The unbundling of Facebook and the evolution of mobile

Last week Facebook announced the new Paper app – an app that turns your Facebook news feed into your own personal newspaper. At the same time they announced Facebook Creative Labs and promised further small, single-purpose apps.

This is all part of a growing trend from Facebook to un-bundle their core mobile product/service into smaller, focussed single-purpose apps that solve specific problems. The first move here was Facebook Messenger, which was designed to compete head-on with the growing number of successful messaging apps that are growing incredibly in the marketplace (Whatsapp, Line, WeChat, Snapchat, etc).

When the giants of the desktop web era (Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and so on) moved to mobile, to begin with their service architectures stayed more or less intact. On the web, a single product has a single URL, a single brand and a single interface and structure. Facebook on the web is an entire product service that exists behind the facebook.com URL.

It turns out on mobile, however, that there are different dynamics driving user behaviour and expectations. On mobile, how users interact with apps, and how they choose to create and consume content, is very different than it was on desktop.

The structure of apps and the multi-tasking abilities of modern smartphones makes changing apps really easy. It is nearly always easier and quicker to press the ‘home’ button on your smartphone and open another app than it is to navigate the menu structure within the app you’re already in to access a different function.

This dynamic is driving the un-bundling of Facebook’s offer. Others are following. Yahoo already has offered a variety of mobile products since Marissa Mayer joined as CEO. Others, such as LinkedIn, will surely follow. (LinkedIn experimented with an email application, which they have since pulled. I predict they will release a news reader, similar to Paper, some time soon).

On mobile, users prioritise simplicity and speed over flexibility and broad functionality. Apps have a single use-case or purpose, as opposed to web products, or pre-mobile software in general, which cater for maximal different use-cases and functionality.

This is all a further acknowledgement that the paradigms that drove software and user behaviour in the pre-mobile world don’t fit completely to mobile, and the platforms are still evolving and changing.

Benedict Evans has posited that we really don’t know what it even will mean in 5 years to say “I installed an app on my smartphone”. So very little is settled – which means big opportunities – and also big risk – for mobile players.

Location-Based Services in 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of location-based services lately. The first thing that occurs to me: nobody talks about location-based services anymore. There are just ‘services’.

It occurs to me that Location, in and of itself, is not an ‘experience’, per se. It is an enabler of experiences. Allow me to explain.

There are two critical aspects that make up a location-based service:

  1. The ability to accurately detect the real-world location of the user (or, more specifically, the user’s device) and communicate this back to a service in real-time.
  2. The ability to accurately place this, and other, locations of interest on a map.

Take a classic “location-based service” such as Foursquare, where users ‘check-in’ to venues, stores or other locations with the app on their smartphone when they visit the store physically. The location of the user is the enabler that allows the check-in to take place, and the rendering of a map of the area is the enabler that allows the check-in to be viewed and consumed later.

Location itself isn’t the point or motivator for the experience. It’s just what makes the experience possible.

Hence the term “location-based service” has fallen a bit out of favour. Location is no longer an exciting differentiator among mobile experiences, and the location is very rarely the real point of the ‘service’. The point is always something else: find out how good a hotel is (TripAdvisor), review a restaurant (Yelp), find a new place for lunch (Foursquare), find deals nearby (Groupon, iBeacon), etc.

So the thing to remember about Location: it’s not an experience. Location is an enabler of experiences.

Mobile strategy in a rapidly evolving industry

Benedict Evans, the well-known mobile industry analyst, has posited that we actually have no idea what it will mean in five years to “install an app on my smartphone”.

The market and the technology that powers it is changing and evolving so fast that there is no way to know how the industry will look in five years time. Will a smartphone still be a rectangular device with a screen that you carry in your pocket? Will it have already been absorbed into an invisible network of embedded, connected, wearable devices? What will be the form factors that define ‘mobile’ in five year’s time? How would you develop experiences for them?

For everyone in the business of creating and distributing mobile experiences, the dependency you have to the mobile ecosystems is the single largest pertinent factor in your strategic profile. How does not having a clear view not the future impact your strategic planning? What will your business model be in five years? What will your business be at all in five years?

