Branch, a deep linking SDK, is now a unicorn

From TechCrunch:

Branch, the deep-linking startup backed by Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures, will enter the unicorn club with an upcoming funding round.

The four-year-old company, which helps brands create links between websites and mobile apps, has authorized the sale of $129 million in Series D shares, according to sources and confirmed by PitchBook, which tracks venture capital deals. The infusion of capital values the company at roughly $1 billion.

I remember seeing a talk from these guys when they were brand new at the (now defunct) Where 2.0 conference in 2014. Back then, deep linking was novel and new, and was not widely supported by the mobile platforms.

We use Branch at FATMAP, and I can say it’s a very easy way to get deep links set up across a range of content types in a mobile app.

That they are now worth a billion dollars is on one hand a bit odd: they are basically packaging platform functionality in an SDK and charging app developers for it. There is nothing particularly unique or defensible with what they are doing, and it’s nothing a medium or bigger sized app developer can’t build on their own.

On the other hand, it’s a signal of the health of the app development platform industry. I have to wonder what their exit strategy is though. An obvious potential acquirer would be Google, while would buy it for the data, or Microsoft, who would buy it for the developers and make it part of their overall developer platform.

Either way, they are now a rather expensive acquisition.

Apps caught sending location and other data to advertising companies

From ZDNEt:

A team of security researchers behind a popular mobile firewall app say they’ve identified tens of iOS apps that are collecting location data from iPhone users, data they later pass on to monetization firms.

In all cases, researchers say, the collection occurs via packaged tracking code monetization firms provide to developers to embed in their respective apps.

The only surprising thing about this is that there are only “tens”, not hundreds, or thousands.

Back when I was at Nokia/HERE Maps, I was managing a product with several million active users. I was contacted nearly daily by advertising or data monetisation companies, offering us easy money to just add their small SDK to our codebase…

These companies make an offer for developers that’s easy to accept… spend a few hours implementing their SDK, and forget about it… and in exchange, receive “free money” for every active user. These companies are especially interested in apps that collect or handle location information.

I do have some sympathy with the developers who accept the bargain… the app business is a brutal, hard one, and when you’re trying to turn a profit, a few extra cents per MAU for essentially no effort can seem like a great deal… but you’re selling your customers’ privacy, and in the long run that’s going to backfire.

My advice to app developers is to reject the seemingly free money, and stay focussed on building great value for your customers, and building your monetisation model around that. Going for the easy money might make your ARPU look momentarily better, but it’s not what your customers are paying for.

A general plea on all App Store and Google Play users

If you have time to leave a review, you have time to respond to the developer when they reach out to you to try to solve your problem.


Behind every app in the App Store, behind every game, sticker pack and camera filter, is an app developer.

These individuals, or most likely team of individuals, got together and decided to spend their working hours building something that they hope brings joy, utility, or both, to people’s lives.

App developers work hard to make sure the app works on hundreds of different types of devices and screen sizes, across smartphones, phablets and tablets, in tens or hundreds of countries around the world.

App developers want you to have a great experience with their app. Their business, and their livelihood, is directly influenced by how successful their app is, which is directly influenced by how well it works for you, the user. So it’s in their interest for you to have a great experience.

But a smartphone app is a piece of software, and software is never perfect. Software is complex and software developers are humans, and humans overlook things, they make mistakes. Sometimes they even cut corners to meet a deadline or they rush to deliver value to you, the user, faster. And sometimes that means the software they release has problems. It has bugs.

When you’re using an app and it doesn’t work for you, or it does something unexpected, by all means write to the developer and tell them. If you’ve paid money for an app, then you have every right to expect, and to demand, that it works. So send a message to their support teams. Most developers will get back to you quickly and will be more than happy to help you get your app working.

When you have a problem with an app, it’s always polite, and good karma, to try to solve it directly with the app developer first, before posting a negative review on the App Store.

App Store reviews have a direct impact on the developer’s ability to find new customers and generate profits to keep their business running and their pay cheque coming. I would ask you to think about this before posting a flaming review on the App Store.

