Mobile is top-of-mind for every developer and every business, but it's not yet reaching stuffing-of-wallet for much of anyone. The problem, as one friend described it to me yesterday, is that mobile users have the attention span of goldfish. When users are in and out of an app or website in few-second snatches, the chances to …
He has a point here...
For a while I've been thinking something very similar to the point Matt makes in the last couple of paragraphs, but with music rather than text - I find it quite disruptive when I arrive home and take out my earphones, that I then have to instruct my computer to play. It surprised me greatly during my iPhone-owning period that a company so focused on seamless user-experience as Apple should not already have integreated this into iTunes.
I'm sure this will annoy you
but Zune does this across PC, WP7, ZuneHD and XBox360.
Mr Puterschmit says to Bill Gates "Hey Bill, can you help me program my Zune? Oh wait I have an iPod like the rest of the world"
That clear things up for you?
Disclaimer: I own neither
The software. Not the hardware. You don't have "iPod software like the rest of the world", you have the disgusting bloated scumware known as "iTunes" which is, incidentally, the major reason why I will never buy an iProduct.
Apps - one bloke's view...
I've got two kids, boys. They have had Nintendo DS gadgets, with their ~$30 game cartridges, for several years. It's like watching a magician the way those $30 cartridges could disappear into thin air. So we tried put the cartridges in little plastic carry cases that could hold three at a time. Poof! - three (~$100) vanish into thin air even if the child was locked a a glass box.
Now they have iPod Touches. At Xmas the younger lad got the iPod 4 and a 'credit' (with Daddy-bank) of $35 to spend on apps. He spent $10 elsewhere, and *just* spent his last dollar about a week ago. So $25 lasted him 7 solid months of buying almost any (but not all) app his little heart desired. Hundreds of free apps and about 25 of the $1 apps.
Feeding an iPod is infinitely cheaper than feeding a DS with the trail of lost cartridges behind it.
The PSP allows downloading of games, even a series 1 PSP.
Cartridge formats cost money
Which is why Nintendo exited the Cartridge based format after the N64.
Games for it were around £60 new. A lot of money for the youth market it was aimed at. Not a huge profit margin as it was effectively a piece of plugin hardware.
Sony (and Sega) on the other hand used CD medium, pennies to produce with huge capacity and could offer games for £20-£30.
The future for gaming is download. Or at the very least the status quo of optical formats with the possibility of cheap flash drives with games on.
You must be if you are an Arsenal supporter.
At least the Gunners are not as trendy as Chelski.
Up The SHOTS!
Back on Topic.
Smartphone Owner? nope
Tablet Owner? nope
Laptop Owner? Yep
Feel the need to see my Facebook pace every 5 mins? nope What's facebook?
IT Pro? Yep. been writing software since 1975. ATM, I write fight with SAP on a daily basis.
Still, the season starts tomorrow. Up at 06:00 for the trip to Bradford.
Come on you Shots!
Tried it for a couple of months or so. Ran away screaming. I can only hope that the REALLY did delete my account. Waiting for something like Diaspora.
iOS 5 + iCloud
The latest announcements by Apple should allow app developers to do this, provided you stay within the Apple range of devices, of course. Enabling developers to sell packages of the same app across the iPhone, iPad and Mac could also improve their economics a bit.
An Asay column I can get behind, and a valuable question.
The need to tie an 'app experience' between various devices and platforms is one way to get that kind of engagement. It's worked for services like Instapaper and it's certainly necessary if you have an existing desktop/web service that you want to extend to the mobile sphere.
But I don't think it's the only way to engage. You can also build apps which are uniquely useful when mobile. Red Laser and Word Lens come to mind as apps which are far more useful on a phone than they could possibly be on a conventional PC.
Ultimately, the simple answer is that a successful app needs to be either useful or entertaining. Those are the two things that people pay for. Tying different devices and services together is useful - after all, that's the point behind Google, Microsoft, and Apple building all these cloud services into these devices - but there are countless other ways to build that engagement.
"an app that allows me to start reading a story about how Arsenal has failed to sign yet another player, for example, should continue with me once I shut off my smartphone and open my tablet"
That would be iCloud then, of course it will take a while for devs to add the API to their apps but as you point out it will make for a killer feature, so I'd expect takeup to be swift, and as a bonus it's from that IT company you love to stalk about.
Apps - What for?
I've always seen apps as the modern WAP. Restrictive and dysfunctional, but temporarily necessary due to technology limitations.
However, even without HTML5, the latest mobile clients are quite capable (should the vendors choose) of providing a fully-functional web experience, which combined with 3G+ network speeds is all you need. These same vendors continue to restrict browser capability and push the app model because it makes them money despite it providing a poorer service to customers.
