MoMo London HTML5 vs Native

mobilemondaylondon.gifOn Monday evening I was at MoMo London at the ‘annual’ HTML5 vs Native debate. It was excellently chaired by the entertaining Ewan MacLeod of Mobile Industry Review, with two teams of debaters. Andrew Betts (FT Labs), Sam Arora (DeviceAnywhere) and Jose Valles (BlueVia) were in the ‘Pro-HTML5’ team  while Nick Barnett (Mippin), Alex Caccia (Marmalade) and Chris Book (Bardowl) were in the ‘pro-native’ team.

To cut a long story short, the usual pros and cons of HTML5 and native were discussed (see my previous posts) and predictably it came down to ‘horses for courses’. It all depends on your project. However, there were some items of interest that might be worth further thought…

  • All the latest apps the panel had downloaded were native.
  • Andrew Betts from FT Labs suggested HTML5 hasn’t been found suitable for many projects because HTML app implementors "didn’t do it very well".
  • Jose Valles said that maybe there’s a need to push to get (HTML) APIs open. Later, Jon Rabin, organiser of MoMoLo mentioned CoreMob that has these goals. 
  • Alex Caccia commented on how they (Marmalade) think of ARM as a platform across devices, in a similar way to the way some people see HTML5 as cross platform.
  • Alex also observed that when you get stuck, HTML5 tends to be a black box that needs difficult experimentation while native has APIs that are easier to explore.
  • There was contention as to whether an app should look and behave like other apps on the phone or use brand-familiar idioms. Again, it depends on the actual app (and brand).
  • There was an observation from Andrew that companies tend to blow their budget on creating an iOS app. When they suddenly realise Android is needed, there’s much less money available and the result is a poorer app. When further platforms are needed, the budgets get even smaller.
  • There was a question as to what the next billion users, in less developed countries, might end up using and whether this might influence development trends.
  • Finally, reversing last year’s result, the audience voted for native over HTML.


MoMo London – Mobile Apps Marketing

mobilemondaylondon.gifI was at Mobile Monday London last night where the theme was Mobile Apps Marketing. After a brief presentation by Samsung, there was a panel chaired by Tim Green (Executive Editor, Mobile Entertainment) with Keith O’Brien (Head of Content Strategy, Samsung), Oded Ran (CEO, Touchnote), Richard Firminger (Managing Director, Flurry) and Paul Armstrong (Head of Social, Mindshare).

Here are some insights I took away from the event…

  • Samsung told us their (free) app review service is under utilised and probably should be used by more developers. They can validate your app on Samsung devices and provide feedback on how to improve your app. Keith O’Brien was of the opinion that there’s a need to spend more on media (ads) than was spent on creating the app. He also suggested most apps should have a start screen explaining what the app does. He says developers should test with a small friendly community first rather than using the public to test apps.
  • Flurry costs from 70 cents per download when you use their network to promote your app. Users are targeted using the data collected via Flurry analytics. Richard Firminger told us that user retention is as important as user acquisition. 
  • Oded Ran from Touchnote revealed that having used all of the main ad networks, none of them were financially viable for Touchnote’s usecase and they have stopped spending on ad networks. He expressed the opinion that numbers (metrics) are very important, particularly the number of downloads that result in retained customers. Viral (social) loops, better PR and partnering (with Samsung as it happened) have been better ways of acquiring users. Oden spoke of an acquisition funnel much like Mark Curtis (then of Flirtomatic) did in 2009.
  • Paul Armstrong suggested that using context (eg time and place) can improve the success of adverts.
  • Incentivised downloads should be viewed with caution as they don’t necessarily result in retained users.
  • While it seems everyone (and an increasing number of people) are chasing the top chart slots, it can still be financially viable for some companies who aren’t in the charts.
  • With regard to social, it’s best to target the right people rather than ‘all the people’. Target the poeple who fit best with your app. Also think about the tone, graphics branding etc. 
  • Consider finding ambassadors for your app before it ships so that you get a head start.
  • The large brands, games houses etc are driving ads, not the typical developer.
  • Examine how your main competitors promote their apps to gain some insights.
  • You may need to pay for ads, at least initially to get the app off the ground, such that it has some app reviews.
  • Ad categories that are working for large brands include gambling, travel, film, and dating.
  • Consider publisher platforms but don’t give away your IP nor do exclusive deals.
  • Lots of vertical press are now looking for specific apps to talk about so consider this PR route.
  • Finding compatible fan pages on social networks can lead to one post having a very large effect.
  • Consider the mindset for who you are building app.
  • Schemes that guarantee app store placement for a fee don’t make sense – economically, morally or practically.They almost certainly use dubious practices such as bot farms or mechanical turk-like people. If you get caught using such schemes, you can get banned from an app store forever.
I think the largest message was that user retention is as important, if not more important, than user acquisition. Most of the not-so-smart money is currently being poured into acquisition when it might be better spent on ways of keeping users through methods such as newsletters, engaging users and using device notifications.

