MoMo London – Living in a Multi-Platform World

mobilemondaylondon.gifLast night I was at the MoMo London event on ‘Living in a Multi Platform World’. Here are some notes and, as this is the domain I work in, a few of my thoughts in italics.

The event was kindly sponsored by Microsoft. Alex Reeve, Director of Mobile Business Group gave a presentation on how Windows Phone 7 represents a new scale of investment in mobile for Microsoft. ‘This side of Christmas’ we should see new devices that…

  • Implements what Microsoft are calling ‘Glance and Go’. Aggregating people/contacts/social.
  • Provide transparent sync of images, wherever (device, PC, web) they are stored.
  • Integration of IE, Search (Bing), Outlook and Zune  (music).
  • ‘Real’ Office apps (with full roundtrip to PC and back support).
  • Developer tools to ease development.

As mentioned in a previous post, technically, I am sceptical about Windows Phone 7. Also, like some other people I spoke to at at MoMo, I question whether people always want the MS way of doing things (Bing, Outlook, IE, Xbox). These days, many people use other apps and services (e.g. Google Search, GMail, Opera) and these should be just as easy to use.

The remainder of the evening was a panel format moderated by Marek Pawlowski (MP) of PMN. The panellists were Oded Ran (OR)  from Microsoft, Tom Hume (TH) of Future Platforms, Jerry Ennis (JE) from Flirtomatic, Ilia Uvarov (IU) from RG/A and Nick Lansley (NL) from Tesco.

  • In order to provide some perspective, MP gave a reasoned estimate that the smartphone installed base, at the end of this year (2010), is likely to be only 11% of the 3.5 billion unique users.
  • MP went on to ask the panel what platform people should target and why. NL reasoned that it makes sense to develop for the platforms your target audience uses. However, it their case this meant targeting a platform that can’t provide a great user experience. NL mentioned targeting a ‘Hero’ device so as to derive marketing, news and traction. JE started with Java and moved to the mobile web when it became too difficult to support a large number of different Java devices. Would they make the same decision again? They are now seeing a large number of iPhone users on the mobile web which might change things. TH mentioned the possibility of using AdWords to do consumer research to catch the type of end users you wish to target and then working out their phone type. IU said the selection of platform also depends on geographic region as different countries have different phone market shares. OR suggested an approach of going for a platform that’s about to launch (hey Windows Phone!) so as to piggyback the launch PR.

My thoughts on this were that little was said about phone capability as a criteria for platform selection. Many projects I work on are only possible on some platforms.

  • Someone in the audience, from TouchNote, mentioned problems on the Ovi store due to store user experience issues. In particular, problems due to the lack of push for updated applications.
  • MP asked what developers need of platform providers. App stores where seen to be critical. App update was seen to be important, not just having the capability to update, but also to manage updates to so many apps that might need updating at any one time.  NL suggested developers encourage people to upgrade by bundling new features with bug fixes otherwise users might not see the advantage of upgrading. There were thoughts that you shouldn’t just rely on the app store mechanism. There were ideas from the audience on a traffic light system for updates showing the urgency/priority and/or ordering updates by most used.

My thought on this is that it’s not just about apps. Ease/desirability of development also involves tools, documentation, support (forums, wikis etc), examples, SDK restrictions (yes, thinking of Apple here), availability of devices for testing and an ecosystem where developers are eager to help one another. In my opinion, Android seems to have managed this best.

  • MP asked how long multi-platform providers can continue funding these competing platforms?

My thought on this is that they will do this as long as they continue to make money. As it’s a large market, many will be able to co-exist.

  • MP asked how platform providers might help developers make more money with the increasingly lack of visibility due to a ‘sea of apps’. There were comments that platform providers should be more transparent with statistics and charge less commission so that it becomes viable to sell real items within an application.
  • JE was of the opinion that payment in general is holding back mobile. One example is Apple’s disallowing of in-app purchase for virtual currencies. This has caused the strange situation that some developers have created further apps to add features to the first app. Also, payment via operator, while preferred by most end users, doesn’t work well internationally and is especially troublesome for users in the US.
  • MP widened the discussion to multi-platforms outside mobile. NL of Tesco explained how they have opened up their APIs rather than trying to support every platform themselves.
  • NL went on to explain how he thought initiatives such as JIL, BONDI and HTML5 might not be successful in uniting platforms because people now want the best user experience and not one that is the lowest common denominator. Users don’t share the concerns of developers – they won’t compromise what they want just because it’s easier to write that way.

I tend to agree. See my previous posts below. I also feel that developing for the lowest common denominator just opens you up to competition from people who have implemented a better solution via ‘native’ apps. Also, it’s my experience that to get anywhere near the look and feel of a native app you have to use lots of javascript libraries specific to that particular platform. This kind of defeats the write-once run-on-everything claim for HTML5.