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Apps, Apps,Apps, but the future is the mobile internet – by Mick Rigby

It’s been apptastic for the last few years in the mobile market place. There is an app for just about everything and most business developing in the mobile space businesses focusing their resources on app strategies. But with all the hype and excitement surrounding applications grabbing the headlines many businesses have taken their eye of perhaps the bigger long-term opportunity and that is the mobile internet.

Something like 80% of all mobile internet traffic goes through the iphone, and most of this is via the apps, although not exclusively.  But you will only use it if there is a reason to use it and the iphone gives you 250,000+reasons to use it, that’s the number of apps that are available.

You get a great experience with an iphone app, using them is easy, the journey is smooth and the experience in most cases is really positive.

However, unlike the fixed line internet there is not one dominant operating system. And this is potentially the big stumbling blocks for replicating the iphone app success across the whole mobile delivery infrastructure.

The IAB suggest that the non Symbian Operating Systems (OS);  Android, Rim, Apple and Windows,  will all take circa 12-15% of the market each in the not to distant future. Nokia will still have the largest share of the market but that leaves around only 40% of phones running on Symbian. Now, if  the future of mobile  internet connectivity was through Apps then the consequences of this for businesses wishing to use mobile as comms, transactional or CRM tool would be the requirement to build applications for each OS. In addition there would be a need to have different payment systems catered for if purchasing was required, different promotional activities for each, different usage strategies for each and because consumers’ expectations are geared to the type of phone and the technology it is running on then management of these expectations.

One of the biggest hurdles at the moment is the investment required to build your app, inevitably for iphone, and the size of the available audience that could use it. Scale is important to be able to offset investment.  It is possible to develop a good app without having to break the bank, but imagine if you had to shell out to build 5 separate apps for five separate operating systems in order to cover the whole market.

So what could the solutions be?  There are a number of businesses that are developing technologies that will allow development across multiple OS. However these solutions can only work if built to the lowest common denominator of functionality. Using this tech you will not be able to incorporate the top end “wow” functionality such as the compass facility on the Iphone or the quality of the camera on high end Nokia phones.

One of the other solutions is that you could build functional gateway app widgets that allow you to access the mobile internet (see the bit below about RIM) . HTML5 will be upon us soon and those in the know, with far more technical knowledge than I will ever have, suggest that it will allow the mobile net experience to be as good as the fixed line net experience.

Many of the businesses that have already ventured into the mobile market are now turning their thoughts to the bigger picture, the broader audience available and the opportunity therein.

One of the biggest iphone App successes in the UK has been the Rightmove App. It has been a benchmark build for many businesses looking to get into the sector to see what can be done and how to use the technology. But based on their app success they haven’t gone off and replicated the application for all the other OS, they have built a fantastic Msite that replicates the functionality of the app but allows it to be used across every smart phone regardless of manufacture.

In addition, Marks and Spencer have built their mobile retail offering not around an iphone app but with the broader mobile internet in mind.  Their audience is very broad and I guess the core purchaser doesn’t conform to the standard iphone profile; to use just iphone apps would have excluded the vast majority of their potential mobile shoppers.

Both of these businesses are innovative and farsighted enough to know that to put a ceiling on their opportunity in the mobile space at circa 12% of all users by building just for the iphone won’t give the scale they need. In addition they are making their learnings now when the market is still small but in rapid growth, their investment will pay big dividends when the phone penetration is 70% of all mobile users at the end of 2012.

And the app market isn’t all it seems on the surface. I was in a meeting recently with Blackberry where it was stated that circa 60% of the apps on blackberries aren’t really apps, they are simply an app widget or bookmark that allows you to access the Mnet in a convenient and simple way. Ok, I hear you say, RIM has been the least successful operating system pushing app use. This is correct but this is down to the simple fact that many of the contracts are corporate contracts and they are not configured to allow access to the app store or in some cases the Mnet. My view is that the widget or bookmark will be the app of the future.

The app market and iphone in particular have been very important to the growth of mobile as a business tool. They will also continue to be important but in my view not the only solution, and with an eye to the future the brands and businesses that make the most of the opportunity are the ones who embrace the mobile internet as well.

About the author: Mick is the chairman of Yodel digital, a strategy led mobile agency. Having worked as a planner and strategist at some of the top creative and media agencies in London he became the founding partner of the comms planning business, Monkey communications in 2001. Yodel digital was launched in 2008, as the first mobile strategy and deliver agency in the UK. He is passionate about mobile.  Clients include the COI, Britvic, Premiership Rugby, Toshiba and Jobsite.

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