Killer Apps Ecosystem

There is more to Killer apps than just, er, apps...Let me explain: first there was wap, then mobile web, then imode and on-device portals, then apps with native apis, then apps with exposed, open or common apis, then there was HTML5 and we did full circle :)

In short, the CEO of Nokia, who will have now been through the full cycle of the dilemma that people in his place are placed with (its all about the numbers; why are we not hitting the numbers, what do we do if we cannot compete on numbers...) to have come up with the best way of defining what part of this blog is about: the ecosystem: "the Industry has shifted from a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems".

He is right, partially at least: first people bought the new Nokia N95, because it was the best phone, they then bought the iPhone, because it was made of glass and metal, but the evidence now is that people now buy iOS or Android, and others will follow as the market evolves. But here is my point: apps are still relatively new in the ecosystem, and like any ecosystem you have areas of thick, dense woodland that is 100,000s apps and flashy devices, and then you have more varied ecosystems of the mobile operator, more reliant on other services such as bundled wi-fi, SMS and even, yes, mobile web. Handset manufacturers also have varied ecosystems, from the small lush oasis that is Vertu, to the vast sprawling new frontiers of the HTCs and LGs, to the newly revamped older ecosystems of Nokias.

What is important in any app ecosystem is:
  1. to play to your strengths as an ecosystem: apps are about quality, not quantity, but other services are also important, and you have to remember that 90% of people's needs are covered by voice, messaging and info; whether you do that by SMS, voice and WAP, or IM, VoIP and apps, its important to realise that they are still ecosystems, fragile and need updating in context: introducing 40,000 apps to an ecosystem my tick a box for re-population, but it may break the rest of the ecosystem!
  2. Remember that there are different levels of evolution amoung adopters of your ecosystem: early adopters and high end users will browse a few thousand of your 100,000s apps, others will have a few, some just want to know it is there and have somebody download 5 apps for them and others will never pluck up the courage to go there and have still bought your device as a key part of your ecosystem 

so what are the killer apps still across all these devices:

SMS & Killer apps

SMS is still a killer app, its like traditional  voice; it works, when you are roaming, when you do not have an internet connection or where internet is not strong enough to load your app, or you have so little battery left you have turned internet off. With the Nokia festival Guides SMS was the killer app, as once you had downloaded the app and configured it and browsed branded content and other info to your heart's content, it was time to go in a field for three days with no battery charger and SMS was the only way to get updates and communicate.

SMS is used to configure pretty much any service on the phone, tell you how much you will be charged when you are roaming, and is still generating significant revenue as services, like SMS to facebook and SMS to twitter, especially in emerging markets, where SMS still sits alongside apps: Emerging markets are two-fold; the traditional emerging markets, like Africa and Latam, but also the other emerging markets - people just discovering smartphones but struggling with change. These users, for one reason or another use wi-fi where they have it, but are still happier or only use SMS outside of this space.

Then you have to remember the push nature, apps are still very much pull, sure you have push functionality on apps and email, but the one that works like clockwork, even when you have turned an app off and disabled here or changed a setting there is SMS push, its what the proper blackberry email was built on and its what the cash generating apps like sports alerts are still based on, why? Because its universal.

Universal Ecosystem

That's right, the fundamental part of any ecosystem is universatility... my new word, but ist true! In Ecosystem terms it is referred to as all organisms in a community being a part of an Ecosystem: when some are not part it breaks down. The numbers game of getting apps was bad in many ways, but the key was because is pushed people to get the numbers for the highest common denominator and people focussed on just getting apps for the N97, or just for android devices in their (operator) store, or just for Nokia devices in the windows ecosystem. Smaller players would do wise to learn from the one thing RIM did right and built its entire loyalty around, and what Apple did as well as hit the numbers, and that is make sure that you enable all your ecoystem:

  • for Mobile operators this means enabling 90% of the services across all your devices, whether its WAP, mobile web or mobile app, we want email, facebook, google, etc. if the web experience is better then send them there (as it has been even on Apple devices this time last year when Facebook had not been updated and push alerts were broken and the iPad did not even have an app)
  • for handset manufacturers this means making sure all your users and all your devices have these services or at least a version of those services if the core service is part of your "ecosystems". That is, do not launch an app store for just some devices with nothing for others, you are better making like Operators should and enabling something across all devivces.. if it is core and not just a tactical marketing exercise, like bundling angry birds with certain games devices for a quarter, that is. In the same sense, the ecossystem should be equally accessible. It is no point having an ecosystem that is on the homescreen of some devices and an extension of the OSwhile on others the 100,000 apps are three clicks down in the menus.
I will leave you with the fact that 97% of referred installs of a killer app were taken up via SMS. You are better to have 100 apps that work across your ecosystem, even if that does mean using SMS for some, that having more apps than apple on just one subset of your ecosystem!


Social media

Social media is probably the biggest contributor to smartphones in the post "app store" era, its what keeps people coming back hourly, day after day,week after week, year after year: way after your are so over angry birds and your new year's resolution is to spend less time on the next point - casual games. In the meantime, I wonder what they say about angry birds on wikipedia :)

HTML5 is the best thing that happened here, and below to casual games as well, as it will finally make social media as universal as possible, and not subject to APIs here and platform dependencies there: how do you do notifications for HTML5? why SMS of course!

Casual games

Did I hear your new year's resolution was to cut down on casual gaming??? yeah right! however, if you just put angry birds this week and nothing the next, then what was the point. An ecosystem can start by just being offered the casual game of the month and using social media for people to comment on it, universally, of course :). There is the old music industry adage that once a hit, always a hit, so while the next big game comes out on just iOS or Android and then takes a while to get to other platforms, these first players were just the early adopters (10%-30% of your base?). The rest are happy to have that game when their friends on other devices can play it as well.

HTML5 alongside native OS installs will make the "universal" aspect possible and make these the next killer apps for the ecosystem provider(s) who get it right.

Payment

2006...2011...2012 will be the year of mobile payments :)

Mobile payment is coming, its has just been slow for two reasons: firstly, in the parts of the world where there are other forms of payment it will be slow, but secondly, those places where t did work was in Africa and other emerging markets where SMS, USSD where used, alongside new fangled WAP. When we stop being obsessed with NFC enabled smartphones and just do it with what we have, then it will work. Square are getting there with the almost universal iPhone, but let's not forget Bluetooth 4.0 will finally make NFC as close as universal as possible. However, what will be the confirmation or even trigger? SMS! now go back to the part on SMS at the top of the screen that I deliberately put at the top but that you skipped over dismissively!

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