This was originally supposed to be a post on predictions. But as the founder of a mobile app development company myself - my focus is more on specific mobile apps opportunities that exist for a boutique company such as ours in this space.
We all know that almost no opportunity is exactly what it seems like, but it pays to have good starting points of exploration. And that is what I hope you will leave with, after reading this article.
- About 40 per cent of Internet users in India access it on their mobile phones
- 61% users are unlikely to return to a site that they found were not mobile optimized. What’s worse, 40% of them are likely to go to a competitor’s website.
- The middle class in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries together have the largest untapped populations that can now afford a smart phone but are yet to get one.
- More Platforms: We have Apple to thank - for creating the app economy with the iOS platform, Google for democratizing the smart phone with Android and now Microsoft for making the life of the “I support all platforms” developer more difficult with Windows Phone 7. If you still want to include Blackberry, despite all of the recent gloom, then that would make it 4 platforms that you’d at least want to consider.
There are now more a million active apps now available across the major app stores. Apple’s app store and the Android Market currently lead by a large margin. However 2012 will probably bring in at least one more serious contender in the Windows Phone 7 marketplace - it has grown by more than 400% this year alone.
- Mobile Optimization Services: There are now multiple services available that make it easy for small business owners to “mobili”-ze their websites. Here are 3 such services:
- HTML5 Mobile: The browsers from every big player are getting more powerful. The open source tools are getting better and better. And with the Flash war finally having ended, Adobe is finally getting on board as well.
- Cross Platform Tools: These tools make it possible for the app developer to write-once-and-run-on-multiple-platforms. Or at least they try to make that possible. Multiple acquisitions and fairly large VC investments have happened in this space.
- Hyper-Local-Mobile: The early movers in this space are continuing to grow or have been acquired. But the new players are doing well as well.
- Cross Device Testing as a Service: With more than 300 Android handsets now available from various manufacturers, it is next to impossible to manually test an application across all these devices. There are now multiple services like testdroid and perfecto mobile on the cloud that aim to solve this problem for you by automatically testing your Android applications across a wide array of devices.
- "Hybrid" Cross Platform Apps: The cross platform tools I've referred to above, allow for native platform API [Application Programming Interface] calls as well. These are useful when you have an application that has a combination of native components and other "content" components which most likely consume web services [and can be built with HTML5 and CSS3] .
An example of such an application is the Onioni Pad app. The application is written in HTML5 for the most part - but uses falls back on native API to play video. This is probably because of some of the issues related to HTML5 video tag support on iOS. The Onion plans to roll out the app quickly on the Android platform as well - and with mostly the same code [pdf].
- Main Challenges
○ Cross Platform Tools are not mature yet:The API documentation is sparse, support is patchy and the community is still nascent. So which platform should you bet on? Unfortunately, the answer is, "it depends" - on multiple factors such as whether you need a native look and feel (which Appcelerator and Rhodes provide - but PhoneGap does not), the number of platforms you need to support, the technical skills of your dev team etc.
○ The Mobile Web is Slow(er): Performance optimization is key if you want your site to look pretty and be snappy on mobile devices. There are many good resources available to get you started in the right direction.
- Low Cost Solutions for Mobile Optimization: While purely content based sites can choose to rely on the Mobile Optimization Services I've mentioned above, there are a lot of other verticals that don't have such an option - yet. For example, there are a lot of E-Commerce sites out there that are not mobile optimized. Especially those being run by small business owners or startups.
○ Main Challenges
■ The data has to kept in sync with the original systems - in a seamless fashion
■ Mobile payment gateways are still far from mature - especially in a country like India.
■ Oh, and the Mobile Web is Slow - but I said that already.
- Mobile presence for non-Internet-Savvy retailers: I'm going on a limb here - but most small retailers in India don't have an Internet presence - and what that means is, a certain high quality trouser shop with very reasonable price tags - is now invisible on your phone.
○ Main Challenge:
■ With even companies like Google facing stiff resistance while trying to map our streets, you're left with the only other option - User Generated Content. And that in turn means, the classic chicken and egg conundrum.
- Cross Platform Testing as Service: While there are cloud testing services now available for specific platforms, services that take care of automated cross-platform testing are still not available.
○ Main Challenge:
■ You’ve got SDK installations, developer & signing certificates, build chains, and custom project layouts to worry about with each platform. PhoneGap solves this problem for you from a deployment perspective, but running automated tests on multiple platforms is a different challenge.
This list of opportunities is admittedly short. But I hope you are now motivated to brainstorm more ideas, distill the most interesting opportunities and finally implement a winner in 2012. Happy New Year!