The utter simplicity of the iOS home screen is Apple’s innovation. It’s the simplest, most obvious “system” ever designed. It is a false and foolish but widespread misconception that “innovation” goes only in the direction of additional complexity.
"Designed" being the important word in that quote. Because we aren't done designing user interfaces. I think we are just getting started.
This piece in Wired got my head nodding because I am experiencing it every day on my Android phone. I find myself typing less and less on Android because the voice recognition is so damn good. And the type ahead prompts are like reading my mind. Instead of typing, I find myself selecting the next word more often than not.
Machine learning is the key innovation here. And in that area Google is so far ahead of every big company (and most small companies) that it is hard to imagine how they are not going to out innovate on the emerging user interfaces of our mobile future (glasses, watches, etc, etc).
In the environment we are in today, I see the mobile OS as the foundational app and I see the third party apps as features in that OS. This view comes from Tim O'Reilly's Internet Operating System construct adapted to the mobile environment. In effect, the mobile OS has assumed the role that the browser plays in the desktop web.
The cool thing about the Internet OS with web apps as features is that the features are interoperable. I post a picture to Instagram and push it to Twitter and it comes through as a picture (or it did until the kids started fighting). I find something I want to buy on Etsy and I check out on Paypal. You get the idea. Web apps pass data and users back and forth easily.
That is not true on mobile today. Even on Android where sharing is baked into the OS. It is a lot worse on iOS. But its bad all over the place.
If you post an Etsy item to Facebook and I want to buy it, I click on the link in Facrbook mobile and am taken to Etsy's mobile web app where I am not logged in and its a pain to buy. I want to go app to app to Etsy's mobile app where I am logged in and its one click to buy.
This morning I was at the gym listening to the Django Unchained Soundtrack on my phone in the SoundCloud android app. I decided I wanted to make Trinity my song of the day on Tumblr. I hit the share icon, up came a list of apps, I selected Tumblr, and I was taken to the Tumblr app but as a link share. I wanted an audio share.
Maybe all of this app to app handshaking will be solved one by one by the third party apps. I already have an email out to SoundCloud and Tumblr to let them know about that last thing.
But a better approach would be for the mobile OS vendors to build really great data and user handshaking into the OS so third party developers can implement it without having to talk to each other each time they want their apps to work together intelligently.
We have two options. We can make the app centric mobile environment work more like the web or we can make the mobile web more like apps. I suspect we will do both. As a user I can't wait for both to happen.
I wrote the Mobile First Web Second blog post a few years ago. In that post, I talked about apps that were designed to be used on mobile primarily with the web as a companion.
There have been a number of startups that have taken that approach and done well with it. Most notably Instagram, and also our portfolio company Foursquare. It has become a bit of a orthodoxy among the consumer social startup crowd to do mobile first and web second.
All in all, mobile service apps turn out to be a horrible place to close viral loops and win at the retention game. Only a handful of apps have succeeded mobile-first: Instagram, Tango, Shazam, maybe 2 or 3 others.
You have an entirely different onboarding story on the web. You can test easily, cheaply, and fast enough to make a difference on the web. You can fix a critical bug that crashes your app on load 15 minutes after discovery (See Circa). You can show 10 different landing pages and decide in real-time which one is working the best for a particular user. You can also close a viral loop: A user can click an email and immediately be using your app with you. You can’t put parameters on a download link and people don’t download apps from their computer to their phone. Without the barrier of a download + opening the app to try your product, you can prove value to the user immediately upon their first impression, as is with Google. In addition, the experience of signing up for a service is superior in every way. Typing is easier. Sign-up with OAuth is faster. Tab to the next field. Provide marketing alongside sign-up as encouragement. Auto-fill information is a feature in every browser. The open eco-system of the web and 20 years of innovation has solved many of the most difficult parts of onboarding. With mobile, that kind of innovation is lagging significantly behind because we create apps at the leisure of two companies, neither of which have a great incentive to help free app makers succeed.
I use my phone more than anything else. I just don’t think that an entrepreneur who wants a real shot at success should start their business there. The Android and iOS platform set us up to fail by attracting us with the veneer of users, but in reality you are going to fight harder for them than is worthwhile to your business. You certainly need a mobile app to serve your customers and compete, but it should only be part of your strategy and not the whole thing.
Vibhu also takes a stance against the ad-supported, privacy challenged, free consumer app world. I respect that stance and every time I upgrade from a free ad supported app to a premium version (advertising free) via the in app upgrade on mobile, I express my solidarity with him on that one. But as a business person, I have and will continue to advocate for a free tier with a premium upgrade (or just entirely free) because as I have written many times on this blog, I think that is the value maximizing approach and it also allows the greatest number of users to access your product or service.
