Beyond The iPhone: A World of Opportunity

It’s getting a little bit silly now, dear reader.

Ridiculously silly. We’ve had a good year now of mobile applications taking off, going ballistic. Now, though, it’s time for the industry to get real about the iPhone: It isn’t the only handset on the marketplace.

The World Is Not Flat

I understand that the iPhone is gorgeous, glorious, elegant, beautiful. Indeed, I have been first in the line to pan the painfully obvious failures of other manufacturers who had the temerity to vomit out handsets that couldn’t hope to match the ‘elegance’ of the jPhone (“Jesus Phone”).

I won’t go into specifics, suffice to say that for the last 3 years, any manufacturer stupid enough to show off their ‘iPhone killer’ looked, well, stupid. Very stupid.

And now that the plebians have got hold of them — i.e. you can get the jPhone free on contract in the United Kingdom — it seems there’s no stopping the iPhone juggernaut.

i-Limitations

As I discussed in my DevNest presentation last Wednesday, the iPhone has limitations. Here’s a good example: Anyone calling themselves a geek and actually using an iPhone as their primary handset is universally acknowledged to be wet. Highly wet. Aged-45-and-still-lives-with-his-parents wet. That’s because the iPhone is a glorified Fisher Price toy phone. It doesn’t do background applications. Like the proverbial thick-kid at the back of the class, the iPhone can only do one thing at a time. iPhone users are reduced to thinking and working in monotone.

[Sidenote: I do feel for the people showing off magnificently crafted applications that turn your iPhone into something awesome. I’m thinking of super-cool mobile messaging aggregators, VOIP clients or remote access clients, anything that’s particularly nifty. How galling is it to know that when your users get a phone call, the whole sodding house of cards — the simply fantastic system you’ve built — falls to pieces because the device only does one thing at a time? And then the user has to fire up the application again… Simply rubbish, isn’t it?]

Anyway, for the rest of the planet, the iPhone is a pretty nice experience. My mother loves hers. My wife — having dumped her Android G1 for the latest iPhone 3GS — is delighted. She is particularly enamoured with the nifty applications.

iPhone: 14% — still in the teens!

Gartner reckons that in terms of 2009 sales, worldwide, 14% of them were iPhones. 20% were BlackBerries and a whopping 47% were Symbian devices. 4% were Android (which, in case you were wondering, is why nobody is downloading your Android app). Just so we’ve got numbers in perspective, there were roughly 80 million smartphones sold in 2009. Looking at total handset sales — including rubbish devices — Nokia shipped 440 million phones last year. Samsung shipped 235 million, LG knocked back 122 million and both Sony and Motorola did about 50 million each.

Today, Nokia will ship about a million phones. Just to be clear: Over a million phones will leave their factories today.

And you’re busy developing on… iPhone.

Yes.

Great.

iPhone has served its purpose. It has demonstrated that mobile applications have relevance, that the market is worthy of attention. We have got past the stage of experimentation though. We know it works.

It is no longer good enough to only release an iPhone application. It’s fine to experiment with it. But if you’re a big brand and you only release on the iPhone, you’re stupid. Stupid, stupid and thrice stupid.

That’s because there’s a massive market sitting staring in the window wondering why they can’t do business with you.

The other platforms out there have been working really hard to make sure that the app experience on their handsets is beginning to resemble the elegance of iPhone. BlackBerry’s AppWorld is working nicely. Nokia’s Ovi Store is chugging back 1.5m downloads a day now. Samsung are working hard on their offerings, likewise Sony. Even the Android Marketplace is becoming useful.

Time To Think About Other Platforms

For a long time I’ve been complaining to Nokia. I’ve been going nuts over the fact that, a few months ago, I went out and bought a Nokia N86 on contract from UK operator, 3. The N86 is a piece of engineering genius and the camera is simply fantastic. I really do like it.

Here’s the example I’ve used — that really winds me up. A little while ago, Ocado (the grocery delivery service allied to the Waitrose chain of shops) launched an iPhone application. The app enables you to literally order your toilet rooms whilst you’re sat on the train. Genius. It’s basically an app interface to their existing online ordering portal.

My problem is this: How come the chump sitting opposite me on the train with his iPhone can order his toilet rolls with a few taps — and, with my Nokia N86, I can’t?

It’s because the people at Ocado decided not to create a Nokia/Symbian app. Instead, they decided just to focus on iPhone.

Initially I railed at Nokia for allowing this situation. And whilst the manufacturer did carry a substantial amount of responsibility for not creating the conditions to easily allow application creation and dissemination, the key issues are more or less fixed.

I don’t believe it’s Nokia’s problem any more. It’s companies like Ocado that are holding the marketplace back.

