A sensational title on BGR that is a testament to a single reality: games are the most popular apps on mobile platforms. More specifically, games continue to thrive under the freemium model. So, it’s no wonder that the highest grossing charts are filled with free game apps.
The good news is that to survive on the App Store (or in app stores in general), it’s not necessary to be on the overall top grossing chart. And at least to this point, the freemium model is largely unproven in the non-game market. Thus, a better title would have been,
Yesterday’s keynote at Google I/O was impressive. I’m tempted to put an asterisk on that sentence but this year, it feels like Google is ready to deliver on its mobile promises. Here’s what caught my eye outside of the typical items the press covered.
Android 4.1: Jelly Bean is no small update; while not stated, it’s obvious Google is not bumping up to 5.0 due to lack of adoption of Ice Cream Sandwich
Project Butter: One of my long complaints about Android is that scrolling (in particular) is still not silky smooth; the demo’s showing performance increases of Jelly Bean over Ice Cream Sandwich looked great
Offline Voice Typing: Voice to text is all I really want Siri to do and it usually can’t due to network issues…nice win
Better Notifications: Much more useful, notifications are actionable and can perform common functions of an app without having to open it at all
Smart App Updates: Delta updates of what’s changed in an APK are very useful, especially over cellular connections; Google can use this feature to entice carriers to push out Jelly Bean
Nexus: Google’s doing its best to make the Nexus brand relevant but at least in my non-technical circles, I mostly hear “Droid” still when people talk about Android; look at the website and notice the branding emphasis on Nexus instead of Google, which continues to seem a big mistake
7″: There’s another similarly sized device running a version of Android that’s doing well; unlike Amazon’s Kindle Fire though, the Nexus 7 benefits from a true tablet-optimized experience
$199: Also following the Fire’s aggressive pricing model, Google is clearly pulling all the levers it can to get its flagship tablet in customer’s hands
Content Emphasis: Google is giving away $25 credits to the Google Play store, a free Transformers movie, and some other content for a limited time, showing they believe content is king on the Nexus 7; this squarely pits the Nexus 7 against the Kindle Fire, which is likely part of Google’s strategy (i.e., compare buying the Nexus 7 over the Kindle Fire…not the Nexus 7 over the iPad)
“Q”: Sounds like the name of a smartphone and not a media device; if Google wanted to stick with “Nexus” at least give it a non-mobile device name
Over-the-air: A smarter strategy than trying to load up the Nexus Q with apps that are specific for it; while Google mentioned 600,000 apps, they are still behind in overall quality and quantity and don’t need another place for developers to focus right now
Collaborative Focus: Features like having multiple people being able to control a Nexus Q with an Android device is definitely a nice to have but still may not be worth another $200 over an Apple TV
Last week, a big headline was Google’s new “anti-fragmentation” stance. It’s going to be some time before their new position has any real impacts, since Android is now heavily in the wild and wildly out of control. While that’s happening, however, Amazon has made a big move addressing the other major challenge with Android—it’s app store—and the Amazon Appstore for Android is going to have a larger impact than people initially realize.
Android Market Problems
There’s no doubt that the Android Market highlights the problems of a fragmented platform. To see that in full effect, just read the reviews of almost any Android app (but especially the popular ones), and you’ll find the main complaints being about the app not working on a specific device and OS combination.
Fragmentation doesn’t address the Android Market problems as an app store though and it’s arguable that those are as important, if not more important, than fragmentation itself. The reason is while fragmentation deals with the getting developers buying into the platform, the Android Market is concerned with converting existing Android device owners into Android app consumers. Here is a quick list of the most critical issues:
Most people haven’t even heard of Google Checkout, let alone have a Google Checkout account. Compare that to the over 200 million credit cards on file via iTunes Accounts. Not offering other payment mechanisms is a huge barrier to drive paid downloads.
Apple’s App Store has a series of finely curated featured lists. That’s the likely product of the App Store review process and the fact that the App Store Review Team literally touches every single app before it gets published. Meanwhile, the Android Market is still confusing to browse and lacks the same marketing prowess of what it means to be featured.
The Android Market, like the Chrome Web Store, is outside of Google’s historical primary focus. For example, the interface for the reviews is unfamiliar compared to what consumers see in the App Store (which is similar to music reviews in iTunes). There’s also no real credibility or trust with Google in this context, as they are known more for services than content.
Enter the Amazon Appstore
A big reason that Amazon might eventually own the Android market (note the case) is that it knows how to sell content. As John Gruber notes, “Amazon knows how to sell digital content; Google doesn’t.”
Time and time again, Google displays an amazing ability to tackle and overcome huge technology challenges but it is ultimately a company run by engineers. Consider Google Search, Gmail, Google Docs, and all of its most successful consumer-facing products. They each consist of sparse interfaces but they are all for task-oriented products. The Android Market doesn’t fall into that model but a similar design philosophy has been applied.
