7 years ago

Part Two of Two – Two missing pieces from the mobile revolution jigsaw

pointinside1The mobile revolution in travel is on – but victory is not guaranteed.

As I said in part one, 2010 is Year of the App. Record breaking numbers of apps were developed and downloaded in 2010, transforming mobile phones from messaging devices with somewhat functional browsers to internet platforms trying to challenge the desktop as the primary online access device.

But two pieces are missing. The first element is the limited number of tools for app search and discovery.

In this part we talk about missing piece number two – the limited interoperability between apps and multi-tasking on mobile devices.

For app and mobile device developers there is a tension between the need to keep a mobile device stable (ie no crashing and long battery life) and the need to replicate the multi-tasking and application data sharing that we see on the desktop.

On the desktop I can move data between excel, powerpoint, firefox, etc with relative ease and keep all open at the same time.

But on a mobile device you have to exit each time and have real trouble getting the different apps to talk to each other.

I believe we will hit a plateau in the growth of mobile as an internet platform until such time as data can be moved between apps and mobile devices can multi-task.

Indeed, online access via mobiles will not be an activity of the majority of internet surfers until users can move between apps and get their data to move between apps.

Normally, when I am writing for the BOOT, I would come up with a prediction like this, publish it and be done with it.

This time I wanted to collect background thoughts and commentary from some experts to help bring this theory to life.

I emailed a number of executives directly involved in the development of apps and use of mobiles as a distribution channel and asked them some questions. Here is what they said…

GlobalMotion Media (creator of Everytrail) founder and CEO Joost Schreve:

“It’s very interesting to see the distinct approaches that iPhone and Android have taken [to interoperability and multi-tasking]. Apple is optimizing for a controlled user experience. They tend to limit possibilities in order to increase battery life, and improve stability and usability”.

While he believes that lack of interoperability and multi-tasking is a challenge, he is not overly worried. Schreve says: “Mobile behavior is typically more task-oriented than behavior in front of a computer,” concluding that the trick for developers is to be very focused.

“While I agree that there is demand for more data integration between apps, these use cases can be fulfilled very well with focused apps. Over time we will see more data integration between apps, in order for each app to be able to deliver a more complete user experience. In fact this movement is already under way. “

Appolicious’ vice president of product, Dan Hontz, agrees that the need for a balance between functionality and stability is not an overwhelming impediment for mobile take up.

“The limitations in processing power on mobile devices are why you don’t see multitasking like you do on the desktop. That said people use phones differently than they use desktop computers; you probably don’t need to be running a camera app while running a PDF viewer while running a game. Some multitasking makes sense – playing music with Pandora while you’re checking your email, for example. I think Apple’s strategy of providing limited multitasking makes sense — by limiting the processor cost while multitasking (and allowing just certain kinds of multitasking), the user’s experience on the device doesn’t degrade.”

Point Inside CEO Kevin Foreman thinks that full multi-tasking on mobiles is some way off – but he, too, thinks that usage growth will continue in the meantime.

“The lack of true multi-tasking certainly has NOT been a barrier to device take up, nor do we believe it will be in the future. People aren’t making the smartphone or app “buy decision” based on whether or not they can multi-task; they’re asking the question: will this device or this app a) entertain me, or b) help me in my daily life?”

He believes consumers will focus on less rather than more when it comes to apps and that interoperability will not be a key concern for now.

“We believe take up for useful services will continue unabated; however, there will likely be consolidation of use to fewer and fewer apps.  People don’t want to have a hundred apps on their phone…”

Foreman sheds some light on the reasons for limited interoperability in mobile apps, saying:

“Primarily a limitation of resources for developers. Even for large companies/brands there are limitations on resources, and a need to focus on core competencies.”

Foreman sees the solution for developers is to focus on opening their data to interconnectedness – that is APIs. He adds:

“We believe the near-term future of app interoperability is the approach we at Point Inside have taken, which is to focus on a particular core competency (in our case creating interactive indoor maps, with navigation, positioning and detailed points of interest) and offering that data or core piece of functionality to other app developers to integrate into their apps via robust APIs. “

Turning to the blogger, Joe Wilcox of Betanews, casts a vote in favour of multi-tasking and mobiles:

“People take multitasking for granted on the PC, which will make its absence more noticeable on the smartphone.”