A to Z of Mobile Games

momoshoreditch.pngLast night I was at the inaugural Mobile Monday Shoreditch in London. The theme was the A to Z of Mobile Games although a quick poll of the attendees showed most worked in areas other than pure gaming. It was mainly a panel event consisting of Sami Mahmood (ngmoco), Roberta Lucca (Bossa Studios), Alex Caccia (Marmalade),  Maxwell Scott-Slade (JohnnyTwoShoes), James Faure (Autotrader) and chaired by Oscar Clark (Papaya).

Not being a games developer, I was particularly looking for insights that might be applied to non-games. Here are some things that were mentioned…

  • Most games are now freemium and many are becoming social freemium.
  • A few games are using pseudo gambling models such as Gatcha style models where people buy something where it’s a surprise what’s ‘inside’. Care needs to be taken with using these models.
  • Casual games are the most successful.
  • The more successful companies are building a brand alongside products. 
  • Niche, premium (paid) games might not need everyone to like/download.
  • Many games use Facebook as the social network (see my OverTheAir post on Facebook’s Open Graph API for the latest mechanism). However, you might not want all your friends to know all your gaming activities or even the fact you are gaming. 
  • There are two types of mobile social gaming: real time and asynchronous. Asynchronous involves messsages about the game after the fact and reinforces gaming relationships rather than competition between players.
  • A high proportion of all downloads are games. Hence, app quality in general is set by games (really?).
  • As the majority of games are free you can’t succeed with an average quality game.
  • Brands sometimes get in the way and ruin the game experience. There needs to be continuity between the brand and the experience.
  • Adverts get in the way and distract from the experience.
  • There needs to be innovation in advertising from everyone in ecosystem. 
  • There’s a need to know more about demographics to attract advertisers.
  • It can cost high six figures for a well produced custom branded app/game.
  • The landing pages for ads need to be just as good as the games.
  • There’s an ongoing balance between cost of acquisition (5 cents to 2 dollars) vs monetisation.
  • Freemium games need to give enough away initially to attract players.
  • Ways of paying and price points depend on geographic location.
  • It’s not always correct to assume iOS represents people who can and do pay – other users can share the device, eg children.
  • With kids, pricing, adverts, micro transactions and moderation are all extra issues.
  • There’s a problem of device fragmentation and getting the best performance possible on a particular device.
  • At some stage you have to cut off the cross platform effort.
  • There’s the issue of whether the game should look and feel like the native platform.
  • Some iOS developers are scared to go to Android due to the perceived fragmentation.
  • In the future (18 months) there will be more powerful devices with better graphics processors. Still need to concentrate on game play. Top performance is only important for the smaller number of hardcore gamers.
In summary, games apps are no different to non-games. Many of the issues are the same. I think Roberta Lucca gave the most insightful comment when she repeatedly said that it’s necessary to look at demographics to resolve many of the problems. It’s the same advice I often give to clients. The better you know your potential end user, the better you can tailor your apps/platforms and the more sucessful your app will be. Also, I’d say user demographics are rarely fully known upfront in which case you need to analyse early users and modify your strategy accordingly.

Mobile Monday London – Tablets Come of Age

mobilemondaylondon.gifLast night’s Mobile Monday was titled "Tablets Come of Age". Marek Pawlowski of PMN chaired a panel consisting of Claudia Romanini (Director Developer Relations, Barnes and Noble), Ben Scott Robinson (Creative Director, We Love Mobile), Hesham Al-Jehani (Product Manager, Mobile, ComScore) and Stuart Dredge (Freelance Journalist writing for Guardian apps).

The panel started talking about how tablets have changed user behaviour. Older people are more confident using tablets (as opposed to PCs) and kids are now starting to ask for tablets. Tablets are being used by more than one person in a family – by each person on their own and also collaboratively for activities such as learning and shopping.

