One of the highlights of TiECon2012 (The Indus Entrepreneurs annual conference- May 18-19th in Santa Clara, CA) was the Mobile Track. All important aspects of the mobile ecosystem, its present status and future directions were explored in depth during three TiECon mobile track panel sessions:
- What are the emerging trends, applications and opportunities in mobile?
- Considerations for deploying mobile in the enterprise and vertical industry apps.
- How to distribute and monetize your mobile app?
There was also a TiECon panel session on social gaming that was very much mobile related. For example, who will be the Zynga of mobile? What’s the intersection of mobile and social? Who will control the mobile platform?
We’ve previously provided a preview of the first mobile panel session on market status, trends and opportunities.
In this article, we report the highlights of that first mobile panel session. The other three related mobile sessions will be described in the second part (II) of this article.
Mobile Panel #1: What are emerging trends, apps and opportunities in mobile?
Session Organizer & Moderator:
- Raj Singh, CEO, Tempo AI
- Matthew Howard, General Partner, Norwest Venture Partners
- Erik Ekudden, Vice President, Head of Technology Strategies, Ericsson
- Anil K Doradla, Research Analyst, William Blair & Company, L.L.C.
- Lars Kamp, Strategy & Corporate Development, Accenture Mobility Services
- Ben Riga, Senior Technical Evangelist for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft
Panel participants first debated the role of the mobile network operator, who this author believes is between a rock and a hard place. Operators have to subsidize smart phones and upgrade the capacity of their networks to accommodate the spectacular increases in mobile data traffic. But they are not generating any revenues from premium services or value added offerings that make use of the increased bandwidth they must provide to their data plan subscribers. Here are a few take-aways:
- Matt Howard: Mobile operator opportunities are in enterprise apps and managed services. They’ve lost the consumer app and app store business.
- Anil Doradla: Operators are only getting increased revenues from data plans with higher priced tiers. Currently the mobile operator has been reduced to a dumb bit pipe provider, but the jury is still out as to whether operators will continue as such (or provide value added services, share in mobile ecosystem monetization).
- Ben Riga: Mobile has become a global platform, but operators don’t have the necessary information (location, customer preferences, etc) to do target marketing.
- Lars Kamp: Mobile Operator business depends on the country and their business objectives. Over-the-top (OTTP) content is a severe problem for operators, because they have to carry that high bandwidth data/video content but don’t get any revenue from doing so.
- Erik Ekudden: To ensure a good user experience, operators need to upgrade mobile network capacity; else the network will be a bottleneck (in many cases, it already is, e.g. AT&T’s 3G network).
The next area of discussion was Mobile Apps, App Discovery and App Stores. Here were the key panelist comments:
- New challenges and opportunities are emerging, especially with bigger screen sizes on mobile devices.
- There are different ways to monetize apps. What role will each of these play: analytics? CRM? Tracking user preferences? Location Based advertising? Virtual goods? On line gaming? Lots of questions, but few answers.
- The use of embedded performance analytics to get insights into the user was considered essential to success of properly monetizing apps.
- Securing ongoing subscription fees to replace one-off download sales was seen as a challenge, even for mobile gaming leaders like Zynga.
- Anil was bearish on the app store business model. The low barrier to entry encourages many app developers, but only a small minority succeed. The key players are Apple and Samsung who have 55% market share of mobile devices. So a developer needs to get the app on those app store platforms.
- Anil said that enterprise centric apps have more potential than consumer apps (we definitely agree).
- Erik opined that apps which require QoS support are critical to creating a great user experience. That implies premium real time apps that operators haven’t figured out how to charge for.
- Mobile app discovery was seen as a critical issue, as apps are not indexed in app stores and can’t be easily found by potential users.
- Ben said that getting visibility for the “right set of apps” is important. He suggested integration of app discovery into mobile search.
- A directory to navigate apps will be a complex piece of software. It might have to take into account data sharing between apps.
- The challenge of ‘app discovery’ across many platforms seems to be a throwback to the early days of the Internet – before website discovery was solved by Google (and other) search engines.
- Anil pointed out the “duopoly” of Apple and Samsung causes most apps to be developed for their platforms (iOS and Android, respectively). So it is the apps for those two platforms that most need to be discovered.
- Many customers are writing their own apps which are more personalized and are inherently discovered.
- Consumers have an inalienable right to privacy, but there are “trust issues” with app stores that maintain user profiles. Might personal information be used for app discovery, as it is now for “personal web searches?”
Moderator Raj Singh next asked, “Is HTML5 becoming a parallel mobile web?” He explained that HTML5 and the hybrid web/native model is what is being most adopted by app developers. For example, the use of HTML5 for the front-end of the app, but wrapping it as a native app (like the LinkedIn Mobile app). Ben said that HTML5 is the direction we’re all headed, but neither he nor any of the panelists were specific on its forthcoming role in mobile apps or mobile platform development. An audience member and panelist were debating if future mobile web apps would be based on HTML5. While no one denied that, there were no predictions on how long it might take.
Raj continued: To what extent is the Apple-Samsung duopoly driving the mobile ecosystem and user choice? What platforms and device makers will be viable in the future?
- Matt strongly believes it’s all about software, which determines gross margins.
- Ben stated that “Android market fragmentation (multiple types of smart phones from different makers) is driving app developers to the Windows Phone platform.
- Anil was bullish on Windows Phone. “The new Windows Mobile is a great product. I’m optimistic it will succeed as a 3rd platform (mobile OS).”
- Lars noted that mobile phones are still the world’s biggest distribution platform with an average one year replacement cycle for smart phones. Apple will ship 100M iPhones this year alone!
- Anil divided the mobile device makers into 3 groups: Iconic leaders – 1) Apple (especially with consumers) ; 2) Fast Followers- Samsung, LG, HTC; and 3) Strategically handicapped- HP (Palm), Nokia, RIM.
- Erik opined that there would be new types of mobile/ wireless devices for M2M communications, such as for use in home automation, security, and energy management systems.
Raj questioned the commercial success of mobile payments, especially using highly touted NFC technology.
- Matt said it all depends on Apple’s support (of embedded NFC and mobile payments) in its iPhones.
- Anil took a bearish view, citing too many different players involved in the mobile payments ecosystem (operators, handset makers, Visa & other credit/ debit card companies, banks, and app developers). All would have to use an integrated mobile payments system which doesn’t exist yet.
- Summing up, Raj told this author, “Once the mobile wallet system is figured out things may change, but the mobile billing may continue to be problematic.” Security was also seen as a critical issue for mobile payments
Raj asked if Amazon would be relevant in the “App Store universe?”
- Lars said he was bearish on 3rd party app stores (as Amazon’s would be). But he was bullish on enterprise app stores, presumably from 3rd parties.
Looking to the future of mobile markets………..
- Matt said that Norwest had invested in mobile health related start-ups. 2% of global GDP is coming from mobile health and that number is growing.
- Lars opined, “tons of innovation will come from VC backed mobile start-ups.”
- Ben was very optimistic on personal wireless sensors, but time for this session ran out before he could elaborate.
Editors Note: Part II of this article will cover Mobile Enterprise deployment issues as well as Mobile App Monetization and Social/mobile Gaming.