There are two genuine reasons to post a negative review on the App Store:

  • You have a problem with the app (it crashes, or behaves unexpectedly) and you contact the developer – and you don’t get any response, or the response isn’t helpful.
  • The app is obviously trying to trick you by providing fake or misleading content.

My final plea: if you do post a negative review on the App Store, and then the app developer responds to your feedback and offers to help fix your problem: then take the time to respond to them. If you have time to leave a review, you have time to respond to the developer when they reach out to you to try to solve your problem. And if the developer can solve your problem or at least tries to, then update your review. Help others see that the developer is willing to try to help their customers have a great experience.

Don’t be that person who leaves a flaming review and never takes the time to respond or update their review. Be kind to app developers. 🙂

Notes on using the iPad Pro for “real work”

<tl;dr>
The iPad Pro is a capable machine for getting all kinds of “real work” done while on the go.

After much deliberation, I bought myself a new iPad Pro 9.7″ about four weeks ago, and since then I’ve been running an experiment to see if I could use my iPad for “real work”. Inspired somewhat by Steven Sinofsky’s treatise on why his iPad Pro has stickers, I wanted to see if I could leave my MacBook at my desk all the time, and only take my iPad with me when I’m on the move (in meetings, working remotely, etc).

My MacBook has been chained to my desk for three weeks now, and since then I’ve written blog posts (like this one), worked on spreadsheets, taken handwritten notes, read and responded to email, set up meetings and managed my calendar, presented with slides at meetings and taken notes, joined video conferences, made drawings, including a few lessons from a “learn to draw” course, surfed the web, read and marked up eBooks, written Python code, played games, watched Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and the European Championship, booked flights, ordered groceries, bought clothes on Zalando and bought other stuff on Amazon: all from my iPad. It is truly the most versatile computing device I have ever used.

The iPad is a capable machine for doing "Real Work" on the go.

The iPad is a capable machine for doing “Real Work” on the go.

In many ways, all of the things you wanted to do with your first iPad, but couldn’t, are now possible. The hardware is faster, lighter and better, for sure, but the biggest improvement is the software, both iOS and third party apps. Thanks to iOS extensions and multi-tasking, apps work together better than they ever did before. Persistent cloud services are baked into everything, so data and preferences are immediately synchronised across all your devices and available everywhere. Microsoft’s Office suite is now thoughtfully designed for iOS and they plug into OneDrive perfectly, and meanwhile Dropbox, which I use for personal files, is integrated into all other apps that I use so I can get files in and out of other apps easily.

I had an iPad 1 when they first came out in 2010, and I bought an iPad Mini Retina a few years ago. Neither of these devices found a way into my regular work routine. Neither was in any way capable of replacing my MacBook for anything other than web browsing, and with an iPhone in my pocket there was little upside to offset the added weight and hassle of carrying the thing around, so I couldn’t find a way to build them into my workflow in a meaningful way. There were too many reasons doing Task X on my MacBook or Task Y on my iPhone was just easier. The iPad 1 was quickly relegated to the coffee table by the couch for occasional web surfing, and nothing else, and my daughter appropriated the iPad Mini as a Netflix device. Now, however, with the iPad Pro I can safely leave my MacBook on my desk for the most part, and use the iPad in all the scenarios when I want to be mobile.

There are plenty of ‘real work’ tasks that I could easily get done on the iPad Pro while away from my desk. Here are some observations:

