RWW Mobile Summit

20100507-_MG_2539.jpgI went to the RWW Mobile Summit last Friday where in the true unconference style the attendees defined the agenda and developed the conference content at the day transpired. While moderate in size, it was evident in the session proposals that the people attending were mobile insiders with intimate knowledge of the challenges and opportunities the mobile sector is facing.

Richard McManus opened the event with a run down of top mobile trends that, I believe, captured the major trends concisely and through the sessions that the audience layered on a much deeper understanding was achieved.

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Interestingly, from my point of view, there was very little discussion about hardware platforms, a traditional point of much debate in the mobile industry. In fact, the session on “iphone vs. android” had a grand total of zero participants, even the person who proposed the session failing to show up for it, which only illustrates a broader point that we intuitively understand this is not a winner take all market and are accepting of many hardware options providing the path for building applications on them is not fraught with complexity and peril.

There was quite a bit of discussion about HTML5 and Flash and a consensus emerged that HTML5 had achieved a tipping point moment. Not surprisingly the video guys were focused on this issue as it directly impacts them on the iPhone, where according to Justin.tv a full 1/4 of their new user signups are coming from; I’m not clear on whether or not this was all phone platforms or just the iPhone but either way it is a transformative shift for a company like this to realize a fundamental shift away from the desktop as your primary user experience.

Many of the sessions were focused on business models and revenue streams, and somewhat related to that the exploitation of mobile search and location capabilities for ad and online marketing objectives. I sat in on one session focused on online mobile marketing and was interested to learn how ad buyers still have not shifted away from pageview metrics for ad buying, in other words despite a sea shift in evolution in how consumers interact with online services the agency ad buyers are stuck in 1999. We can scoff at this or accept it and reconsider how mobile services that rely on ad driven monetization are pitched, I’d choose the latter.

A couple of sessions that I attended were focused on user interactions and how, to paraphrase, game system mechanics are gradually becoming a core function in new mobile services. This is most evident in the badging phenomena as represented by FourSquare’s point and badge system.

At their core these game dynamics are about increasing participation in a system through playing off human beings natural desire for recognition in social environments… it’s called social signaling and involves achieving some status relative to online peers. I always think of the success that World of Warcraft has achieved by building a system that involves individual status accomplished through successful gameplay, the advancing through levels and the rewards they bring, and perhaps more importantly the recognition for success through collaboration as part of the game play.

It is the collaboration part of WoW that ensures individual users are simply not cheating their way up the levels as being successful in WoW requires the individual user to work as part of a team (a “guild”). There are many successful ranking and rating systems that rely on individual and group competence, SAP’s Developer Network (SDN) builds in this concept through a point system where you accumulate points for participating and then more critically for how valuable your participation is being rated by your peers. Stack Overflow has a very similar concept and by all accounts these are very effective at ensuring the site not only attracts high value participants by also does not become spammy in the process.

Augmented reality was a very popular topic but unfortunately for me the tables were so full that I could not hear the discussion with the background noise. From what I gathered after the fact the core theme is moving beyond mobile web overlays but I’ll leave it at that and do some research to find out more specifically what was being discussed.

Lastly, the “sensorization” of mobile devices is a prominent theme with location capabilities, movement sensors (accelerometers), and RFID offering developers a whole new set of capabilities as a result of the dev platforms offering third party access to these sensor capabilities. Consumers don’t always think about these functions relative to desktop computing because developers do a good job of hiding the complexity in a “it just works” fashion. Red Laser is a great example of this, relying on the camera functionality to scan a barcode which is then used to drive a “best price” function online.

The emergence of RFID is very exciting for me as I have been following this space for many years and made an early stage investment in Retail Solutions (then T3Ci) which relied on the expansion of RFID in the enterprise. Unlike other many other hardware functions in a mobile device, RFID has no significant penalty in terms of power and mass as the technology is passive in nature. An RFID device comes alive when a proximity RFID transmitter broadcasts power to it or it in a larger device it assumes the broadcast role but does so in a highly frugal manner. The hardware is exceptionally small so mobile devices are a natural application.

RFID has many potential applications but perhaps none is greater than mobile payments. Coupons, prizes, and promotions that rely on RFID capabilities are foreseeable, as is the delivery of proximity advertising that lights up when you device passes nearby. This is very much overlapping into the augmented reality topic, such as with the billboards that use eye gaze scanning to detect when you are looking at them.

I’ll refrain from drawing any conclusions about the event last Friday other than to say it was a great opportunity to sit in a room with people representing diverse interest points who converge on the mobile topic with great enthusiasm and depth of knowledge. I learned a lot during the day and would recommend future RWW events to you on this basis alone.

More on this topic (What's this?) Read more on RFID, IPhone, Style at Wikinvest

Branded iPhone Apps From NewsGator

We have experienced a lot of success with our NetNewsWire application on the iPhone, and like all good things in business it lent itself to a series of “what if” discussions internally, the result of which was what I am writing about today.

With NewsGator’s native iPhone Apps your brand and content are just a fingertip away from over 7M iPhone users. Launched in July 2008, Apple’s new 3G iPhone and App Store have experienced tremendous success with over 1M iPhones sold and more than 10M App downloads in the first three days after launch! You can reach this large and growing audience with NewsGator iPhone Apps. Our Apps enable you to deliver a branded media experience directly to the iPhone – providing users with one touch, anytime access to your content.

[From Branded iPhone Apps – NewsGator Widgets]

We realized that we could take the very popular NetNewsWire application for the iPhone and strip off the NewsGator branding to make it a dedicated media reader app for our media clients. We also had to detune it from being a general purpose mobile RSS client to a media specific reader apps. All of this stacks up to be an exciting offering for media companies who wish to have an iPhone app that can be used to increase their audience and more fully engage them at the same time.

There are two reasons why this is an exciting development. First and foremost, media brands have an absolute requirement to extend their presence to the places where people are consuming content and mobile is just one of those places. Building a better website is by itself no longer a strategy for expanding audience and advertising revenue, moving out to mobile is a compelling option for any media site, large or small. The iPhone has dramatically reshaped the mobile marketplace and it’s because of iTunes more than any other factor, we now have a merchandising mechanism for moving apps down the pipe to end users and this is hugely important.

The second reason this is exciting is that developing iPhone apps, or any mobile app for that matter, is complex and expensive. Go out and try to hire iPhone app developers today, good ones are very difficult to find and the market is super competitive, all of which conspire to make iPhone app development a steep hill to climb for media companies. They will invariably end up going with custom development that gives them little in the way of content control and then carries with it the risk of alienating their audience with a less than compelling application that they also have to support.

Our branded iPhone application program not only overcomes the challenges that media companies face with mobile app development, but we also host it for them and that removes a big operational challenge from their equation. We host it, provide our proven content management capabilities and all for a reasonable cost of a one time setup fee and a monthly hosting fee based on the number of downloads per month. We also handle insertion into iTunes App Store and have a best practices approach that clients can follow for predictable success.

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