Notes from Mobile Monday London: Apps Vs HTML

In London last week I dropped into Mobile Monday London for what I started out thinking would be a rather pointless “debate”. What’s best “Mobile Apps or Mobile Web” has got to come close in nonsensical terms to the playground debate of “What’s better a Rolls Royce or Yatch?” – surely they’re different, do different things and aren’t mutually exclusive?

Mobile Monday London is always great for speakers and networking opportunities though and by the end I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it all. Here are my notes:

Sam Machin, O2 (Pro Apps)

Sam made some points before outlining what attempting to justify his stance using the example of a “Coin Toss” app:

> “It’s easy to just go to the appstore, compare that with the mobile web. So say I want a “Coin Toss App”. Fire up App Store, type coin toss, download Vs Google “Coin Toss”

I tried this to find it was actually much easier to do this on the web:

For me the result is better too eg. no need to download something. Agree to confusing data sharing statements. Hope that the sharing permissions aren’t too onerous/complex. Accept them. Wait for the app to load. Then use your new app.

Personally I think it’s much preferable to control what I’m sharing with the unknown developer of a coin toss service:

I also think this really highlights a lot of the current hype that’s being perpetuated by the media who are enthralled with delivering their content within a closed environment that they think they can control more easily than the open internet. Not only is there a coin toss web app as the top result on a google search but really have we all got so obsessed with the mobile screen that we’re incapable of just 1) reaching into our pockets 2) picking out a coin 3) tossing it into the air?

Most of Sam’s argument for apps was based around a “People go to appstore that’s what they want” theme but he also said some things that got me thinking:

> In his answer to a good question from the floor (sorry didn’t pick up the name) referring to the VolumeSnap iPhone Key Camera App that found itself rejected before Apple introduced the feature natively in it’s next iOS update. Asked why should developers stake their business on showing device makers how to improve the utility of their devices Sam replied: “You’re at the mercy of operators, you choose your playground and play in it”. Way to go with developer engagement!

> I found it ironic that although Sam was happy to roll out the all too familiar operator line that “It’s not really limited it’s just unlimited. You pay more if you want to use more” when referring to the advertised “unlimited” mobile data charges. Yet here he was promoting a much more data hungry means of doing something very simple.

Checking out the AppStore the first app for coin toss was a whopping 2.76 MB in file size:

Maybe I’m alone on this but I fail to see how such a large file size “free” app is respecting the data cost premiums faced by mobile data traffic. In light of the fact that so many apps are used just once surely mobile operators who are actively “trying to change the behaviour of” some users would do better to be just educate users from the outset about efficient uses of mobile data rather than promoting such exorbitantly wasteful means of data consumption?

> Referring to his mothers use of mobiles Sam told the audience: “my mum has a binatone she’ll never have a smartphone”.

I find it fascinating to hear of this lack of awareness of the mobile needs of someone else and I think it’s very indicative of the massive ignorance of the senior mobile opportunity amongst the young men who seem to make up the majority of decision makers within the mobile operators (an opportunity that’s very well served by the Senior Mobile Market conference). It’s never too late to start using a mobile never might upgrade your Binatone to more modern, easier to use device. As testimony to this I know of an 86 year old who started using her first mobile phone, a year later and you couldn’t take it from her!

It also makes me wonder if Sam appreciates Telefonica’s roadmap for refarming 2G and moving customers to 3G, HD Voice, M2M connected devices in the home etc etc or the fact that the feature set on a smartphone from 2 years ago is today available on feature phone – like the one that O2 would like to upgrade his mother to if she were to walk into one of their high street stores?

While I’m not saying that moving seniors to smartphones is a simple task I think the fact is it can be done if you understand the consumer wants and in Japan (the country with the worlds oldest population) the popularity of mobile data services with seniors enabled them to stay connected even when a devastating disaster hit the region disconnecting power, road networks etc.

Alex Watson, Dennis Publishing (Pro Apps)

“Most people that’s what they do. People don’t know what the internet is.. Apps human and understandable like a book or record… …a complete-able thing. People like going onto stores shopping”

I think it’s all too common for smartphone evangelists to be thinking that “most people” are downloading and installing apps. But the reality is it’s still not something that’s done by most people, yet…

“Not being searchable/linkable can keep you focused”

I’m a big fan of this and it’s why I think the mobile web can be so good. But if you want to be found… forget the overcrowded app stores – unless you’ve got big advertising budgets.