When considering the pain points identified in the Android Market, Amazon has a distinct advantage in pushing paid downloads: 1) They have a huge amount of credits cards on file, since payment is facilitated through existing Amazon.com accounts. 2) They are much more hands-on about filtering and curating apps (e.g., they even have a free app of the day). 3) The app listings almost feel like Amazon product pages, complete with the now infamous Amazon customer review area. As you can see with these screenshots, Amazon’s initial effort of an app store already looks better than Google’s various iterations.
While Amazon may not be pursue its Blaze smartphone this summer, it is no stranger to developing hardware. As I alluded to previously, the Amazon tablet could be well on its way, providing Amazon something Google now wants: a unified hardware-software solution.
In the not so distant future, Amazon could become Apple’s largest mobile threat in the tablet arena. It could leverage its well-known brand, huge content catalog, cloud services, easy checkout, and an actual tablet to quickly surpass other Google partners. Dan Frommer doesn’t see Amazon going after the high-end of the market, leaving that to Apple, but as he writes, “there’s no reason Amazon couldn’t compete with the likes of Motorola, HTC, and Samsung in the mid-level Android tablet market.”
Arguably, 2010 was the year of the iPad. It became the executive’s new computer and the parent’s new babysitter. For my business, it’s been the primary device of interest for developing new applications, with most of the apps we build for customers now being iPad applications.
My take coming into 2011 was that it had the potential to be the year of the tablet. CES showed that promise with a number of Android-powered devices set to hit stores, with the Motorola XOOM, LG G-Slate, and Toshiba Folio 100 representing the leading candidates. These tablets really only are possible because of Google’s unveiling of the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 aka Honeycomb. And last week, it was finally showcased to the public. Generally, I’m excited about the update. As a whole, however, I’m concerned about the success of Android tablets in the consumer market and what this means for developing android tablet applications:
With a minimum of 3-4 options to choose from, and many, many more flooding the market, consumers aren’t going to know the right Android tablet to purchase. That’s especially important because they really won’t understand what they are getting comparative to an iPad.
3. No clear winners.
A corollary to the second point. Even with a number of more compelling Android tablets set to launch in Q1 and early Q2, it’s going to take some time to get numbers on what kind of distribution they collectively reach. More importantly, we’ll not know if there is clear winner and a de facto Android alternative to the iPad till mid-2011 at the earliest.
4. Fragmentation following Android onto the tablet.
The display sizes alone for potential leading Android tablets reveal that developing across these devices is not a trivial task. Then consider the more significant resolution and hardware internals differences.
5. iPad 2
It’s very likely the iPad 2 will launch somewhere between March and April. It will largely be a revision with it being expected to be sleeker, including a front-facing camera, and a faster processor. Still, a revision on a top selling device, which is priced more competitively than alternatives, could be trouble for these fledgling Android tablets.
What It Means
The primary buyers of the initial versions of Android tablets are going to be early technology adopters. Thus, I do not recommend most organizations proceeding with building consumer-focused Android tablet applications for the first part of 2011. Some of the exceptions to this guidance include game studios and large publishers. But even for those groups, they need to proceed with caution and focus on the perceived device winners (my early pick, as with others, is the Motorola XOOM).
Where’s the Opportunity
If I were a manufacturer, I’d likely not engage in the crowded consumer tablet arena. Instead, I’d focus on developing Android devices that can be used in the enterprise market (i.e., behind firewalls) and in field operations. That’s also where the opportunity is for Android developers, although it’s difficult to break into these markets without having established relationships.
Similarly, organizations may want to develop direct partnerships with Android tablet providers. These types of relationships could provide better pricing and open up additional customizations to the hardware itself.
Although I am concerned about rumors that the Motorola XOOM’s Wi-Fi will be disabled without purchasing a data plan, it’s the Android tablet I’m currently planning to purchase. That could change if the rumors hold true (and there’s no way to cancel the data plan). In any case, I will report back with my Android 3.0 experiences and with what we are working on for these tablets.
No, it’s not a predictions post. It would be too late for that anyway, right (this year, they got started in September!)? Instead, I want to focus on some key numbers to pay attention to throughout 2011, as well as some not so key ones. Please, do yourself a favor…pay special attention to the ones that don’t matter and any time you see an article about them, don’t waste your time reading it.
1. Two U.S. carriers for the iPhone.
It’s important news for iOS developers, regardless of location. Conservatively, iOS app sales could increase by 5-7% over the next year based on how quickly Verizon is likely to ramp up sales.
2. The number of Windows Phone 7 devices that get activated.
I’m not sure there are any reliable data points on this one right now. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t know anyone with a WP7 (other than developers) and that’s still the case. It remains to be seen if WP7 can become an alternative to iOS, Android, and RIM…and if it gets enough traction to entice developers to build for it.
In my opinion, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is still the only other option to the iPad but the Motorola XOOM appears promising. Neither are truly iPad killers but with the tablet craziness at CES this year, the numbers will inform us of the true iPad killers alternatives.
