Which types of apps do people use most on their mobiles? This is revealed in the Telstra 2011 Smartphone Index. It prompts this question: How did the smartphone, mobile device and app market take off, and more importantly, where is it heading?

Statistics on emerging opportunities in mobile markets are useful to us as IT and mobile phone app lawyers. They are re-shaping the financials, workflow and futures of a huge range of industries, among them software developers.

As our hyperlinks in this article indicate, since 2006 we’ve closely monitoring mobile market developments in Australia so as to give timely advice to our clients.

Strategic planning background

Smartphones, were pulled ahead by the iPhone from 2007. Tablets were pulled ahead by the iPad from 2010. As an e-reader, the iPad has competition from a range of suppliers.

Mobile devices have grabbed attention due to their remarkable sales growth relative to competing devices, simple phones or desktop and laptop computers.

In parallel social media has become normal, for non-geeks that means Facebook or Twitter. Facebook is a vortex for even business websites as they become more “facebooky”. Because of cookies and other app and browser smarts, a user’s Facebook presence more and more pops up or gets pulled into sites, whether that be via the iLike button or more.

"mobile-app-lawyer"Apps have been with us since the 1950s. The full term, application, is a synonym for computer program. New meaning has been given to the word “app” by trends since 2005. Today we commonly talk of apps found on mobile devices. Their design genealogy recalls widgets which proliferated on computers in about 2006. As this happened related commercialised mobile technology increased their installed base, eg bluetooth and wifi.

The industry-changing capability of the mobile market became obvious years ago. Certainly it’s reshaping IT markets, moving from a position of advantage in consumer IT through now to colonise business IT. It goes wherever people find it useful to have data available away from their desk. That’s everywhere.

In 2006 it became apparent to me that access to internet content would put a stake through the content walled gardens of telcos and others.Their business model and mobile phone contracts held back the growing tsunami of unmet consumer demand for data mobility.

By 2009 I could make predictions on observing consumer habits changing in use of apps on mobiles to perform daily functions.

It then became measurable in statistics like the level to which people accessed their bank accounts on mobiles or used the iPhone map app.

In 2011 it is apparent that former market leaders, Blackberry and Nokia, have faltering. Their operating systems have been besieged by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

"mobile-app-law-australia"Now in mid-2011 we have the graphic above in the 2011 Telstra survey (see also the Nielsen/Telstra slide show here [PDF]), to indicate the level of change in Australia. It’s a peep hole for future opportunity.

Strategic planning foreground

Looking ahead, the bigger picture is that companies which control app platforms are positioned to control layers above. That’s been part of the mission of Facebook in opening its interface to other developers, such as this month with Skype, owned by Microsoft.

In the competition between three key platforms (the web, client-server architectures and mobile apps):

  • the advantage of Google, Amazon and eBay is the web; Google with  Android,
  • the advantage seen by Microsoft is to be more platform agnostic, linking devices anywhere, and
  • the advantage of Apple has moved to mobile devices with iPhones and iPads.

"iPhone-app-lawyer"We can view apps as a business layer above these platforms or infrastructures.

Technology buying decisions in business today include mobile devices. For example, a company with staff that travel a lot and products with bar codes, may prefer data storage in the cloud and mobile devices.

There are technical reasons as to why the platforms and infrastructures are integrating. As is explained in a recent book (1) on app development:

“The days when a Web page was a single page of HTML code are long past. It is true that some such pages still exist, but more often the “page” either includes other components such as JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets or is some code that dynamically creates the page. This is true of Web pages, iPhone Web apps, and Facebook apps. (iPhone apps may include HTML, JavaScript, and Cascading Style Sheets, but they also include iPhone and Cocoa frameworks that are usually written in the Objective-C language.)” (2)

Mobile app law in Australia

Clearly businesses, including app developers and software owners, have much to think about and keep monitoring for survival of their ventures.

The legal landscape for these mobile market commercial and technological observations can be stated succinctly. There’s six key legal requirements for which market participants need legal documents or additional legal advice.
  1. Contracts and business structuring – to architect your venture with a matrix of contracts with your suppliers (eg programmers and designers) as well as to assess the implications of contracts with other apps (eg those seeking to access your app’s functionality in theirs), app stores and device vendors
  2. Confidential information – locking down your ideas under contract law (eg via a non-disclosure agreement, NDA) and under equity law
  3. Copyright – contracts to ensure it is clear that ownership of copyright is held by the right person or legal entity
  4. Trade mark – trade mark applications for the app name and logo
  5. Consumer law advice – eg to avoid designs or representations that might be misleading at law
  6. Patents – a search is prudent in some cases to ensure patent rights are not infringe; not a problem is you make no money, but if your app becomes wildly successful actions may be launched for legal, licensing or other strategic purposes against you. See for example iPhone pinch pinched?
We specialise in all these areas of law. For an obligation free initial conversation, call (02) 9269 0229 for a discussion.

(1) Jesse Feiler, Get Rich With Apps! Your Guide to Reaching More Customers and Making Money NOW (McGraw Hill, New York, 2010).

(2) Pages 17-18

Contact us with any questions or requests.

Noric Dilanchian