I've got an n900 (don't all laugh at once) - it has a fantastic browser, which is probably a good thing since it has nothing much in the way of quality apps. I can still access most/all the functions that my iPhone wielding friends do though, just online. The most annoying thing on the n900 is when the site, in it's wisdom, directs me to a "mobile version", which invariably has functionality stripped out. So now developers are having to create a standard website, a mobile website and apps all to do the same thing - and ultimately to make the customer experience worse.
Surely market forces are going to come to bear on the whole sorry mess and bring this pack of jokers tumbling down?
... but it's only after using a browser as good as the N900's that you'd realise this.
The only advantage of an app over a properly designed mobile site is that the App (usually) will download less data. However, that assumes that the app is well written; there are a lot of service apps that just stick a HTML view on the screen, then... load the service's mobile page into it!
Games and utilities need to be apps, and these are generally at the $5 price level, not $1. The remaining catalogue of "apps" on the major stores falls into the category of "Content presenters", things that just decorate or re-format an existing web service. These are the things that are on the way out, thankfully.
Say you're company XYZ, and your marketing people say you need a mobile app, what do you do? If you do only Android or iOS apps, and it's genuinely useful (most aren't), you'll get complaints from other customers, asking why you've no BlackBerry or Nokia app, or no Windows Phone version. So, your effort to improve customer relations just made about a third of your customers feel like second-class citizens. Great.
Better to create a mobile-optimised website, and distribute the bookmarks on the App stores (or distribute via QR Code/NFC for non-Apple platforms). This way, anyone with a decent browser can use your service, and you pay a lot less to provide it. Also, you get to update it without having to rehire a developer or wait three weeks for some intern in Cupertino to get around to approving it. That latter point is a big deal when your app is part of a marketing campaign.
Invisible Hand Of The Market
Just remember that the IHOM is there to squeeze you by the throat, turn you upside down and shake you vigorously until all the money falls out of your pockets. And then you are supposed to say, "Thank you, Hand!"
If I have an "experience" on a device then I want it to stay on that device and not follow me around in the rest of my electronic life. You'll feel the same if you think for three seconds about online porn.
Well... if I log in to a web site on PC and portable, or on work and home PC - let's call it "The Register" - then it would be nice to have it remember what I have and haven't already seen (and I'm not talking NSFW but you can cut that out anyway).
Or am I overlooking something that exists?
I think that we have a major problem here.
This concept of the seamless cross-platform experience where all your devices run the same app and you can pick up where you left off regardless of which device you have picked up is of course (by definition) dependent upon wireless syncing. Now that is fine if you are on your wi-fi network at home or at work. The in-between bit? That's 3G dependent - you gotta pay. Problem with that is the punter does not like paying. Cloud-based app experience seamlessly syncing/updating all your devices on the go is technically easier and smoother but that's an awful lot of 3G time being used and the punter, wait you guessed it, does not want to pay. The actual usage of many *locally* stored apps is (of course) heavily dependent upon being on-line. The carriers are stopping "all you can eat" plans because they do not have the capacity to cope with the demand for broadband that people *are* willing to pay for let alone the extra usage that would enable devs etc to be on genuine earners and they have yet to persuade the public to open their wallets for (plus with the increase in demand that the public are willing for prices are going to rise). Fundamentally what is not being recognised is that this is a *very* tough market where the punter is as tight as a gnat's chuff and utterly unwilling to pay more than peanuts unless the app or service is a major league killer app. Navigating via Google maps? They'll pay for the 3G usage then. Buy their favourite game? That they'll pay for. Anything else? You have to pry that pound/dollar out of their cold dead hands. The problem is that all the *ordinary* punter actually *needs* fundamentally from their shiny is to communicate (text, phone call, e-mail, navigate), in general terms what you are trying to do is to persuade them to *want* more and be willing to pay for it. However at the same time you are trying to persuade them to part with money for this or that, the price of *using* it is going to go higher and higher. The would-be seller's challenge is to persuade the public to pay *continuously* (initial purchase + bandwidth) for something and the public wish to continuously *not* pay for anything unless they perceive an overwhelming case for doing so. Face it, the punter does not want to part with a penny piece and the costs of what he/she *is* willing to pay for are going to rise as we hit capacity limits. How the hell anyone is going to make any money at the moment escapes me completely.
That darn new-fangled stuff!!
I think what we have here is the economic equivalent of the horse and buggy being supplanted by the automobile. You simply can't use the old rules because they don't work any more. There's going to be a fundamental shift in what we think of as 'money' and 'ownership'.
"How the hell anyone is going to make any money .............."
Other than FaceBook and Google of course!
Oh you crazy techno-utopians.
"There's going to be a fundamental shift in what we think of as 'money' and 'ownership'."