It is an interesting lesson in strategy definition to be able to separate the WHAT from the HOW.

The HOW is a constant evolution of the environment you’re operating in. The WHAT is much more constant, and can absorb even large changes in the environment.

The WHY… it could last perhaps forever.

Validation of the freemium model for mobile apps

Here’s an interesting statistic.

The top 20 grossing apps in the iOS App Store are all free apps, according to online app analytics platform Distimo.

In fact, from the top 100 grossing apps, only 9 of them are paid apps, with prices ranging from $0.99 to $8.99, but most hovering around the $2.99 mark.

Top grossing apps on the iOS App Store, 20 November 2013
Source: Distimo.

The Google Play store is similar. There, only three apps in the top 100 grossing apps are paid, with the first paid app coming in at position 33.

Top grossing apps on the iOS App Store, 20 November 2013
Source: Distimo.

The revenue for these free apps seems to be coming predominantly from in app purchases.

It certainly seems to validate the idea of the freemium model, and proves that customers are willing to pay for in-app purchases to upgrade their experiences.

Device fatigue and the next connected device form factor

A pile of devices
Photo: Wikimedia

I suffer from device fatigue.

Not just the kind where I cannot deal with the sheer number of connected devices, gadgets and gizmos being released every day – but the kind where I am overwhelmed with the number of devices that I actually already own.

I have a Macbook Air, a Sony Vaio running Windows 8, a Surface Pro tablet, a Nokia Lumia 920, a first-generation iPad and a Kindle, and in my living room I also have an XBOX 360.

And that’s not counting devices that I have temporarily for testing or benchmarking… the iPads, the Galaxies, the Kindle Fires…

Now, I like devices, and I work for a device company and my job is building device software, so i’m trying to build them into my life… but I just cannot deal with having so many different devices. The basket under the bookshelf where I put old devices is overflowing with dead, partially working or even fully functional devices that I just can’t find a good reason to carry anymore.

They all have their specific use cases and particular strong points: the MacBook’s power and good quality hard keyboard; the tablet’s big screen but relative portability; the smartphone’s ultra-portability and LTE connection… But the real problem is that there is maybe 80% crossover in the use cases and usage contexts of the different form factors, and this is frustrating and tiring.

I want one device that does everything – but I don’t want to trade the specific benefits of particular form factors, like the portability of my Lumia 920 and its amazing camera, or the stylus/drawing input of the tablet, or the physical keyboard and relative horsepower of my Macbook.

One of the greatest challenge now facing connected device manufacturers I think is the next form factor. The form factor that truly converges the fragmented connected device space.

While the last 5 years or so since tablets started their meteoric blast into consumers’ living rooms the focus has been on device divergence – building devices of every conceivable form factor, with increasing household incomes (in first-world markets) driving a huge increase multi-device ownership.

The next 5 years will be about device convergence. The search for the next form factor that unites your devices into a single, adaptable and flexible touchpoint.

Soundtrack: Life – give your life a soundtrack

Soundtrack: Life - give your life a soundtrack

Have you ever wished your life was a movie? In the movies, there’s always the right sound effect ready to roll for every moment. Sometimes our lives need a soundtrack too.

That’s why I created my first ever Windows 7 mobile application called Soundtrack: Life. You can install it on your Windows 7 phone here.

Soundtrack: Life is an application to let you give your life the soundtrack it deserves. With Soundtrack: Life, you always have the appropriate sound effect or musical score ready whenever your life needs it.

Soundtrack: Life - give your life a soundtrack
Soundtrack: Life - give your life a soundtrack

I chose Windows 7 Phone as the development platform mostly because that is now the standard platform for Nokia smart devices, and Nokia is gearing up to announce our first Windows 7 phones at Nokia World soon. I expect the numbers of Windows 7 Phone users to increase dramatically when Nokia starts bringing out great new Windows 7 devices.

Learning to program in .NET (had never used .NET or Silverlight before) was an interesting experience. It proved to me once again that learning something new is a hugely rewarding experience. I don’t much like letting my mind stay idle for too long, and little projects like this keep my energy and attention up.

I’ve got more Windows 7 apps on the way… stay tuned!