The distinction between e-ink e-readers vs backlit tablets was discussed. Claudia mentioned how e-readers are sometimes better. People don’t necessarily want to re-charge the device regularly nor want distractions of other apps and notifications. Conversely, colour provides for more compelling magazines.

Hesham told us how 92% of tablet use is over over WiFi as opposed to over over the cellular connection. This might be because most tablets are WiFi only anyway. However, this is one area where Android and iOS differ. Android has 75% of people using over the cellular connection while iOS has 70% over wifi. Compared to other devices (PC, Smartphone), tablets see relatively low use during the day but use eclipses other devices between 9pm and 10pm. There was talk on how tablets can be difficult to hold and use is most comfortable when the user is horizontal (and in bed).

70% of Barns and Noble’s customers are women between 25 and 45 years of age. Consequently, the Nook targets children, education and lifestyle apps.

There was a brief discussion on apps vs web for tablets and why the FT has been able to create an online (web) newspaper with much better usability than that provided by any other app based newspaper. Taptu and Flipboard were given as examples of multi-source news apps that do indeed have great UIs. There was also mention how people are wrapping html-based news within apps in order to gain the advantages of app discoverability via app stores.

There was a question why apps are immitating magazines instead of creating something better and whether tablets might one day compete with existing channels. The consensus was that tablets will always complement existing channels. For example, people are already using the tablet while watching the tv and there are opportunities here to provide a more compelling joined-up experience.

Much of the discussion had been framed within the context of the iPad and someone asked what’s inhibiting competition to the iPad. Even though Apple didn’t invent the tablet, they had a first mover advantage with first successful commercial implementation. Over time this will erode due to cheaper tablets for the mass market. Competitors to the iPad should look at what the iPad can’t do (e.g. access to file system, USB etc) to attract buyers. Related to this is the available software. The current competitors have flaws in that they make it more difficult for developers to make money. For example, the Amazon Fire has strange T&Cs that allow Amazon to change the app price however they see fit and the Android Market (Play store) is renowned for not making money through paid apps. There are opportunities this year for Windows 8 to disrupt the tablet market, possibly in collaboration with Nokia.

There was brief talk about whether pens (stylus) might make a comeback. They potentially provide a better input mechanism for drawing and note taking apps. Ironically, the capacitive screens used today aren’t that good for use with pens compared with older resistive screens.

Will tablets replace the PC? Yes, it already does for some people who find it hard to use a PC. No, not for productivity apps unless tablet keyboard use becomes more prevalent.

Data Driven Mobile Apps and Open Data

mobilemondaylondon.gifYesterday evening I was at Mobile Monday London’s Data Driven Mobile Apps – Open data event.

The panel was chaired by Matt Biddulph, founder of Dopplr and previously Head of Data Strategy for Location and Commerce Applications at Nokia. The panel consisted of Leigh Dodds, CTO of Kasabi, Jeni Tennison, Linked Data Expert, Technical Architect, Ian Holt, Developer Programme Manager at the Ordnance Survey and Hannah Donovan, Design Director, The Echo Nest.

The event started by trying to define what’s a data driven app. The consensus was that it’s an app that uses dynamic (as opposed to static) api data that also ideally uses contextual information to filter data while also sometimes sending data back to improve the usefulness of the service. This feedback of information and sometimes user generated content is the ‘secret sauce’ Matt spoke of that make some apps get better as more data becomes available.

A member of the audience commented that apps can also sometimes get worse with more data, for example Twitter and Facebook, where the signal to noise ratio can become problematic. The drive for real-time information has caused some services to become noisy. Often the noise can be useful as well and there’s scope for separate apps to present and filter this information in a slower way. Apps should concentrate on showing what the end user needs and not blindly show all api data.

There was brief disagreement (or was it misunderstanding of api vs what’s shown in UI) whether apis should be tailored to reflect specific usecases.

There was discussion on whether we actually have a smaller percentage of publicaly available information than in the past when such information was nearly always placed in (physical) libraries. The difference now is that information is available to everyone, everywhere whereas libraries previously only favoured the rich and literate.

There was talk of the legality of combining information. It’s a murky area where creative commons doesn’t strictly apply to data. There are also related problems with data provenance (identifying where it come’s from) and an attribution stacking problem where mashups of data sets result in too many parties needing to be attributed/mentioned.