It is clear from the current growth numbers that the lack of decent app discovery, app interoperability and app multi-tasking is not slowing the revolution.

Not yet anyway.  I’ll know that mobile internet has gone from revolutionary to dominant when I feel comfortable going to meetings, conferences, hotel visits etc with nothing more than my phone.

When the different users that make up me (the leisure version of me and the business version of me) can both use a smartphone as the primary connectivity device rather than as ancillary to my desktop/laptop connection.

To get to this position of mainstream usage of one small mobile device rather than the mobile/laptop combination the challenges of multi-tasking and interoperability will need to be solved.

Where do you stand on the importance of interoperability and multi-tasking in the growth of the mobile web?

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Tim Hughes

About the Writer :: Tim Hughes

Tim Hughes is an online travel industry executive who has been blogging since June 2006 at the Business of Online Travel (the BOOT).

The BOOT covers analysis of online travel industry trends, consumer and company behaviour and broader online/web activity of interest to online travel companies (with a bias towards Tim’s home markets of Asia and Australasia and with the odd post on consuming and loving travel thrown in).

In late-2010 the BOOT clocked its 1,000th post, 200,000th visitor and 300,000th page view.In his work life he is the CEO of Getaway Lounge - a premium travel deal site based in Australia.

Tim has worked for both Orbtitz and Expedia. Prior to the travel industry Tim was a commercial lawyer and venture capitalist. Tim’s views are his alone and not necessarily the views of Getaway Lounge or any of its investors.



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  1. Shara Karasic

    By the way, just wanted to let you know that Appolicious just launched http://www.androidapps.com to help you find the best Android apps.

  2. Rob

    Joe Buhler is right, app interoperability is fairly insignificant compared to the problem of getting mobile internet access at reasonable rates in foreign countries. For one thing it’s almost unquantifiable, who knows how much it’s going to cost and even if there will be coverage in the country your going too? Will it just work or will you have to jump through hoops with the local carrier your dealing with.

    Wifi plugs a gap BUT only for apps that are capable of storing a meaningful amount of content offline. If an app is constantly dependent on an internet connection then it’s both useless and potentially expensive.

    Example, google maps is useless abroad as are most other mapping solutions because they can’t be used offline and crucially I don’t entirely see how this will be fixed any time soon because the operators make a stack of profit from it.

  3. Gagan Saxena

    Good review of the state of the mobile.

    Another challenge that could be added to this list relates to integration with existing enterprise systems – particularly Customer Relationship Management and Dynamic Packaging systems. Even Content Management systems need to be retooled or rebuilt for the mobile world.

    Mobile systems strategy is not just another flavor of enterprise systems strategy. Needs a different state of mind.

  4. Stuart

    Agree with Joe.

    As mentioned there is already a limited amount of interoperability, and, at least from a travel perspective, it isn’t too bad. For example you can send emails, browse the web and upload data from within a third-party app.

    I guess it would be nice to be able to interface with say the 4square or Gowalla app to allow checkins from your own app.

    The upside of the background running, which seems to be upon us, is that, to an extent interoperability isn’t so crucial.

    While perhaps it would be advantageous to have “one app to rule them all”, it isn’t essential. You could have your Travelfish app to Angkor Wat running concurrently with your music app of choice, Gowalla for checkins, Twitter and Facebook for nattering, Hipstamatic for taking your holiday snaps and Postage for turning the pics into postcards to send to Ma and Pa…

    Just don’t forget to allow time to look at the ruins.

  5. Joe Buhler

    How about the limitations imposed by today’s system of national data plans and the high cost involved when traveling outside the home area, even with an international plan?
    As long as free wi-fi isn’t widely available in major cities across the globe, many location aware apps will have limited use for leisure travelers bearing the cost.

    • Tim

      Joe – great point. I asked that question (what role does the cost of roaming play in growth of mobile internet) of all of the interviewees but had to cut the answers in the interest of space. The Apple Spokesperson (not surprisingly) said not impact as people could just switch to Wifi and wifi was everywhere. Kevin Foreman said is was a “significant factor and consideration for people regarding app use and adoption, particularly in Europe.”. I agree with Kevin (and you). The gouging in roaming is now a drag on economic growth through increased efficiencies from the mobile web.

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