  • Reviewing a document or set of PowerPoint slides by scribbling on it directly with the Pencil is lovely: it’s so much quicker and more intuitive than typing everything with comments: you can quickly highlight stuff, draw arrows to indicate changes, and add quick comments in the margins. But if you want to edit a longer passage, the keyboard is right there when you need it. (One of the guys in my team told me he’s had term papers come back cleaner. 😉)
  • With a HDMI dongle, presenting with the iPad is easy – and it’s even easier when you’re presenting to a TV with Apple TV/AirPlay.
  • No fussy display settings to worry about: mirroring worked first time, every time for me.
  • The PowerPoint app does a great job of presenting. You can add mark-up to your slides in real time with the pencil (that are automatically discarded when you close the presentation), and it also has a little ‘laser pointer’ feature, where you can point to something by holding on the slide preview.
  • It’s a bit harder to take notes while presenting, though, because the iPad won’t let you have a different app running on the device while presenting, but you can take notes either as annotations directly on the slide, or in the slide ‘notes’ field.
  • Excel works just fine, and you can view complicated sheets and update them easily. I must admit I miss my large dual-monitor setup for working with large and complicated sheets, but I was surprised how capable the iPad version of Excel is.
  • Long-form typing is easy when you attach a Bluetooth keyboard. I’m using the Bluetooth keyboard from my MacBook, and it works just fine.
  • Using the Apple Pencil to take handwritten notes is also great. I used to carry around a slightly larger than A5 Moleskine notebook for taking notes, scribbling drawings, etc, and I would scan in the important ones to Evernote. The iPad and Pencil combination has completely replaced that for me, with my handwritten notes going straight into Evernote, which saves me an extra step of scanning, and saves me carrying around an extra heavy notebook and pens.
  • Having all your files in the cloud makes working life on the iPad possible. I always have access to everything I need, without having to think about it.
  • I’m using Outlook for email, and the way PowerPoint and Excel are built in make it simple and seamless to open documents, review them, and quickly send back your comments.
  • All the apps I use in my normal workflow on the Mac are available and optimised for iPad: Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, Evernote, Wunderlist, Pocket, Dropbox, OneDrive, Skype, Slack and of course Safari. (Sadly however the Twitter app on Mac is even more crappy than it is on iPhone.) I didn’t have to swap to any new apps or re-learn any behaviour. It’s all there, with all my files, context and history.
  • The iPad also works as a great accessory for the MacBook when you’re at your desk. With apps like Duet you can use it as an extended screen, or Astropad can turn it into a Wacom-like tablet. You can quickly scribble down ideas like in a paper notebook and have them appear immediately on your Mac.
The iPad is really versatile - and great for ebooks.

The iPad is really versatile – and great for ebooks.

Where I did miss my MacBook:

  • My dual-monitor setup. There’s no denying that for some work, like working with big excel sheets, illustrations or presentations, the size of a large monitor, and the accuracy of a mouse matters a lot.
  • Split-screen multi-tasking on the iPad is good, but it is definitely not as quick and seamless as on the Mac to work with multiple documents and apps simultaneously. The iPad also lacks completely the ability to view two different documents of the same type next to each other: for example, two PowerPoint documents, two Word documents, etc. It will be great to see Apple open up the multi-tasking to allow single apps to run multiple instances of themselves in different windows.
  • In terms of apps, the only apps I absolutely cannot use on my iPad are Photoshop and Illustrator, which I use quite often for designing screen mock-ups or for building visuals for presentations. There are alternatives designed for the iPad, but I haven’t found one that completely convinces me yet.
  • Some apps don’t support rich text editing, such as the Outlook app, which is a pain. It’s annoying to always have to send emails in plain text.
  • I can’t say that I found using the iPad in “laptop mode” ergonomically superior to using a laptop with a trackpad or mouse. In fact, I found raising my arm and reaching across the keyboard to the screen to touch some screen element with my finger tiring after a while.

You can get an incredible amount of work done on an iPad. If I ever did find myself frustrated that I couldn’t do something on the iPad, most times it turned out that I could do it; I just needed to do it in a different way.

When you spend a few days using the iPad for everything, you come to appreciate how versatile it really is. One minute you’re typing up a report or an email, then you’re reviewing and annotating a document with the Pencil. After that, you might sit back and browse the web, look at your photos, and then open up the Kindle app and continue reading your book – all from the one device. I would argue that no other device has come anywhere this close to being truly one device for everything.