But I don't want to focus on business model in this post. We are at the start of what will be a long MBA Mondays series on business models and will be talking a lot about that.
distribution is much harder on mobile than web and we see a lot of mobile first startups getting stuck in the transition from successful product to large user base. strong product market fit is no longer enough to get to a large user base. you need to master the "download app, use app, keep using app, put it on your home screen" flow and that is a hard one to master
But just because something is hard doesn't mean you shouldn't try to do it. I am convinced the next set of large and valuable consumer facing services will be built with mobile as the primary user interface. You can see it in the success of Uber and Etsy this holiday season. That's where you users are most of the time. And if you don't design your products and services for what is rapidly becoming the dominant UI, you will not maximize the success of your business in the long run.
So do I disagree with Vibhu? Not at all. I think he makes some great points on why you might not want to go mobile only unless you are in the games business. But I differ in two important areas. First, I think you can't abandon mobile. It is the future like it or not. And second, I think it is critical to design for mobile first and then build a web companion. If you design for the web and then port to mobile, you will find that it is really hard to fit your UI onto the small screen. Better to design for mobile first and then build a web companion. Mobile first, web second. But as Vibhu points out, the web can't and should not be ignored. It is valuable in many many ways.
Android is fragmented and geting more so. This is a challenge for those that develop on it for sure and has been often cited as a big negative for the Android ecosystem. But it also a big plus.
I have a Kindle Fire on my bedstand. I use it primarily to read on in bed having moved to a Nexus 7 as my primary tablet device. The Kindle Fire uses Android as its OS and then puts a Kindle shell on top which makes it look and feel like something other than an Android. But almost every app that I have on my Nexus 7 is also on my Kindle Fire. The reality is that if you build for Android, you are also building for Kindle Fire.
When Amazon launches a phone, it would be my expectation that the experience will be a lot like Kindle Fire. Meaning it will be running Android with a Amazon designed shell on top.
And then there is Facebook. I have to believe that Facebook will build a phone in the same way. Start with Android and then put its own wrapper and apps on top. If that happens, I would imagine I would be able to run all my favorite Android apps on the Facebook phone.
So imagine a world in which three of the top four consumer tech companies have phones running Android. Does that sound like a fragmented world for Android? Yes. Does that sound like a recipe for having a massive number of Android devices out there to build to? Yes.
In my view, we are in a two OS world for mobile and I think we are going to stay there. I think Apple will own the high end with the best and most integrated experience. And I think Android and its many variants will own the rest of the market. I think everyone else is playing for crumbs in terms of market share and would be better off joining the Android variant parade.
What does this mean for developers? It means build for iOS and Android and ignore everything else. And I think it increasingly means you have to be on both iOS and Android as soon as you can. I have advocated for building for Android first and iOS second. I think that strategy will start making more and more sense for apps that aren't looking to be paid.
Fragmentation cuts both ways. It's bad and it's good. Long term, I think it is a big plus for Android.
Twenty years into the personal technology revolution and we are still using address books that work pretty much like physical address books. It makes no sense. The mobile address book should be hyperconnected to our digital life, informed by it, and responsive to it.
I remember back in early 2011, Steve Greenwood walked into our old offices on the 14th floor and told us that he intended to build that hyperconnected mobile address book. He showed us a spreadsheet he had been personally using for the past five or so years to manage all of his relationships. I had never seen anything like it. He was obsessed with relationships and managing them. That's what we are always looking for, someone who just can't sleep because they want to fix something that isn't working in their world and have been trying for a long time to fix it.
Steve had built a prototype that ran on the web and the vision was all there. An address book that knows what you are doing, where you are, who you are most engaged with at any time, and is search and context driven as opposed to a directory of names and addresses.
But Steve knew that he had to launch this as a mobile app that will eventually replace your current address book and he knew he had a lot of hard technical problems to solve in order to do it right and do it at scale. So he asked us for the seed capital to build a team and build that product. We said yes.
Here's how Brewster works. You download the app. You connect it to google apps, facebook, twitter, foursquare, linkedin, and soon a bunch more services. Brewster builds you a new address book that runs on your phone and also in the cloud.
This new address book is smart because it knows a lot more things about your relationships than you have ever entered into your address book and it is adapting in real-time to all of this data. It knows who you probably want to talk to right now and it also knows who you are losing touch with and displays all of this data in a feed. Your Brewster address book is also de-duped and hot linked to all the social activities you want to do from calling, texting, facebooking, or whatever.
This is an address book that can handle a search query like "knicks game" or "sushi tonight" or "band of horses concert". We are always querying our brain with questions like that. Now we can ask our address books those kinds of questions.
