Top 10 Mobile Apps: is this really the future?

Gartner has produced a list of Top 10 Consumer Mobile applications for 2012. Unfortunately the list is extremely disapointing and fails to provide much insight.

Predicting the future is always difficult. One solution is to offer very vague predictions, which is how Gartner have approached it. Some of their list represents services rather than applications as such. Take location based services (LBS). They are rarely an end in themselves but a service within applications. What’s more, I don’t see how that is the future … LBS is already here and widely used with apps.

Another questionable prediction is the increase in mobile music. The iphone was launched very much with music in mind, as were various Sony Ericsson’s and Nokia phones. Yet it hasn’t taken off. Gartner suggest that the payment model is part of the reason, and that with changes in the way music is sold, the market will take off. That simply doesn’t make sense to me. Music downloads took off with itunes. Paid music. Since then other download brands, such as Spotify have re-defined the way that music downloads are purchased. So, there have been plenty of opportunities to shift this into the mobile channel. Yet this hasn’t happened. The reason, I believe is simple. We are generally happy with downloading through our PCs and we will only switch to mobile if there is a sufficient benefit in doing so.
If I look at my own music habits for example, I use itunes on my PC as the central music manager. Some of it is purchased through online stores (including itunes), but much of it is ripped from CDs. Once in itunes I can do many things with it: burn it to CD to play in the car, put it on my iphone and put it on my (old) ipod which is now linked to a set of speakers and my alarm clock. Downloading through my iphone is a pain. For starters my PC has a fast, reliable internet connection – something I cannot get with a mobile data connection. After that I have to get the track back into itunes and on to CDs, the ipod etc. In short, I am happy with my current music management arrangements and don’t see any reason to change.

So, when it comes to Gartner’s predicitions I am very dubious about a number of them. I would agree with them on the payments and NFC side of things however. That is an area to watch out for.

One in five watch porn on their iphone

This probably comes under the ‘no shit Sherlock’ category, but a recent study by Gadgetology found that one in five iphone users regularly watches adult material on their phone. What is interesting is that Blackberry users watched less than iphone users.

The reasons are probably varied: the iphone is highly usuable, and watching videos is an integral application. It may also be that Blackberry traditionally has a greater appeal to the business user, with many companies issuing the RIM handsets to their staff. Conversely an m:metrics study showed that 70% of iphone users are men, whereas the Blackberry has a 60:40% male:female ratio.

It does, however, help explain part of the appeal of the iphone. Historically many technologies have taken off where it has allowed users to access porn: VHS (in fact, the success of VHS over Betamax is often considered down to the porn industry adopting the former format), e-commerce, broadband. Even the now defunct Poloroid had an appeal to the home made-porn market.

The recent wide spread press coverage of iblushbabes, shows the sizable appetite for adult content on mobile phones.

Why do brands love the iphone?

When every I visit brands or ad agencies these days their primary interest is in creating an iphone app. In the last year alone brands such as Guinness, Nike, Pepsi, Tesco, Disney, Volkswagen, Walkers and Starbucks (to name just a few) have developed their own apps. And many more have branded existing apps.

In some ways the focus on the iphone doesn’t make sense: there are moreBlackberry users out there, and Nokia have with largest share with over 38% of the smartphone market.

So what is it about the iphone that is so appealing to brands?

I see two (or perhaps three) main reasons:
1. Creating multi-platform apps is costly and difficult. Delivering them to different handsets is also problematic. The iphone offers a simple means to do this, especially delivery via the app store.
2. iphone apps gain PR in a way that developments for other platforms do not. The PR alone can be worth the cost of development.
(3. The iphone is a cool brand, and other brands want to be associated with it).

As this is such an extensive subject area, I have written a guide on developing iphone apps for brands … click the link!

Palm Pre vs iphone: it helps to be a cool brand

Many people (well those who didn’t like Apple) were pinning their hopes on the Palm Pre offering a smartphone that would rival the iphone.
However, after a few short months, Palm have slashed the price in the US and there are rumours (depending on who you believe) that their are lay-offs at Palm.

The reviews certainly gave the palm a glowing report. However it has failed to ignite the public’s imagination. This is a similar echo to that of the ipod … there were (arguably) better music players out there, but the ipod became ubiquitous due to a combination of styling and user interface.

And that’s the point. What counts as better? Having used (and lost) the Google Phone (G1), it has better functionality than the iphone in many ways. But, it’s user interface doesn’t look as nice, and the handset itself looks kind of cheap. Apple have always known how to style their products, and user interface has always been their forte.

When it comes to phones, there’s no doubt that style and form win out over pure functionality or power. You only have to look at the best selling phone in 2005, the Motorola Razar. It’s usability was terrible (try downloading and adding a ring tone), but people loved it because it was slim and came in hot pink.

The reason is simple. Phones are also about identity. They are as much (if not more) of a statement about ourselves than the clothes we wear or the car we drive. And Apple and the iphone is a cool brand. So, maybe their competitors should spend less time on the technology and focus on becoming a cool brand.

Augmented Reality: the next big thing in mobile?

They’ve been talking about it for a while, but the first augmented reality apps are starting to appear.

The concept of augmented reality is this: you point your camera phone at something on the street, and an overlay pops up with more information. An obvious example would be a historical building, where the AR app would overlay useful information.

Its a clever use of location services, mobile camera, image recognition etc. The first app that I saw was an Android one for Amsterdam. The latest one to grab the imagination is an iphone app that shows you the nearest Tubes:

The potential from a mobile marketing point of view is massive. Point your camera at a shop and it will list the latest offers, or send you a voucher. Point it down the street and it will tell you the nearest bar, cafe, cinema, bus station etc.

As with all technology though, it remains to be seen whether users actually want it. Reality, afterall, is real enough. Why do we want it augmented?

The iphone: the next big thing in mobile marketing?

Right now, most advertising agencies that I speak to about mobile marketing have one interest: iphone apps. So is it the way forward for mobile marketing?

On the plus side, a well produced app can engage people and become a good piece of viral marketing. Last year’s big success was the ipint. The concept was simple (and borrowed from someone else), which as that your iphone became a pint of beer that you could ‘virtually’ drink. It was the kind of thing that everyone showed to their mates in the pub. So not only did the iphone owners get to play with it, but half a dozen of their friends also saw it.

The level of app downloads from the Apple appstore speaks for itself. And on the back of that many brands such as Nike to the BBC have produced some good apps for the phone.

But how much business does it generate? Is it really something that enhances a brand?

A few interesting facts about the iphone suggest that there is little to gain in marketing terms from creating an app.

In the UK there are around 1.5 million iphones. Quite a few, but there are double the number of Blackberry’s out there. And when you look at other manufacturers like Nokia, the iphone can be described as little more than niche.

An advertiser would say that the iphone represents and important group of opinion formers. That is true to some extent, but most of these are over 24 years old. After all the iphone is not cheap and is best used on a subscription.

More significantly figures from Comscore regarding iphone app usage revealed that 90% were used only one or never at all.

The other revealing figure from Comscore is that in Europe, over 70% of users are men. It would be a mistake for a women’s brand, such as a cosmetics company, to focus only on iphone apps, not to mention all those other products and services such as holidays or insurance where women often make decisions for a household.

So, the iphone app offers some fun branding opportunities, but as a long terms serious marketing medium I think its potential is limited.