Mobile Destiny: The Crossroads Approach

I had a couple of great conversations recently with my friend Michael Mace who succinctly summed it up: In the world of mobile, we are at an inflection point. For the first time, mobile technology has become good enough to serve the business purposes of its users. Soon, the laws of diminishing returns will affect the market. In other words, does increase power and capability actually make the devices better? Or are these incremental improvements, same as what has happened in the PC world? There is no doubt that we are fast approaching this crossroads and soon, incremental technological improvements will be the norm.

There are still a few big hills in front of us that will make mobile technology significantly better, namely faster data connections, synchronization via the web (rather than sync cable), and truer browsing experiences (read here). But the top of this hill is fast approaching us, I believe, and we are within a year or two of reaching the top.

There is a dynamic in the market that has affected all of us. In order to make money, carriers and hardware vendors feel they have to make devices and services that broadly appeal to everyone. So the capabilities of the devices are generic and the plans provided are pretty close to “one size fits all.”

The problem is these are highly personalized devices. They are very oriented around niches, or vertical, markets. The needs of a Realtor are vastly different from the needs of a contractor or lawyer or business manager. So there is a disconnect between the way these devices are presented and sold and the way they are used. And that leaves all of us hunting for third-party solutions to fill the gap.

There are significant challenges for third-party developers, though; it is getting harder and harder for us to develop native applications (those that go on the device) and then get the word out about them. We can no longer partner with hardware manufacturers because all device and in-box promotion decisions are controlled by carriers. Carriers don’t care about niche markets, for one, and prefer no software be installed at all, raising huge certification and device lock-down barriers to keep software out. Finally, software resellers, the remaining sales channel, are either charging exorbitant fees or have disappeared altogether. Why not go after niches, you ask? Because there isn’t enough device penetration around a platform or two to make it worth the development effort (read here).

This is why the crossroads fast approaching, this intersection of business utility and technological prowess, is so important. The rise of the Internet as a medium for software and the ability of these mobile devices to run them effectively will open up a new world for you, as a business person trying to make the device useful for your needs, and for us, as a developer trying to help you get there.