Nov 182009
 

Yesterday evening, I attended an MIT Enterprise Forum session on Marketing & Adoption Challenges, featuring presentations from the following:

  • Seth Priebatsch (CEO, SCVNGR). SCVNGR is a super cool, turnkey hyper-local mobile gaming platform with a high level of cross-device and OS portability.
  • Chuck Goldman (CEO, Apperian). Apperian is a Boston-based iPhone app development shop founded by former Apple execs.
  • Jaime Thompson (President, Pongr). Pongr is a service that connects users with brands when they snap a picture with their mobile camera and share with friends via social networks. Pongr’s differentiators include proprietary image recognition technology and cross-carrier MMS interoperability.
  • Jack Kelly (CEO, Adva Mobile). Adva Mobile is an app that enables music artists to engage fans on their mobile phones.

As you’d expect, during the panel discussion that ensued following the presentations, the challenge of discoverability was the most prominent theme. As folks in the industry well know, OS/platform fragmentation and incompatibility issues create a ceiling on viral sharing. Case in point – despite the aura and popularity of the iPhone, 93% of smartphone users don’t have one* and cannot download and use apps in the iTunes store. So while word of mouth can be potent, fueled by Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels, you cannot simply refer an app to all of your friends.

*Note: This figure excludes iPod Touch handsets

One obvious solution would be some standardization agreed upon by the device manufacturers (a la the Blu-ray for high definition DVD), but we all know that isn’t going to happen given Apple’s obsession with control and closed software environment. And therein lies an opportunity…for Google.

Thanks to a media blitz, largely funded by Verizon Wireless (it finally has a venerable contender to the iPhone), the Motorola Droid will be the impetus to take Google’s mobile platform, Android, mainstream. While Google’s open platform strategy is the antithesis to Apple’s, like Apple it promises seamless integration with its software and tools, including Gmail, Google docs and the Google chrome browser. The next logical question: what about Search?

Imagine you do a web search for “Flight Delays Kennedy Airport” (maybe the query should be “Flights not delayed to/from Kennedy”), wouldn’t it be useful if in addition to a list of notoriously problematic flights and current delays, there was a list of mobile apps that offer flight delay notifications? In this particular case, TripIt, WorldMate, FlightTrack, TripCase, TripChill, etc. might appear. As Chuck Goldman points out, Google would have access only to apps created for Android and not to those in iTunes or other “closed” app stores where the meta data associated with the downloads isn’t accessible. And Google, much like iPhone, will take time to penetrate the market and capture meaningful share. That said, unless Apple wants to cede this competitive advantage indefinitely, it is in its best interest to lift the walls around iTunes and allow web bots to crawl and index its pages.

What do you think? Will Google’s approach with Android be the catalyst to solve discoverability for mobile app pure plays? If so, is there any hope for virality? Please share any comments and ideas you have.

  • Jack Kelly

    Jon, nice summary of one of thec major topics of the evening. Since Google search doesn’t penetrate iPhone apps today, we’re certainly missing a significant result of search that we consumers should have.

    Another point of last evening was the insight Google now has into the iPhone world as a result of their acquisition of Admob and their database of in- app advertisement performance. They now know how best to approach in-app ads on Android phones, and combined with knowing your location, we can expect mobile search to be more robust than PC search.

  • http://www.jonmichaeli.com Jon Michaeli

    Thank you for your reply, Giovanni. The necessary figures to do the calculation are in the referenced article.

    2% of mobile phones (feature phones + smartphones) are iPhones (numerator)
    30% of mobile phones are smartphones (the relevant subset – denominator)

    .02 / .30 = .07 or 7% of smartphones are iPhones. Conversely, 93% are not.

    I believe these are based on worldwide shipments, where Nokia still has a dominating share, and as mentioned iTouch units aren’t included.

  • http://www.jonmichaeli.com Jon Michaeli

    Jack – Thank you for your comment. My goal in the post was to focus on the discoverability challenge, so I am glad someone chimed in with additional takeaways from the evening.

  • Giovanni Paoletti

    Jon, good article, but I have to question your statement that 93% of smartphone users do not have an iPhone. Can you please substantiate this figure?

    What I read from the referenced article is that 98% of all mobile handset (regular + smartphone devices) users do not have an iPhone

  • http://www.jonmichaeli.com Jon Michaeli

    Thanks for your comment.

    Discoverability includes an element of finding something that’s relevant and valuable to you that you were not necessarily looking for. I’m assuming there’s no argument app store searches pale in comparison to web searches, and if the goal is to increase the number of touchpoints so apps can reach the mainstream (mobile is the next frontier, right?), the proposed strategy would serve that goal. It’s a question of push vs. pull (i.e. Google can include apps in search results that are relevant but that the user didn’t expect or even know existed). I don’t know the statistics, but a high percentage of awareness occurs when consumers start in a different frame of mind (i.e. aren’t browsing for the product category in question), so the 90% who search for apps on their mobile device doesn’t capture the latent demand market.

    Sure SEO of app developer web pages can help, but to me it seems like an awful user experience to sift through pages of search results in order to find all apps relevant to a category, when those that meet the original search criteria could be listed automatically. This also seems to be in line with the vision for the semantic web and evolving search to meet that need.

  • PineappleApps

    I do not understand why people think discoverability is an issue? How many applications are launched that do not have web page support? These web pages provide the google to itunes connection and SEO of the support page obviously gets the application (just like any other product) better exposure.

    Do people use a web browser to find apps? I have read that more than 90% of Android and iPhone OS users browse and search for apps directly on their mobile device. Are they using a web browser or the search tab in the App Store application?

    If Google’s silver bullet is application listing within Google then I’m not sure Apple have anything to worry about.

  • http://twitter.com/AppMyWorld AppMyWorld.com

    We’re a little late to this thread but think our service could really answer the questions it poses.  We agree that search is a powerful tool that is currently underutilized in the app discoverability arena due to apps not being indexable.  Of course, as web apps rise in popularity this may change.

    However, at AppMyWorld (http://www.appmyworld.com) we think we have a solution that combines powerful search, professional critique and the iOS world.  Specifically we aggregate professional iPhone, iPad and Mac review scores from around the web into an AppScore and provide users with the tools to filter and sort the data.  This lets users find the best iPhone and iPad apps and games for any need they have based on critical reception.  It’s an approach that’s worked in other industries and we think works well in the app world.

    But what do other’s think?  Is this a viable approach?