5. Benchmarks for In App Purchase conversion rates.
Both through my discussions and other industry data points such as Urban Airship’s 2010 developer survey, it’s obvious developers are hot on In App Purchase and the freemium model. Interest for In App Purchase as a way to monetize an app has swung from 8% to 31% from 2010 to 2011. What’s needed, however, are benchmarks that provide industry standards for In App Purchase conversion rates or developers are still just guessing that this model is the best for their applications.
6. The percentage of developers building for one more than one platform.
Developers try to follow the money trail. Should there be large percentage shifts in developers, especially iOS developers, who also begin building for other platforms, that’s a key indiciator that other platforms are picking up momentum.
My take on this one: even with Android 3.0, fragmentation still presents serious problems on Android (especially due to carrier control). WP7 also would have to ship a ton of devices to make it enticing for developers. Overall, even if the numbers show building across platforms is picking up interest, I don’t see it being a breakout year for Android or WP7 consumer applications.
1. Android leading the U.S. smartphone market share.
That was known all along because Google’s strategy is about advertising, meaning it needs volume. The surprise was how fast it achieved that volume…but not that it was achieved. Remember that market share leader does not equate to most profitable or best opportunity for mobile app developers.
2. The number of apps in Apple’s iOS App Store.
Short version: there’s a lot of ‘em.
Slightly longer version: What’s the difference to consumers between 300,000 or 500,000 apps? Critical mass has been reached.
3. iOS 3.x
It’s time to retire supporting iOS 3.x, especially with iOS 4.3 on its way. Apple will do it soon enough and many developers have already made this decision.
4. The number of pundits on each side of the mobile web versus mobile native debate.
This debate should have been over in 2009 but it got revved up again in 2010. There is no single winner. We need both and both are here to stay.
5. Total value of mobile app market.
There’s been several waves of the mobile app phenomena at this point. I see the next being focused on business-to-business, enterprise, and generally more “internal” tablet applications. If mobile is not a priority by now for any organization, the ever changing total value of the mobile app market guesstimated by analysts is not going to suddenly make it one.
I’ve been a big proponent of Mozilla’s Firefox and unlike many others, never made the jump to Chrome. Aside from some very cool recent innovations on the desktop side (e.g., Firefox Panorama), Firefox Mobile for Android has just moved from alpha to beta.
Having used the new beta on my Nexus One (see my brief video below), it’s exceptionally more stable than the previous alpha builds. Although there are still some issues with over-responsive navigation controls, it’s getting closer to being ready for prime time use. What really excites me about the new beta though, is that there are hints that Firefox’s vision of mobile browsing just might offer the best experience available.
That conclusion comes from trying nearly every standard or third-party browser across various mobile devices and platforms. For example, on iOS, Safari’s severely crippled with the maximum pages that can be opened, no download support, and most importantly, not allowing the content of the page to be the focus. That’s especially true on the iPad, where the URL bar and navigation controls are always present. It’s why I often will use third-party browsers like iCab Mobile or Grazing, which offer these other features.
What’s different about Firefox Mobile for Android? Aside from the myriad of reasons Mozilla engineer Matt Brubeck details, he and his colleagues have created a mobile browsing experience that most successfully overcomes the major challenge when designing for a mobile device: limited screen real estate. This challenge is really twofold. The first aspect was alluded to above, which is to the keep the content front and center. The second is less obvious and can even result from smartly approach the first: not burying navigation controls.
I initially saw Mozilla’s navigation concept when I demoed what was then called “Fennec” on a simulator well over a year ago. Reviewing my notes from that time, I wasn’t convinced of their paradigm, which consists of swiping right or left to access tabs and page back/forward. I liked the maximized screen real estate but it seemed the implementation of the navigation was too slow and did not provide for an easy enough way to get back and forth between web pages. I can safely write that they’ve now delivered on their original concept.
While this version of Firefox is initially only available on Android and the Nokia N900, I’d really be interested to see this run on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab. Further, with Apple’s loosening of App Store restrictions, let’s get Firefox onto iOS already!
Kudos to the Mozilla team. As I concluded in my video, Firefox Mobile is a most welcome addition to any Android device.
As a speaker for Digital East, I was interviewed by Tech Journal South about mobile and native mobile apps specifically.:
“They’re looking at this year and asking how will it lead me into next year,” he says. Some firms are willing to throw some money at mobile this year, but don’t really expect much to start happening until 2011.
“Mobile is such a moving target this year,” he explains. “Tablet devices have been touted for some time as the ‘Next Big Thing,’ but didn’t really materialize until Apple introduced the iPad.”
Android device makers are very active and is surpassing Apple in the number of devices using the Google operating system and shipping daily.
So, he says, “People are just trying to keep up with what’s happening. They’re not sure if things will change drastically again this year. They want to be leaders, but they don’t want to over or under invest in something they don’t completely understand.”
Yarmosh says he sees a lot of indications that tablet computing and apps are becoming important this year. “I have my iPad with me in every meeting and that’s the only thing they’ll want to talk about.”