This is more like it Adidas, genuinely funny and living up to the ‘originals’ name. “I don’t like you either, fool!”
Whenever I head along to events like Mobile Monday London I always take a few days afterwards to digest what I’ve heard and do some follow-up reading (especially after Google had framed the event by announcing just two days before that the future in this space is mobile web). Last Monday’s event on the future of mobile apps was no different.
MoMo’s main speaker/sponsor was Patrick Mork of European company GetJar, the world’s biggest independent mobile app store (and who I also must confess I had never heard of). Based on their experience and analysis of their customer base, here are the most interesting bits of data I think they have dug up:
- 75% of their users are under 25 (and therefore not the same age as the majority of people creating apps for them). The majority of this number are male users who frequently return to the store.
- The biggest factor impacting on whether or not a user becomes a repeat user is the existence of a UX-driven ‘discoverability’ of new apps.
- Apps are not about smartphones – 70% of apps downloaded from their store are Java-based.
- Most apps have a very short lifespan and are seen as “bite-sized pieces of entertainment” unless they are providing long term utility ala Google Maps.
- The most downloaded apps appear to be utility-based, with email and IM aggregators and sharing apps proving to be the most popular.
But what of Google’s jab about apps being a flash in the pan and that mobile web being the eventual winner? The following panel discussion eventually threw up the general consensus that at present it makes sense for the client to look at the customer and develop a solution on a platform that best serves their needs, handset and habits. Joachim Hoffman of Fjord summed it up nicely by stating that Nokia’s new Sports Tracker, with its built in heart monitor, is a service that couldn’t be reliably serviced by mobile web. Conversely Flirtomatic, the mobile flirting network, wouldn’t have the resources to run on anything OTHER than mobile web – the most popular handset amongst Flirto users (the N95) still only comes in at 5%. The sheer costs of creating and maintaining apps across enough all users’ handsets would be immense, and would stimy the fast changes and turnaround times that are needed to keep the network fresh and up-to-date. There was also a feeling that casual gaming is going to catch up fast in terms of downloads and popularity (this prediction is already starting to be reflected in GetJar’s download stats).
As much as I love mobile web, and I do think its the horse with the best legs in the long term, I have to agree with an article that Malcolm Murphy wrote on Mobile Industry review last week – mobile web isn’t there yet. The loading times are poor, the browsers aren’t powerful enough and even though people claim to be using mobile web more on iPhone, and that its changing mobile web usage habits – the very same iPhone users consume a proportionally high level of apps. I like the Google email and maps apps on my BlackBerry, and I much prefer them to their mobile web counterparts. With Vodafone to react to Apple and Nokia by becoming the first operator to soon launch their own app store, I don’t think that I’m alone in these feelings.
Sadly nobody at the event mentioned the Star Trek communicator app for iPhone, maybe next month?
UPDATE: Excellent Guardian article on the true economics of iPhone apps.
Stats say that the US numbers for Facebook and Myspace are down in early 2008. The backlash against social network apps in in full swing…
… so much so that Facebook is cleaning up its profile pages so that apps will be listed in a separate tab to the combined wall/newsfeed, while the wild west “forced invite 100 friends to get the result of the ‘which German philosopher are you?’ quiz practices than some app developers use to boost app distribution have also been outlawed.
So why have apps become unpopular? A quick straw poll of my friends reinforces the conventional wisdom here – people are sick of streams of useless apps. A live poll taken at the last London Facebook Developers Garage confirmed the same, with a large majority of regular users surveyed saying that apps were good for “nothing” rather than other options such as “irritating people” and “connecting with friends”. Given this backlash, it was interesting timing for the Developers Garage to see how app developers and organisations are reacting to this change in user behaviour.
