Mobile Apps are the new Web and appstores the new Browsers?

Traditionally on the computer, browsers were that medium, the app store is The browser and apps are THE web when I am mobile. What do you think?

This is a slightly modified reproduction of my article published in IAMAI magazine called ‘thinking aloud’
In 2010 alone 155 million mobile handsets were sold in India and according to IDC 6 million of them were smartphones. Getjar reports 3 million app downloads per day and Nokia Ovi reports 3.5 million app downloads per day. The majority of these app downloads happen from India. All indicators point to the fact that apps are the new way to deliver content on mobile. I would go as far as to say that apps are to mobile what the web was to PCs, a door to access services.

So what are mobile apps? Apps are those icons on your mobile handset which allow you to do more with your mobile than just call and text. A mobile browser is an app itself. When I started with my company Mobisy, back in 2007, mobile apps were limited in functionality to games and some utility functions such as blocking spam calls/sms. But with the increase of penetration of GPRS and now 3G, apps have become more and more powerful. Hardly any phone sells today without advertising how Facebook, Twitter or Orkut can be accessed via the apps on the mobile. Some of the operators in India today(like Aircel) bank on their app stores to build brands.

Apps drive smartphone choice!!

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You may ask, why would users not access the web on Mobile using the inbuilt browser? After all, on PCs, browsers are the medium of choice to deliver web apps and content. We have to remember that when the user is using his mobile, he is much more intent on doing one activity fast. Mobile browsers do not allow users to speed up executions for focused activities such as checking cricket scores or changing one’s social networking status or sharing a picture with friends and family. Apps with their native integration with the Phone operating system, give a much better user experience than browsers can ever imagine no matter how advanced they become.

How do traditional VAS services delivered over call or SMS stand wrt apps? In India, traditional VAS services have long become the monopoly of a few heavyweights in the Industry. The market growth though impressive, it’s hardly been inclusive. This means a small group of creative developers have hardly any way to bring their innovation to market unless they learn how to navigate a complicated ecosystem of VAS companies and operators. For such a group of developers, mobile apps are a god-sent opportunity.

Apps allow them to develop and deliver their innovation through largely open “App stores” without depending on operators or handset manufacturers. A relatively low cost in marketing and distribution allows them to focus on innovating and bringing added value to the users.

Apps as a medium are much more powerful than traditional voice or SMS as well. Voice apps are limited by the complexity of IVR whereas content delivered over SMS is largely textual and interactivity is very limited. The app solves both these problems for content developers by providing them with a medium which is interactive at the same time flexible enough to make it extremely easy for users.

Apps by definition are “open” which means if a content provider or developer wishes to develop his/her app, s/he does not have to depend on operators or handset manufacturers to build its user base. App stores are the way to do that and they offer a very little barrier to entry. Since the cost of failure is so less, it allows a developer to be more creative and try out more things till s/he succeeds. We just have to look at the success story of the “Angry Birds” application for Android / iPhone to see what I mean.

Rovio(the company behind Angry Birds) tried out 52 applications before they hit on the success formula of Angry Birds. App stores also take away complications of payment collection from end users. For a revenue share of up to 40%, they take away payment collection worries from developers. What’s more, in-app advertising options allow developers to even make their apps free. This means that users can now access these valuable services at no cost. Almost 99% of all the app downloads that happen from India are free apps.

Any iPad user will tell you today how the app store has changed his/her view of the web. For smartphones/tablets, app stores are the default way to discover/browse new content. Traditionally on the computer, browsers were that medium so for me, the app store is THE browser and apps are THE web when I am mobile.

What do you think?

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