I’ll be more specific: It’s the digital agencies that are propping up the iFascist viewpoint.

I should point out that I haven’t phoned Ocado to find out if they did their development in-house or via an agency. I don’t want to because the Waitrose brand is held particularly high in my mind. I don’t want to destroy that by phoning them and finding out that they’re a bunch of numbskulls who haven’t even considered developing on other platforms. I actually did phone and got through to the voicemail of a chap called Ben.

But it doesn’t look good for Ocado. Oh no.

Silicon carries an fantastically illuminating interview with Jon Rudoe, head of retail at Ocado. Here is Jon discussing why they launched their iPhone app:

Silicon: What was your business case for launching an app?
Ocado: “The [problem] that people are trying to solve is: ‘How do I get my cupboard stocked and my fridge full with the products I want? How do I find, select and retrieve my weekly grocery needs?’ When you look at the world like that then you almost become platform agnostic. So, rather than sitting there thinking ‘well, I must have a website’, or ‘I must have a supermarket’, or ‘I must have whatever’, you actually find yourself thinking ‘I must have a mechanism for people to fulfil that want/need/job’… And then all you have to ask yourself is: ‘Do people want to do that on this platform?’.”

So we must assume that the Ocado chaps sat around the conference table and decided that anyone using a Nokia, a Samsung or a BlackBerry was unclean. Dirty. And of course, dirty people wouldn’t want to use Ocado on their device, right? 😉

Here’s one more quote from the Silicon piece:

Silicon: How much research did you do before you launched the app?
John: “It was quite easy, at the stage we started developing, to look at the market and to look at where most of the phone usage was. We did some research and we can obviously spot which customers were visiting our regular website from which mobile devices and obviously we could understand general statistics about iPhones and other smartphone penetration. [An iPhone app was] a pretty obvious first place to start, basically.”

Goodness me.  This is why the mobile industry is screwed at the moment.

Numbskulls.

Ocado selected iPhone and for everybody else using a Nokia, a Samsung or a Sony Ericsson — or anything else — their message is (by default): If you want to order your toilet rolls on the train, sod off and buy an iPhone.

Unfortunately that isn’t a sustainable or sensible suggestion. It’s like suggesting customers trying to use Ocado Online from their Mac laptop should go and buy a PC first. Or vice versa.

Jon-from-Ocado goes on to point out that the iPhone now accounts for 2% of their online sales.

Let’s just stop there for a moment.

TWO PERCENT?

Their heads must button up the back.

TWO PERCENT of your sales go via mobile and you’ve limited that to ONLY iPhones?

What about Nokia?

What about Samsung?

What about BlackBerry?

It beggars belief, it really does.

The Cost Issue

Of course it’s expensive to develop on multiple platforms. Yes indeed. The kind of expense that small developers simply can’t cope with. And that’s entirely understandable. But if you’re an online retail giant — and TWO PERCENT of your sales are coming from iPhone already — what’s stopping you reaching out to other platforms?

Well it’s probably because it’s difficult.

That’s right. The one thing most digital agencies don’t tell their clients is that they don’t have a flucking clue how to develop for the other platforms.

Do ask your mobile agency about developing on Nokia. Or BlackBerry. Or Vodafone 360.  Watch their horrified look. Watch their faces screw up with mock disdain. It’s no longer possible to dismiss anything other than iPhone as ‘irrelevant’ or ‘not ready for prime time’.

This poses a real challenge for the Nike-wearing digital agency fraternity, who’ve had a really nice time knocking back the iPhone apps at pretty good rates.  Most of them have no experience with any other platforms. Most of them will — when your call comes in — be reaching for the phone number of that Eastern European mobile developer company, because the agency themselves — seriously — can’t tell a BlackBerry from a Samsung.

That’s going to become quite a business challenge for a lot of companies, soon.

It’s Not Just Ocado

Of course it’s not just Ocado guilty of this iFascism (“only focusing on the iPhone”) — the industry is rife with it. While everyone is busy competing with each other on the iPhone, there’s a land-grab beginning on the other platforms. It’s been ok to ignore these platforms whilst they’ve been busy struggling to establish themselves.

They’re established now.

And if you’re not developing for these other platforms, if you think they’re irrelevant — be very careful. They’re now coming of age and looking for their own superstars to rise up and dominate their charts. Heroes are being made on a daily basis across the other platforms. Even BlackBerry’s AppWorld has now started creating millionaires out of developers who were smart enough to get stuck in way before the hordes descend.

It’s time for me to calm down now.

(My Original Blog Post: http://www.mobileindustryreview.com/2010/03/beyond-the-iphone-a-world-of-opportunity.html)

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