This tired old line gets regurgitated again and again and again. It tries to gie the impression of being all forward looking and prepared for synergetic paradigm shifting (but no whalesong darling, that's terribly twen-cen) without actually containing any content at all.
Money cannot, will not change until we reach some sort of delightful post-scarcity civilisation in the distance future. What *people* think of as ownership will probably not change ever. What *companies* think of as ownership is already rather different. In the same way we now have unlimited* bandwidth, we can own* entire record catalogues. In due course, I expect to be able to listen* to it on my* various media devices.
But marketing aside, the world is changing without the assistance of smartphones. You may note that the current fundamental shift in thinking about money is going from thinking you still have any to realising you have nothing. At that point, 'ownership' tends to become 'foreclosure'.
I don't pay for any apps, all the ones I want are built right into the phone. The two I use are making phone calls (and sometimes receiving them), and way behind, text messages. (Oh, it's a Nokia 6320i, no camera, no colour screen, no apps. But it works as a phone...)
Its about physical products
Apps are all about enabling users to buy physical products, quicker, easier.. If you're expecting to make money from "selling software" best start writing games and make money from merchandising and sequels.
Disconnect between devices.
I've noticed the disconnect between El Reg stories on my android and my laptop.
Also on the android that the default latest screen is way out of date, and requires a refresh every time I open the app.
"...is all you need."
Not all mobile Apps interact only with the Internet. There are many that interact with on-board sensors.
Also, there are many fantastic mobile game apps that can also be used with or without the Internet.
Finally, even with a generous 6GB per month data package, I wouldn't want EVERYTHING to be hosted remotely.
Data volumes though is a different matter. Again, there seems to be a skewed market here. The fixed line ISPs and Mobile ISPs have the same/similar core networks for data. The difference is the cost of the last mile, which is significantly higher for a fixed line provider than mobile. [Hence why mobile phones are much more common than land lines in the developing countries]. So why does my mobile phone provider feel they need to limit my bandwidth use, when my fixed line ISP does not? OK, 3G has limitations in terms of capacity, but these aren't going to be around for long with 4G and talk of ubiquitous wifi services.
Note that HML5 also has a lot of features that will help with off-line capabilities for online applications. So you wouldn't necessarily have to be connected all the time - but you'd lose the automatic synchronisation between your different clients if you made off-line changes.
buying apps is like.....
going to the hardware store (Canada). I'm home, I need a part/tool/whatever. I go to the hardware store, search around until I find exactly what I need, pay for it, go home, use it. No shopping. Latest app Open GPS Tracker, need to track distance ran while training. Downloading an app to fill in time in my boring life... those days are over.
Apps with hardware
I've been buying apps that link to hardware. Initially for research - just what is a Microsoft HealthVault? and how does Google Health work??
In search of data to create my own ePHR (electronic personal health record) , I bought a few input devices (typically €129 on the Apple Hardware Store from people like Withings), and I only bought this hardware because it came with iPod/iPhone/iPad Apps.
Research has started! (Google Health will soon be closing.....leaving an M$ monopoly?)
What about the Asus Padfone?
Just add a QRCode footer with the URL for the current page. Then when you want to move from one device to another, scan it.
Adapt for other uses.
Can't disagree with the analysis. I think long term the apps market will decline - as the man with the Nintendo describes, there is no money in Apps. If $25 lasts a kid 7 months there is no market in developing and selling these apps. Unless you do huge numbers, selling your Apps/games at 99 cents a pop won't keep you in business. I'd go even further and say many apps are simply novelty items that won't create repeat business. Because you're forced to sell so cheap and hand over so much to Apple most people will end up in a race to the bottom. I'd be intrigued to see some metrics on the usage people make of third party apps - I reckon after the basic phone/SMS and PIM functions usage probably declines extremely sharply.
Careful there, chief.
Making consumer tat isn't the only game in town, remember. Grown-up software often attracts grown-up price points, too. It would be surprising to see it on a smartphone or tablet, though.
Apple's Monopoly power
While Walmart may be the king of the sub $10 purchases it faces competition and can't even dream of those ultra fat 30% margins.
Apple's margins are unhealthy monopoly margins.
Services, not apps.
Walmart is a good comparison. In the long term, there's no money in selling somebody a $1 on-off product, or even a $100 product.
Steam is on the right track, as is xbox live - they've turned gaming into a continuous revenue stream, not a series of one-off purchases.
It's no wonder app development is in decline. Did you really think that mobile devices would succeed in micropayments, where the internet failed?
There are better alternatives. GiveMeApps doesn't charge developer fees, and gives developers 100% of their profits. They also help market your app with reviews, have customizable store fronts with social media tools and blog/news feeds to help you do business, all with an active forum to boot. I've been using GiveMeApps for about a month now and have been making decent coin which is a must in this crappy economy......
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