I'm clearly never going to be an artist, but yes, I drew this, and it's quite impressive what even a layman can achieve drawing on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil

I’m clearly never going to be an artist, but it’s quite impressive what even a layman can achieve drawing on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil

Tim Cook likes to say that the iPad is “the clearest expression of vision of the future of personal computing.”
They’re not there yet… But I can clearly imagine a future where personal computing is truly versatile, portable and intimate, and in my view the iPad Pro is the clearest version of that yet.

Steve Jobs famously said at the launch of the iPad that having a touch screen on a laptop would be "ergonomically terrible".

Steve Jobs famously said at the launch of the iPad that having a touch screen on a laptop would be “ergonomically terrible”.

Ways to think about Android Instant Apps, and what it means for developers

This week their annual developer event Google casually announced a huge new feature coming soon to Android: Instant Apps. Chris Maddern called it their “one more thing” moment. When finally released, perhaps later this year, it could be the one of the most fundamental changes to the way mobile apps work since the App Store. What it won’t be, however, is an instant solution to the majority of app developer’s main problem: app discovery.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

Android Instant Apps, as they were presented during the keynote, will allow Android native apps to run immediately, without being installed, by essentially lazy-loading the relevant modules to the device at run-time. This will allow users to interact with your app and your content immediately, without needing to go through the hurdle of visiting the app store. Users can then (presumably) install the ‘full’ app if they want to.

It’s easy to see why this is a big deal. The mechanics of installing an app involve a lot of physical and psychological friction: do I really want this app on my phone? Do I trust it? Will I ever use it again? Do I have the time to wait for it to download and install? Do I even have the space for it? (Anyone with a 16GB iPhone can attest to this being a very real and very constant problem). Apps could lose anywhere between 20 to 80% of the traffic that hits their app store page, so anything that helps eliminate this friction will be a huge win for app developers.

Then it gets even more interesting with Android Pay. According to the keynote, Instant Apps will be able to integrate with Android Pay. If we assume this gives the app instant access not just to payment details, but identity and shipping details as well, you could easily imagine purchasing something you just discovered on the web in an Instant App with just a couple of taps.

Ways Instant Apps will help app developers

App linking will be smoother and involve less friction.
Both Android and iOS have allowed native app deep linking for a couple of OS versions now, allowing developers to link into deep content views within other apps. This generally works great if the user has the target app already installed on their device; but if they don’t, the experience isn’t so great: the user is generally redirected either to a mobile-optimised version of the target product, and usually presented with a mobile app upsell ad; or they are directed straight to the app store, where the user needs to first figure out what kind of app this is, do I care enough about it to install it, etc.

Flowchart showing how apps are installed from app links

The sloppy app-install experience from app links

Some companies have been trying to improve this process, such as Branch.io who have built tools to allow developers to use ‘deferred deep links’, so that when the user does install the app after tapping a deep link they will be directed straight to the piece of content they were looking for directly after the install. But there is still heaps that can go wrong: the user needs to tap ‘install’, wait for the installation to finish, then open the app… So although deferred deep links help, they are a band-aid on an essentially sloppy user experience.

Instant apps will solve this by skipping the whole store and to-install-or-not-to-install question. Because of this, I expect to see more developers engaging in app linking partnerships and leveraging such partnerships both to monetise their own users and also to grow by seeking partners to send incoming links. The NYC-based startup Button is building an exciting business around facilitating a network of deep-link-based affiliate partnerships, and through their SDK has also tried to solve parts of the app-install problem by bringing more content into the publishing app.

Allowing easy access to rich native experiences from real world locations
Lots of brands and stores have apps already, but they all suffer from the app install friction as described above. It might be really handy to be able to place your McDonalds order in advance from the McDonalds app, but if you’re only going to McDonalds this one time, will you bother downloading the app, signing up, adding your payment details, etc?