“whereas google makes you want to do everything… …Apps reward you for limited experience eg. Instagram – 5 million users… …Apps are counterintuitive but that can be a good thing”

I found it particularly interesting to see that Alex spoke in “competition” to Mauricio of Flirtomatic. Across Dennis Publishing there is lots of money made by the advertising of and commissions from “dating” partners eg. White Label Dating.

Rather surprisingly this provider only allows members to use mobiles to make payments ie not to actually use the service. Yet Mauricio shows us that most revenue of the money generated within his service is from customers paying to engage via their mobile website.

I think this is typical of the ignorance of the mobile SMS, MMS, and mobile Web opportunity: Dennis Publishing outsource their dating to an online dating partner whereas Flirtomatic shared with us that despite their commitment to Apps “they were wrong” and “more than 70% of all their revenues” comes from mobile web despite their investment and promotion across both.

Rebecca Pate, Mobile Product Manager, Tesco (Pro Apps)

It was great to have Rebecca on the panel as Tesco have one of the best apps on Apple App Store in the UK. The general theme of her presentation was that apps are “What customers want” that the “Web = only research” eg. “a fling” whereas “Apps = repeat users” and a “loving long term partnership”.

Rebecca also claimed that Tesco had made back it’s “investment in their iPhone App in the first week”. I personally find that hard to believe. Yes I can imagine that it was good for PR or it drove a value of sales that exceeded the cost of the app but I have a feeling that it’s highly unlikely that there were such short term profits on all this.

Tesco’s mobile app sells “groceries delivered to your door 7 days a week. Same low prices and regular in-store offers plus recipes, money saving tips and clubcard points”. So if I’m a Tesco shopper and I stop shopping instore and start shopping via my mobile surely it’s possible that this has cannabalised other revenue generating opportunities eg. they may make less money from me because I don’t visit the store so often and get tempted by the displays and scents from the bakery, they have to pay a picker and a driver to call to my home, fuel for their vehicle (not mine) etc.

Rebecca also referred to the benefit of using hardware features of the phone eg. camera, accelerometer. You’ve been able to use these and more for some time with intelligent mobile browsers and at the recent Uplinq developer event Qualcomm’s CEO Paul Jacobs showcased the latest browsers supporting camera access etc that will be shipping on new devices featuring their chips so I’m not sure this is going to be a sustainable advantage for native code for long.

> “Mobile web doesn’t encourage come back… …Apps encourage habitual use”

I think this is down to user experience and I’m not sure it’s insurmountable for mobile websites to achieve similar usability. For example I personally use lots of native apps (like SMS, Mobile web, dialer etc) much more addictively than any third party apps I’ve installed.

In the q&a that followed I asked the panel if they felt there were any issues with competitive advertising that would discourage them being on app stores above the mobile web eg. when I type in tesco.com I wouldn’t see adverts for competitor supermarkets whereas on the App store Sainsbury can specifically pay to target users of the Tesco app with their adverts everytime they browse the App Store.

I’m pretty sure Rebecca misinterpreted this as her reply was that “we don’t have problems with that becuase we have no in app advertising”. It would have been interesting to hear more about the threat of this commercial opportunity as I feel it has massive bearing on citizen privacy (and mHealth). If the AppStore let’s Sainsbury’s advertise in content viewed specifically by people who have downloaded the Tesco app does this represent a greater/similar/lesser competitive threat than other types of engagement we see in the online world eg. cookies, key word advertising, facebook banners etc?

I find this particularly interesting as in mHealth there is the very real risk here that advertisers can harvest data on patients unknowingly eg. clicking on an advert you see in the HIV med adherence application can be used to infer senstive data about you especially if you then download another app that’s got a whole raft of privacy issues (contemplating sharing contact address book might seem unrelated but what if you then got an email to all your contacts saying “my favorite App is HIV Adherence”?).

Mauricio Reyes, Flirtomatic (Pro Mobile Web)

Mauricio first pointed out the scale of mobiles Vs Smartphones, before explaining the “opportunity to take a multiplatform approach to widen your reach, use your investments efficiently”.