An interesting question from the audience was whether information is tending towards free and how this affects revenues. There’s also the issue that tax payers have already paid once for data so maybe it should be free. Ian Holt from Ordnance Survey wisely answered it was out of his scope to answer on this (contentious) issue. It’s an interesting question that I’ll come back to at the end of this post as I have some experiences of this issue.

Two other issues mentioned briefly were data protection and permission-based apps. The requirements often vary by country. It was acknowledged that current oAuth based permission systems are too course and users need better clarity and reasoning why specific data is being shared.

There was a very brief apps vs web debate which was a bit pointless because only apps currently have the ability to use sensors (for context), have the required UI fidelity and can trigger notifications.

My personal experience of using public data hasn’t been positive. A while ago I wrote a free app for Java ME and Android that mashed up UK traffic information from the various traffic agencies. It used (and still uses) my server which was ok while I was getting low traffic. O2 became interested in the app and wanted to sell it on their app store. I planned to use the small income to get a separate server to support the potentially much increased traffic while also improving the app. At this point I had to investigate the legality of re-selling the information. It turned out, after a committee meeting at Traffic Scotland, that they wouldn’t allow people to make money from their data because it has already been paid for by tax payers.

Maybe I was too honest and pedantic. I know many developers of mashed up data just publish and noone cares or notices. It’s certainly a murky area. It’s less of a problem for adventures such as mine but for large companies whose legitimacy depends on the legality of their mashed up data, this could be a time bomb.

MoMo London: Now We are Six

mobilemondaylondon.gifLast night I was at the 6 year anniversary event of MoMo London. It was a panel event looking back over the last 6 years and looking forward to what might come in the next 6 years. Martyn Warwick from TelecomTV chaired the panel that consisted Mike Short (Telefonica), David Wood (Accenture), Russell Buckley (Eagle Eye Solutions) and Mark Curtis (Fjord).

There was a general concensus that the rapid pace of mobile will continue. This will include areas such as M2M, health and learning. However, there will be roadblocks along the way due to complexity.

There will continue to be churn of companies. Things will beome ever more international. Retail will contine to decline and large companies will continue to fail due to their inability to make good decisions related to distruptive technologies. Companies not taking up mobile will get left behind.

The issue of trust came up with the insight that it’s probably easier to gain than people might realise. However, it’s also easy to lose very quickly. Trust, whether good or bad, is also increasingly becoming disseminated via social networks.

There was much discussion on privacy. One’s personal privacy is increasing becoming ‘for sale’ or exchangable for free online services. There was comment that a recent informal survey of young people showed that they are more concerned about ID theft (and subsequent take down controls/processes) rather than privacy of personal information. There was also an insight that politicians, more often than not, don’t fully understand the Internet, social and mobile.

Location and LBS was discussed in so far as it was agreed that location is usually only useful when used with other context indicators. Otherwise, you end up giving the end-user prompts for things that aren’t relevant.

There was talk on how new device form factors have changed mobile and how the iPhone broke the old design rules – being too large. New technologies such as bending screens, folding keyboards and wearable devices will continue to break old taboos and provide for innovative devices.

Patent wars were mentioned but noone really had anything insightful to say. I think everyone despairs with the current situation but there seems to be no solution.

It was thought that the mobile web has been mainly opened up due to the iPhone. Today, mobile web ad revenues are looking a lot better. 

State of the Developer Nation

mobilemondaylondon.gifYesterday evening I went to Mobile Monday London on State of the Developer Nation.

The event revolved around Vision Mobile’s Developer Economics Report 2011. There were talks by BlueVia (who sponsored the report and the MoMo event) and also from Vision Mobile followed by a panel session comprised of Simon Davies, founder of Snaptu, Tom Hulme of Future Platforms, Simon Walker of ComScore, Chad Cribbins of Sapient Nitro, chaired by  Eli Camillieri of Vision Mobile.