Instant Apps would allow businesses like McDonalds to allow customers to place their order, and pay for it, quickly and easily without needing to download anything. The example Google used in their keynote was paying for parking, without needing to install any app, and – more importantly – without even needing to know which app you need. Just ‘point your phone’ at the parking meter and via the NFC connection it can figure out what app you need, lazy-load in the needed module, connect to Android Pay and – boom! You’ve paid for your parking safely and securely. Or perhaps you’re in a new city and you want to buy a ticket for the subway, but you have no idea how the system works in that city (and we’ve all been there). Just point your phone at the ticket machine, and the appropriate experience to book and pay for your ticket pops up right on your phone.

Given the ease of linking into rich experiences that this allows, I could imagine other, non-commerce use cases. Imagine Yelp issues all of its businesses a QR code. Then when you’re sitting in a restaurant and you’ve had a great meal, you could scan the code and go directly into a Yelp-powered experience where you can leave a review – without needing the Yelp app ‘installed’ on your phone. (And if Instant Apps allow users to access users’ identity, you don’t even need to create an account on Yelp either).

Preview an app without installing it
It will be interesting to see if Google build some of the Instant App mechanism into the Play store directly. This could allow you to quickly ‘preview’ an app before you make the decision to install it. Screenshots, descriptions and videos are great – but nothing beats actually using the app. What if you could preview a working version before you install?

Instant App-powered Trial Versions could become the next frontier of App Store Optimisation.

Or what if this enabled free, limited trials of paid apps? Before choosing to drop $9.99 on that newest distraction-free text editor, what if you could trial it? This could also be great for games: like Shareware for the app economy.

Will you even need a mobile-optimised website at all?
If you take all of this to the logical conclusion, you start to wonder if you need a mobile website at all. (Ok, at least an Android-optimised mobile website, for now).

These days plenty of businesses, such as Hotel Tonight, are mobile-only from day one; but for many others the web, and particularly the mobile web, remains an important discovery and conversion channel. For content-based businesses, it’s particularly important to have a mobile website to deal with the “app not installed” dilemma described above: when somebody discovers your content, either through SEO or a link from another service, you want to be able to show the user some content immediately. (Or you risk sending them directly to the app store and hoping they convert to downloading the app).

If Android Instant Apps can provide a real, native experience immediately, without downloading the app, why would you need to have a mobile website at all? You would shift your SEO focus to concentrating on Google/Firebase App Indexing, and shift your conversion funnel to the Instant App experience.

(There’s an interesting internal conflict for Google here. On one hand, Google is inviting developers to prioritise native app experiences – which when followed to the logical conclusion might very well result in less investment in the web. At the same time, Google’s control and monetisation is still heavily dependent on people searching and discovering stuff on with Google Search: one of their rationales to invest in their Accelerated Mobile Pages project.)

Where Instant Apps won’t necessarily help: App Discovery

Instant Apps could make the entire conversion experience for apps much more seamless, making it easier to access, consume and potentially test/trial apps.

But conversion is only half of the app distribution problem: the second half. The first half of the problem is app discovery, and this is where I don’t see Instant Apps helping that much – at least not directly.

Instant Apps will make it smoother to link between apps, and this could hopefully encourage a stronger ecosystem of app user/value exchange. This will help app discovery for sure. But the majority of apps are still discovered in the ‘traditional’ ways: word of mouth, content search, app store ‘browsing’, or performance/digital marketing.

Instant Apps by and large won’t let developers circumvent the traditional app discovery channels. You still need to get your app in front of a user. What it does is dramatically simplifies the conversion process, allowing more users to interact with your app and discover its value – once they have discovered it.

Things for developers to think about

What does Instant Apps mean for you? Some things to think about:

  • If you have a content or commerce-based business, start thinking about how to expand your reach through affiliate partnership building. Instant Apps will make consuming your content or service via a referred link in a partner app much easier and this can be a powerful source of acquisition.
  • Where else can you include links that could surface deep views of your service without needing an install? In marketing materials? Affiliate programs?
  • Start thinking about how to modularise your codebase now. For some apps it will be easy: Google says that some apps should be able to make the necessary changes within a day. But for other apps, depending on the architecture, it will be more complicated. Try signing up for early access to the program in the Android developer portal. But even if you don’t get in, start thinking now about how you will approach modularisation – is there a big architecture refactor you’ll need to invest in?

