The window of opportunity is growing for ventures and developers if they have made for mobile device apps, content or services.

1. Market opportunity and niches

Mobility and mobile device screens (smartphones, tablets, e-readers) make possible new functionality and uses for devices.

For example it would be useful to know how readers of The Australian Financial Review use their iPads, about 30% of them have iPads! It’s a niche, and there are others hiding in research data.

What’s exciting about facts like that is that for developers and their investors mobile device app, content or services development provides a point of market entry.

Mobility is about apps. I have hunches about app development for mobile devices from client work and personal experience. They grew as I listened to Foad Fadaghi of Telsyte at the Google’s Think Mobile 14 September event in Sydney. He provided statistics on mobile devices in Australia, mostly smartphones and the iPad.

Mobility is about mobile device web browsing traffic numbers. In a few years Google expects mobile device browsing (phones & tablets) to involve more user time than on desktops – see the accompanying Google graphic on the topic of “Growth of Mobile”. Note the figures, eg mobile traffic has increased 3,000% in 3 years. I could not locate the source of that graphic (appearing in a Hothouse newsletter) and presume the figures are global.

  • "mobile-browsing-traffic"
Mobility is about growing mobile device sales. In 2010 only 2% of the population in Australia had access to a tablet (mostly an iPad). Based on his considerable research, this is forecast by Foad to reach 8% in 2011 and keep rising. Expanding the market are e-readers (eg the Kindle Fire has its own browser) and in particular Android-based devices.

2. Recognise app vs mobile web user preferences

"kindle-touch-3g"What offerings might work best on mobile devices? At 9:11 on the video Foad shares a fascinating bar graph slide of Telsyte research data from 12 months ago. For various types of content it shows whether users prefer access on mobile apps or mobile websites. Here’s my bullet point summary of that slide.
  • Apps were clearly preferred for – games, online music, social networking, online directories and maps
  • Mobile web was clearly preferred for – search and browsing (no surprises there), email and short video clips
  • No clear preference existed for – banking, the combination of news, sport and weather, or interestingly, online shopping
What development path is possible? What’s made for tablets is sometimes almost as functional on smartphones. And in time a version of a made for tablet app, content or service may appear on desktop and laptop devices. By then those heavier devices might have some tablet-like hardware or software functionality, eg laptop touchscreens. Meanwhile, mobile operating system competition is likely to increase, which leads to our next point.

3. Develop “device-aware” applications

A recent podcast summarises and confirms the above and the road ahead for mobile device developers and their investors.

In the latest Hothouse newsletter podcast, Lucas Challamel, local rep of the German company NetBuscuits, has a conversation with Simon van Wyk. Simon heads up the long established digital marketing consultancy, Hothouse.

Lucas and Simon talk in a podcast about the significance of device and operating system fragmentation for mobile device development.

  • HTML5, which is the next generation of HTML code, is years away, not all of it is ready now for execution. With HTML5 not being market ready, this will continue for years to make mobile device app use much more attractive to users for many user uses or tasks.
  • Given that last bullet point, the NetBuscuit offering is to work with clients to help the clients customise their apps for specifics of each device, in short to make them “device-aware“. Challamel says: “In Australia, there are more than 1200 types of devices that access mobile websites. In the US, that figure is more than 2200.” Even in Australia today, if you develop an iPhone app, you will reach 45% of smartphone users, but you also need to connect with the other 55 percent.”
  • The stats I’ve seen for a year or two indicate that an extremely high percentage of mobile web surfing traffic in Australia is on iPhones, maybe up to 80%. This suggests iPhone users love it for Web surfing and alternative smartphone users are not so attractive by web surfing. There’s more to this worth postulating about, with the hunch being that variations arise due to niche customer types that use different types of smartphones.
  • "android-logo"However, in the longer term Apple’s domination even in Australia where it has about 45% of the smartphone market, is likely to become lower. As this takes place, Android (of which there are many flavours) is going to lead to greater mobile device fragmentation, and along with that a somewhat different look and feel of apps on different mobile devices. For app developers this is like living in hell, a re-run of the Windows vs Mac gladiator movie of the 1980-90s. It is one of the market realities that makes the offering from NetBiscuits attractive.

4. Plan for the long haul

Ivan Watt, a highly experienced business planning consultant said something to me in the mid-1990s which I’ve never forgotten. Ivan had worked for Wang in the 1980s. Wikipedia tells us that at its peak it “had annual revenues of $3 billion and employed over 33,000 people”. Ivan said “”The world is awash with software.”

Ivan’s point was that it’s important to have a compelling business case before you invest. He and I do not subscribe to the notion of “just do it”.

Waves of new opportunity have arisen over the history of the last 100 years of media technology and last 60 years of software. Focus on each wave on its own, and you’ll see revolution. Rise above, and you’ll see the ebb and flow from monopoly to interoperability to fragmentation, and back and forth.

Made for mobile device may get you into business, being prepared for navigation of the ebb and flow will sustain your app, content or service business year after year. Strategic planning helps. Oh, so does good intellectual property and great contracts between all the parties involved.

Contact us with any questions or requests.

Noric Dilanchian