He also shared some interesting statistics with us that really highlight the engagement success story they are having with a mobile web + app strategy. But it was clear that despite their focus on apps it’s the mobile web presence that pays the bills:

Bryan Reiger, Yiibu (Pro Mobile Web)

Bryan started out sharing stats mostly from the Tomi Ahonen Almanac:

6.6 Billion people on planet
77% have a mobile device
Over 100 million Apple mobile devices sold to date

In conclusion he then suggested that in comparison to the other numbers the iPhone numbers are small, especially as a lot of people have had more than 1 iPhone.

I personally think these are misleading data points. It doesn’t really matter the number of the iPhones that are in use as it’s clear they are using and paying for a lot more mobile data services which is what the debate was really about.

Bryan also claimed “SMS + email links don’t open apps” which I also disagree with. They definitely can.

Cait Roberts, MePlease (Pro Mobile Web)

Cait shared some interesting stats from retailers who have had success with mobile web services:

a) “M&S” a premium UK high street retailer who has been using the mobile web to open the “sales funnel”. Key stats:

> the mobile website recieved more than 5.5 million visitors in year 1
> 13,000 orders were placed by customers in the first 90 days
> Highest ever order placed on the mobile web was for a “Sonoma Kitchen” costing £5,000″

I think it would have been nice to have seen results for an app to contrast to these as M&S probably take 13,000 orders in 10 minutes in their stores on a busy day so it’s hard to get any perspective from this data. It’s also doubtful that the £5,000 sale was going to be lost if they had no mobile website as a kitchen is something that takes a fair amount of planning/measurements etc so having the customer need to go to the PC website probably wouldn’t have prevented that business from happening.

b) Garnet Hill who reported that 80% of users were “unable to complete purchase + 45% abandoned transaction until they mobile optimised their website – resulting in a 300% increase in mobile sales within 2 months of launch. I think this is a great lesson for healthcare providers. Before you even think of building an app – mobile optimise your website.

c) A useful “common sense” quote from Rob Weisberg, VP Marketing, Dominos Pizza:

The vast majority of mobile consumers, especially iPhone users, are going to web sites using their handset, so Dominos.com identifies what device you’re accessing our site with, and we deliver an experience that’s optimized for your device

Where’s the money?

In a conversation during the networking session that followed with a mobile industry veteran he made an interesting point that “it didn’t matter how small a number these iPhone users were in comparison to mobile subscribers because they were worth a lot more”.

I’m not convinced this is the case as I still think the mobile data opportunity is in its infancy.
I disagree and it happens I was next to another delegate whose friend runs the german mHealth company Vitaphone who made it really easy for me to make the point I think.

The majority of people with money still aren’t using mobile data services on their mobile handset something that becomes clear when you realise the low penetration of mobile data service use by citizens aged 50+. This group (who own >80% of global wealth) are still not yet committed to buying this product. Yes iPhone users may have expendable resources and a preparedness to pay money right now to telcos, app store owners and content developers but the wealthiest citizens are still more than likely to be basic cellphone users using a basic mobile. In my (n=1!) experience you’re more likely to find a citizen with more wealth clutching a Doro, Jitterbug, Vitaphone, Vertu or Emporio device than the latest smartphone.

Saying this I’m increasingly noticing the appeal of easyphones (formerly referred to as senior mobiles) finally expanding as more and more youngsters begin to appreciate the appeal of an easy to use device that’s unattractive to thieves, robust and has a loud ringer:

The biggest opportunity is still in untapped markets and as we saw at mobile monday the gate keepers (telcos) within the mobile industry still have very little insight into the opportunity for this market to want to consume services. Thinking the dumb binatone is all your mum wants is a classic representation of this blinkered underestimation of the opportunity. To me Mobile Web means his mother buying a bluetooth low energy weighing scale and blood pressure monitor in the next few years. As our parents retire and live independently I’m convinced it’s the mHealth services built upon smart devices packing quad core + processors and broadband networks that will enable her to interact with technologies with a natural voice interaction that will help this market reach its potential.

In my opinion this step change is beyond the capacity of natively coding for the increasingly fragmented device market. The agile flexible companies that will succeed in this fast paced market will build what they can on the rapidly expanding capabilities of the mobile web.

Other points of view

Viji Pathy, mobile software consultant at MoKaadu Ltd

About 3G Doctor

The Corporate Blog of 3G Doctor
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