Messaging and Chat are the next big channel for Growth

Growth is about finding new channels.

Messaging in general as a channel is young and fresh – and there will be a goldrush very, very soon. Services like Slack and Facebook Messenger are following the lead set by the asian chat successes like Line and WeChat in turning chat into a platform that allows access to services over the top – services like payments, shopping, games and more.

You can now order an Uber by typing a command in Slack, or you can order a pizza within the WeChat app in China.

What happens when chat becomes our interface with the world?

Before the point-and-click windows-based GUI evolved, the earliest PCs running DOS or similar operating systems had a ‘chat-style’ interface – a command line.

Messaging could be the next Operating System, and the starting point could be, once again, the command line. The difference is this time the abstraction level is much, much higher. Instead of a command like cd /uber which would change your working directory to the one called ‘uber’, now a command like /uber ride can literally order you an Uber. What’s old is new again.

There is a big possibility chat will be the next user interface. Chat – or personal assistants – or more likely a combination of both – will replace the apps grid as the next major UI paradigm. The chat window is always open. Yes, you use it to talk to your colleagues or friends – but it is already replacing email, and will piece-by-pice replace everything else around it. It’s so much easier to order an uber by typing “/uber ride” into the chat window that’s already open, than pulling your phone out, unlocking it, opening an app, etc.

(As a fun thought experiment: What comes next? What does the next part of the cycle look like? What does a GUI for chat look like?)

Microsoft: Services Everywhere (not Windows Everywhere)

I came across two interesting pieces of Microsoft news today.

Firstly, Microsoft have bought the company behind a Visual Studio plugin called UnityVS which enables developers using the cross platform game engine, Unity, to write and debug their Unity programs directly within Visual Studio. Unity has support for all the major mobile operating systems, and then some – and Microsoft is slashing the existing $99 price tag and giving it away to developers for free. (Link)

In other words, Microsoft are investing in, and giving away for free, tools to make it easier to port games to a variety of platforms. Instead of reinforcing the old paradigm of “Windows everywhere”, they are literally helping to strengthen competitor platforms like iOS and Android.

The second piece of news was a rumour concerning a possible upcoming wearable device. (Link) Other than the first gasp-moment that it might not have a screen at all, the real news here was the rumour that the device might be compatible with Android and iOS mobile devices. This, compared with the wearable strategies of Android, iOS and Tizen (Samsung) devices, is a revolution. All the competitors mentioned here enforce a strict our-platform-only policy when it comes to their wearable offerings: the Tizen-powered Gear devices only pair with Samsung Galaxy devices, Android Wear only works with recent Android and the rumoured iWatch will of course only work with iOS devices. And here’s Microsoft with a device that could work with anything.

What does it mean? Perhaps it is a recognition of the inevitability of an Android/Apple-dominated smartphone market for the foreseeable future. Maybe it’s a strategy to increase sales: after all, Visual Studio still costs, and it also needs Windows to run; and the sales forecasts of any wearable device that only works with Windows Phone devices could not have been good (a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction). Either way, it’s a far-cry from the Microsoft of the 90’s and 2000’s and “Windows everywhere”, and it’s certainly some more clear signs of the company’s increasing play to become services-first.

Amazon Dash is another great example of un-bundling the smartphone

The newly launched Amazon Dash device (link) is a single-purpose hardware device that allows users to scan the items in their fridge or pantry that they’re running low on, and an order is automatically sent to Amazon’s fresh grocery service.

I find it very interesting because it is representative of how you can now build hardware so cheaply that the advantages of the unique form-factor versus a smartphone app outweigh the marginal cost of purchasing the hardware.

Sure you could do everything Dash does with a smartphone app… but having dedicated hardware makes it easy, and it is cheap (enough).

As the cost of embedded processing, sensors and (in some cases) glass continues to collapse, I predict we’ll see even more smartphone un-bundling into discreet, single-purpose connected hardware devices.

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.