The report itself contains many insights that I won’t repeat here. Instead I’ll pick a few random things that came out of the event with my thoughts in italic…

  • Tom Hulme expressed the opinion that the (mobile) web will always be technically behind what native apps can provide as they will always be playing catch up. My feeling is that the (mobile) web isn’t much more advanced than it was say five years ago. There’s no impetus by people developing mobile web browsers to get them to be as functional or as good looking as native apps. The differences/fragmentation in web browser implementation together with excessive complexity required to get native look and feel in the web browser cause me to question whether the web will ever be able to compete. Should we even be trying to get native look and feel in a browser? Maybe a web site should look like a web site.
  • Simon Walker quoted stats that show that the number of (mobile) people accessing facebook via an app rather than in the web browser is increasing at a much greater rate.
  • Many developers lose money. Only one in five are happy with the commercial return. Eli suggested that this might be as much to do with the lack of commercial acumen as it is with difficulty of getting seen in the noise of so many apps. I sort of agree. My personal experience is that some people engaged in mobile entrepreneurship have limited experience of software development processes, company processes, general management, marketing and PR let alone the complexities of mobile development. Mobile apps aren’t a get rich quick scheme where you can be oblivious to best practice. Usual business rules apply and there are extra mobile rules for the unwary.
  • Simon Davies talked about how, when building a business to sell later, knowledge on who your users are is very important. This would be his first priority for any new venture. Related to this, there was also a question from the floor on whether there’s enough mobile PR happening. Knowing your users and applying PR to the right type of people are difficult at the moment because app stores shield the developer from details of the end user. The way I have seen this solved is to have cleverer app designs that opt-in  users into revealing details about themselves.
  • Someone expressed the opinion that most apps (and mobile conferences) have a very narrow view of mobile. There are lots of opportunities in internationalisation and focussing on local needs, available phones and cultures.  I think this is true. There are many gaps at the moment not just internationally but also other areas such as enterprise and B2B.
  • Today, demand for downloading an app is coming more from brands mentioning apps in their promotions rather than from happening to find them on an App Store.
  • Simon Davies mentioned how Chinese clone manufacturers are starting to use Android. The difference this time is it’s real Android and not some dumb OS in a Nokia looking case. Very cheap Android phones might have huge, as yet unanticipated ramifications on our mobile ecosystem.

The Internet of Things and other Machine to Machine (M2M)

mobilemondaylondon.gifLast night’s Mobile Monday London was themed ‘The Internet of Things and other Machine to Machine (M2M)’. There were presentations by Camille Mendler of Informa, David Wood of Accenture, Dan Warren from the GSMA, Tor Björn Minde from Ericsson Labs, William Webb of Neul, followed by a panel discussion.

Here are some notes on some of the issues that were discussed…

  • What is M2M? David Wood suggested it might be better described in terms of what it’s not: "Devices not interacting as Smartphones". William Webb made the shrewd observation that it’s more Machine to Network than M2M as M2M is rarely directly peer to peer.
  • When will it happen? Components, software platforms, sensors, prices improving fast to make this inevitable.
  • What are the bandwidth requirements? Huge diversification in size, frequency and whether always on or occasionally disconnected.
  • Certification of hardware for placement on mobile networks? Current phone certifications schemes are not viable for the anticipated range/variety of hardware.
  • What are the main markets? mHealth, utilities (metering), security, automotive, retail, logistics, transportation.
  • Innovation? In the same way that apps have enabled innovation on smartphones, M2M needs ecosystems to enable 3rd party innovation.
  • Creation of ecosystems made of many parties? This includes resolving conflicting business models.
  • Data. This includes receiving, storing and analysing very large volumes of information.
  • Regulation, compliance, privacy and reliability. Each use of M2M will have different implications in each of these areas.
  • Planning for the future – Utilities are planning 20yrs ahead, automotive 15 years ahead. What networks will be used at that time? Which will be obsolete?
  • Point to point vs centrally connected. Central control is easier but prevents ubiquitous access.
  • Authentication? Cellular is a proven way of knowing who is connected.
  • Security. Hermetically sealed sims and remote provisioning of SIMs.
  • Suitability of mobile networks for such large numbers of devices. Verdict: Use cellular for moving items, other technologies for fixed devices.
  • The use of "white space spectrum", such as that being developed by Neul, to provide more suitable, dedicated connected networks.
  • The use of WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and other wireless technologies

I came away with a greater realisation of the wide variety of possible applications. Furthermore, each of these applications need to consider and interpret the above issues in their respective ways.

This provides a large opportunity for third parties in areas such as hardware integration, service enablement platforms, ecosystems, data aggregation, directories and knowledge mining. What are needed are effectively lots of vertical solutions built up using shared components.