I have really enjoyed being involved with this project over the past year. It fits neatly into many themes I have been writing about and thinking about for years. But mostly I am excited to finally see this product out in the market where folks can use it and experience Steve's vision of how an address book should work in the mobile social world we live in.
Sometimes an app can be a feature that is missing from the OS, or a feature that isn't well implemented in the OS. Flashlight apps are a great example.
Another example are apps that track mobile data usage. If you have unlimited mobile data, you might not care how much mobile data you are using. That's my behavior when I am at home.
But when I travel, I am either using a prepaid mobile data card (which is what I am doing now – 1GB for 48 krone/$8US), or using a mobile roaming package from my US carrier (my wife and kids are on a 800MB roaming plan from ATT Mobile).
In either case, it is critical to know how much mobile data you are consuming, per day, per week, per trip, and per plan term.
My favorite app to do this is called My Data Manager and it is free and available for iOS and for Android.
My Data Manager has three tabs to show you how much data you are consuming on your carriers's mobile data network, how much data you are consuming by roaming on other networks, and how much data your are consuming on wifi. It also shows you what apps are consuming the most data for each tab.
You can set up your mobile plans in the app so you can see how you are doing for the current plan term.
I have been in europe since Monday morning (four days now) and I have consumed 128MB on my prepaid 1GB danish sim and I have consumed 155MB on wifi. I haven't had to roam since I have a local data sim. My wife and kids have similar data usage except that they are all roaming on other data networks and are well within their 800MB cap.
If you have a cap on your mobile data usage or if you are roaming on other data networks, I highly recommend getting My Data Manager to keep track. Mobile data is expensive when you go off plan or above plan. Keeping track gives you peace of mind and that's a valuable thing.
It's feature friday and today I want to talk about our portfolio company Foursquare, which put out a completely redone app this week on iOS and Android. Blackberry is coming shortly.
I've got a few simple frameworks for thinking about things. In social media, one of my main ones is the tenet that 1% of the users will create content, 10% will curate it, and the rest will consume it.
Foursquare has, for most of its life, focused on the 1% who want to checkin to places and share those chekins and related data like tips and to dos, with their friends. They have close to 10mm people who do that actively. That's a lot if you think about it in the context of the 1% rule.
About six months ago, Foursquare launched explore which was a consumption experience. Users who don't want to checkin can get value by exploring cities using the data created by the 1% who are checking in.
But what about the 10%? How do users curate Foursquare without checking in?
Enter the like button. It seems so trivial. It seems like every social app I use has a like button. But in the past 24 hours, I have gotten something like a dozen likes on the four or five checkins I have done since the new app launched. That's new meta data that is being created on my checkins by other people. It's a way for people who will use the app largely for consumption to create important data signals without having to checkin.
Sometimes it is the littlest things that are the biggest things. In the new Foursquare app, which is really really good, I think it is the like button that will be the biggest game changer.
Fred Wilson, Roelof Botha, Marissa Mayer, Mike Arrington, Chris Dixon, Eric Eldon and Chi-Hua Chien
The choice of the winner and the runner up was almost unanimous except for a lone nutjob who liked a different one.
My favorite was Open Garden. By a long shot. Because what they are doing is the most worthy of the conference name, Disrupt.
Open Garden is a free app for windows, mac, android, and soon iOS. What is does is connect all of your data services on your various devices (and your friends and family's devices) into a single network that all of the devices can access at the same time.
It allows you to create your own mesh network and provision it to the people you want on it.
This is a big idea. And I don't know if they have nailed it. I have just downloaded Open Garden onto my macbook air and my android phone. I will let you know how it goes.
If you want to watch their initial pitch (not the pitch we got yesterday afternoon, I have embedded it below).
It's friday, time to talk about something fun. Today I thought I'd talk about mobile games.
I've never been much of a gamer. I reached adulthood just before videogames went mainstream. But I have found the "quick hit" aspect of mobile games to be a good way to add some fun to the day and connect with a friend or family member.
I played our portfolio company Zynga's Words With Friends with my daughter late last year. And I've started playing OMGPOP's Draw Something with a few friends in the past week.
Our portfolio company Flurry is the leading provider of mobile analytics. They have analytics installed in over 140,000 mobile apps running worldwide. Through this global reach, they have a lot of data on how many iOS and Android devices are in operation throughout the world.
These are the numbers of future potential users of mobile apps worldwide based on total market size, ability to afford smartphones, and the current penetration of each market.
Beyond the US, mobile developers should focus on the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) plus Japan and then western europe.
And if you believe that mobile will be the dominant platform for all web/internet activity going forward (as Marc Andreessen hints at in this interview), then web developers may want to focus on these markets as well.