One such interesting company is business collaboration, communication and project management network Huddle. Huddle produce a rivalling service to Google docs, where multiple users in a workgroup (or “huddle” if you will) can upload, edit and comment on documents. Huddle have made a useful app whereby you can use their service through Facebook effectively. The app is integrated with the main Huddle site so regardless of whether you work through Facebook or the main Huddle portal, you can still collaborate effectively. Huddle are looking to expand the service to Myspace and LinkedIn, which is easy to do these days as SOAP can be used to link Huddle’s platform to multiple platforms. This allows users freedom to use Huddle whatever way they like wherever they like, especially if they already spend a lot of time doing work through Facebook (who are implementing plans to add a Googletalk-style IM client) or LinkedIn.
The goal of this app from Huddle’s viewpoint is to generate a buzz about the product and to encourage people to come to the mail Huddle site and monetise them by encouraging them to sign up for their premium services. Conversely Huddle are pushing the app through their site, which is sending users TO Facebook rather than the other way around but does have the benefit of creating buzz.
Another interesting app discussed at the Garage was the ‘Become Rambo’ app developed by UK company Wakari, who were contracted by digital agency Spinnaker as part of their advertising campaign for the new Rambo film for Sony Pictures. Long story short, Lionsgate in the US (who had the distribution rights for across the pond) hired another agency there, who also decided to make a Rambo Facebook app (‘Get Rambo’d’). Both of these rival apps were based loosely on the Superpoke concept, as in “A attacks B with C”, seeing as Rambo mainly assaults people. The key factor in the success of the Become Rambo app was the extra functionality; while Get Rambo’d just had options for attacking, Become Rambo included a points scoring system (if you hit the max then you get to fight Rambo), a health bar that can be refilled through invitations, and a wide variety of weapons to unlock.
The Get Rambo’d app is a great example of how to add a fun app that engages users. The average for the app was 200 returns per user, which was built through being clever with viral distribution and creating a ranking system to encourage interaction and competition between friends. This benefits the users, who are having fun with the app, and the advertisers as the app is driving the users towards their content. A comparison between the two Rambo apps showed that the ‘Become Rambo’ app held users attention for much longer as there were reasons to come back.
For me, companies like Huddle and Wakari are leading the way in the social networking app space. Rather than just building for the sake of it, they have created two very different apps that actually add value to the user. Overall the backlash against social networks and apps is a good thing – it should thin the market of the weaker and irritating apps and the more useful and fun apps should well emerge at the end. This change is being led by social network users, and as seen above, the likes of Facebook is listening and making changes. I think the craze and newness of social networks has worn off (all old school friends have been tracked down at this stage!) but with the app streamlining and noise reduction beginning, there will be a more gradual growth rate and stabilisation in the space as social networks become an everyday part of our lives.
(Thanks as always to Techcrunch for their up-to-date Facebook news!)
As reported by Techcrunch UK, business networking goliath LinkedIn has made the jump from the US and opened their first foreign office here in London, where they plan to continue their massive growth and I assume subsequently crush/assimilate Euro-rival Xing. LinkedIn is working hard to increase site usefulness and functionality, as evidenced by the rising popularity of their answers section and jobs boards, and while they currently have more users in Europe than Xing (4 million to their 3 million), I have to wonder how much farther their dominance will spread in Europe.
Despite the rapid worldwide expansion of Western sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, I think there is is always going to be some local pushback blocking global convergence to just one or two social networking sites. For example, Facebook has barely made a dent in Asia, where countries have their own networks that are more than holding their own because of their culturally unique features. Rather than using the wall-posting features on Bebo/Myspace/Facebook, Chinese users tend to prefer social networks with IM-based communication while Japanese site Mixi is more of a one-stop-shop with both personal and business funcationality.
That’s going to be the challenge for LinkedIn, as it has to contend with the fact that not only do people communicate differently across cultures, but they do business differently too. I’ll be interested to see if they taylor the site and interface to attract users who don’t prescribe to the American-led social networking model, or if they’ll continue with things as is and just hoover up the smaller networks. A third way is also possible, with LinkedIn offering a global network and with niche industry or national sites popping up to fill in the gaps. Whatever way it happens, the LinkedIn juggernaut is rolling and while its possible that global users will reject it if it gets too overbearing, things seem to be running smoothly for now.