iPhone is the most successful mobile communication device of our time. Nothing less than revolutionary. So of course we understand all our customers who really want to join the iPhone party by creating apps and getting millions of downloads and easy access for your customers.
Let’s stop, and think about this… There are few issues that are easy to forget.
The iPhone represents only about 25-30% of the global mobile internet users. (Admob). What about the rest of the users with other handsets? When you enter the mobile application track it is likely that there, at some time, will emerge requirements to support other platforms as well. For example Android, Palm/WebOS, Symbian, RIM Blackberry, Java midlets and so on. Not to forget all the different “Appstore clones” (Ovi Store, Android Market, Play Now, SkyMarket Blackberry app world etc.) you need to rely on for distribution. You probably see why this is bad for business… You’ll need a building full of cheap labor to make this happen! Another interesting issue we have experienced in this relation is that the demand (and budgets) for an iPhone application often comes from the marketing people in an organization. Nothing wrong with marketing people (!), but a marketing organization is not capable of handling software distribution and maintenance. In some cases the demand and requirements are not aligned or attached to any internet strategy at all. In the current troubled and challenging times, this might not be the best way to spend money. “But the marketing value”, you say? Good question. There is not too much statistics on this area. Let’s try to break it down anyway. Being in the appstore itself, gives close to zero marketing value. You still have to do an effort to tell your users to go digging in the Appstore to find your application. It’s really hard to enter the “top lists” in appstore. If you do, you can’t rely on being there for long. Apple control these lists and you have no option of buying your app a top rank or even advertise for your app i the appstore. So presence in the appstore is not enough. However, if you are lucky many users find your application and downloads and installs it. Then you have an icon on the users’ home screen. That’s great! Now we can start talking about marketing value. But do the users actually use your application after download? Pinch Media have done some research. The findings are interesting. For free applications, 80 percent of people who downloaded the application used it once and then never again. For paid applications less than 1/3 used the application again the day after download. Only 1% of users tend to like the application and use it regularly.

My point here is that the appstore is a compelling distribution model. It has proved great, but you are not in control over the process. Apple is. As a business model, the Appstore is not too different from the “CPA models” Scandinavian mobile service companies know. Apple takes a fairly big slice of the cake.
Mobiletech believe in the internet as distribution model. Internet is the best possible distribution channel around! And it keeps getting better! You are in control of the complete value chain as well as distribution and business model. Internet is well known among your customers and (if you choose your mobile site software wisely) you content can be consumed by your users regardless of what device they have. Mobile internet also has a much more stable user base. Over all, the mobile internet usage is growing at lightning speed of course, the point is that users who have found your site on mobile internet usually comes back regularly.
You want access to GPS, offline usage, home screen icon and all the other cool iPhone stuff, you say. No problem! You can have all this. And not only for the iPhone but for all devices! Still using the ultimate distribution channel of all; Internet. iPhone 3Gs will support access to native functions, such as the GPS, from any mobile internet site. As will many other devices; Blackberry, Windows devices, Symbian etc. The W3C standard for this is soon ready to go. The Mobiletech software will of course support this.

Home screen icon is also an out of the box feature for mobile internet services today. Not many know, but instead of using marketing money on guiding the user into the app store, use half the money to tell him how he can use his favorite internet tool, the browser to enjoy your services.

Offline usage is also currently possible. HTML5, which is used in newer mobile browsers such as iPhone, Androids etc., defines a way to use the mobile web site offline. Together with javascript this client side database feature enables feature rich and interactive applications in offline mode, completely transparent to the end user.

I know what you are thinking; “fair arguments, but still something missing”. Yes, there is. It’s the “x-factor”. If you are confident you have an application that will reach the top 25 list, and you have x-factor-budgets (over time), you should give iPhone apps a try. If you want a long term solution, reaching all your audience, use internet. Anyway, remember to do this work according to your internet strategy!

Well, how can we help you with the x-factor? There is a thing called widgets (You have probably heard this word 1000 times with 1000 different meanings). Widgets are a standard. Soon finished from the W3C, currently supported by Opera, Vodafone, Nokia and others. A widget is a self contained, offline web application running locally on your device. The standard is 100% device independent and uses internet as distribution model: Runs and looks like an application, and still uses internet standards and distribution! Quote me in a few years: “Widgets will be huge!”. You get the best from both worlds. You can distribute your widget through your favorite app store, the internet memory cards, email, sms etc. The matrix below summarizes the differences on some common key selling points.

iPhone Native appsite/application running in the browserWidget standard
Offline accessYesYes, HTML5Yes
Access to gpsYesYes + other means of location userYes
Distribution modelAppstoreInternetInternet and various appstores
Business modelApple decides (Appstore)Internet modelInternet model
Available from home screenYesYesYes
CompabilityOnly compatible with targeted versions of iPhoneCompatible with all devices with internet connection and a browser.Compatible with all devices conforming to W3C standards

Is it worth 10 000 Euro for an iPhone application on a propriatory platform to reach 30% of your potential users while creating yourself a maintenance problem when you could have used the same amount of money to reach 100% of your audience, with the same features as an native application and use the Internet as distribution?

You have probably figured it out already: Mobiletech can’t wait to create mind-blowing widgets together with you! It’s a tad early to roll out widgets yet, but don’t worry, we will tell you when you can line up in front of our sales office. During 2009 we will see many new mobile devices capable of running widgets. Even Google has concluded that the internet is the ultimate platform and have announced that for example Google latitude will not be available as a native application but as a web based application running in the browser.

This discussion above might seem a tiny bit heavy to one side. True. Don’t misunderstand me. iPhone apps can be great! Especially for games and other heavy features. Mobiletech is happy to help you refine your iPhone application idea and put it into a bigger perspective. We have great partners for iPhone application development as well. Further, we provide tools for measuring usage of your application whether it is an iPhone app, widget, mobile internet site, Android app or whatever. We provide the analytics.

Full presentation from Pinch Media

About the Author Jon Arne Sæterås

Product Director

Other posts written by Jon Arne Sæterås (40 posts)


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