Platform X: How cross-platform tools can end the OS wars

[Are cross-platform tools a better solution than HTML5 to the challenges of platform fragmentation? Guest author Jonas Lind reviews the landscape of cross-platform tools and argues that such tools may become as important as the native platforms themselves.]

VisionMobile blog: How cross-platform tools can end the platform wars

The Android vs. iOS vs. Windows Phone platform battle has been the talk of the industry for the last year. But the market share battle between handset platforms might not be as critical for the industry as many believe.

A popular view in the industry is that the market is inevitably moving towards an Apple-Google duopoly. Apple’s app store has more than 400,000 apps. Android is growing quickly from a base of more than 250,000 apps and is predicted to catch up with Apple later this year. Nearly 80 percent of all apps in app stores are controlled by these two market giants according to Distimo. Figures for Q1 2011 from Gartner show that the market share in the smartphone market for iOS and Android combined is 53 percent and rising.

But the duopoly may be challenged by the mobile web and cross-platform tools. HTML5 empowers all other platforms to offer apps through the browser. VisionMobile’s recent Developer Economics report shows that the mobile web (of which HTML5 is a subset) is already the third most popular platform in terms of developer mindshare after Android and iOS.

At the same time, HTML5 is overhyped and the belief that HTML5 will replace almost all native apps is in need of a reality check. Native apps will still offer richer functionality, better performance, and higher security compared to HTML5-based apps. A study by quirksmode.org has shown that every mobile WebKit implementation is slightly different, which could cause a problem for HTML5-based apps. In a recent whitepaper, Netbiscuits measured smartphone support for 18 features in HTML5 and showed that leading smartphones only offer partial (or no) support for a significant number of these features. Implementation is also fragmented. What works on iPhone will probably not work on RIM or Samsung handsets and vice versa. Or to quote Forrester’s take on the HTML5 vs. native debate: “The ‘Apps vs. Internet’ Debate Will Continue…to be irrelevant.”, “it’s not a question of ‘either/or’ when it comes to a choice between apps vs. the mobile Web, but both.”

The Landscape Of Cross-Platform Development Tools

The new types of cross-platform tools are more interesting than plain HTML5 because they can deliver higher performance and functionality than browser based HTML5. These tools produce apps as output and fall roughly into two categories:

1) Web apps/hybrid apps. These apps exploit the web engine (“web browser”) and are typically written in HTML/CSS/JavaScript.

2) Native apps. These apps are compiled into machine code and often written in C++ or similar languages.

Cross-platform tools are a nascent market with a flurry of startup activity over the last few years. The following diagram illustrates different trade-offs between complexity and performance in the cross-platform tools market.

VisionMobile - Cross-platform tools

Traditional websites: In the lower left corner is the traditional website, limited in performance but providing access to all platforms with no added complexity. Plain HTML5 could be included here once all browsers support the standard.

Web apps/hybrid apps: Adjacent in the diagram are HTML5 web apps that can be downloaded to the browser’s cache and run offline. They will offer better performance and only slightly higher complexity. One step up in the diagram is a market segment of cross-platform tools running simulated native. These tools deliver better performance but the complexity is also higher if the tool has to support multiple platforms. Here we find tools that produce web apps built on HTML5/CCS3 and JavaScript, with some added native elements, typically inside a native wrapper. These cross-platform tools often add native extensions that provide access to some low level native functionality. An example of a player in this market segment is PhoneGap, which is often used in tandem with the Sencha Touch framework. Other tools that run on top of PhoneGap are WorkLight and appMobi.

A closely related market segment is hybrid tools, where the HTML5/JavaScript input is translated into actual native source code. An example of a hybrid tool vendor is Appcelerator‘sTitanium.

Other types of solutions which fall under the main heading of web/hybrid apps are based on Java, Lua, ActionScript or less common languages. The diagram shows how the heavily-fragmented Java ME offers inferior performance in spite of high complexity. The cross-platform tools Corona SDK and DragonRAD are based on Lua. Rhodes is based on HTML/Ruby while OpenPlug uses ActionScript (Flash) as source language. Kony uses drag-n-drop for building enterprise web apps. There is no reliable information about the performance/complexity trade-off for most of these solutions, so their exact position in the diagram above should be viewed as illustrative. In general, tools in which the resulting code is compiled or recompiled to native ARM machine code will have a higher performance.

Native apps: The second main category is native apps. In cross-platform tools for native apps, developers often work with a codebase in C/C++ or C# which is then semi-automatically ported to the target platform and device. Performance is significantly higher with native code, but so is the complexity. Players in this sector include Airplay, Qt and MoSync. The Airplay SDK (now Marmalade) originates in 3D gaming but can also be used as a general C++ cross-platform tool. Qt is a cross-platform UI framework that also can be used for native C++ porting. Qt primarily supports Nokia’s legacy platforms. MoSync is a cross-platform tool for general purpose C++ development, integrated with the Eclipse IDE and also available under an open source (GPL) license.

Cross-Platform Beyond Java – Native Extensions

The traditional approach to cross-platform development has been a lowest common denominator one – much like that taken by Java, Flash Lite and mobile HTML. This approach sacrifices performance, UI pizzazz and access to specific device features.

A workaround is to add native extensions. These can provide additional SDK/NDK libraries for the IDE and also give access to low level hardware functionality. Access to low-level hardware functionality can be managed by a device database that controls which conditional code will be executed on a given device.

Several of the cross-platform vendors have built such device databases with various levels of detail. A device database contains information on screen size, input modality and exact OS version, extending to detailed hardware configurations and known bugs with workarounds.

Using native extensions, it is possible to overcome the inherent limitations that plagued Java. Instead of “write once, run everywhere”, developers can spend 90 percent of their time developing a common codebase and 10 percent adding native tweaks and extensions for each platform and device. For software purists, the 90/10 solution might not seem very elegant, but it is a way forward that can handle the incredible complexity with thousands of devices running more than five OS platforms. In this way, app developers can manage one codebase and port it to target devices without losing functionality. In principle, using a (C++) cross-platform engine with extensions should be able to offer similar functionality with minimal performance penalty as compared to direct development for the target device. There will be significant economies of scale when the common codebase is tweaked for 100s of devices.

The Disruptive Potential Of Cross-Platform

There are few signs that platform fragmentation will disappear. It’s not just Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7, which are backed by corporate giants with deep pockets, but also smaller players like QNX (RIM), WebOS (HP), MeeGo (Intel, China Mobile) and Bada (Samsung). Add to that legacy platforms, which will be around for at least a few years: Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS, Symbian, BREW, Java ME and Flash. If we also include the main desktop platforms (Windows, Mac OS, Ubuntu), gaming consoles, set-top boxes, cars, and other gadgets, the number of platforms becomes unmanageable.

App developers whose clients need to reach the entire market, face the formidable task of supporting all platforms and devices. If they can use a cross-platform engine the productivity gains will be dramatic compared to paying for separate in-house dev teams for each platform.

Early adopters of cross-platform will most likely be large consumer businesses who need to target the mass market such as media companies, games houses, entertainment companies, banks, and any brand developing B2C apps. Similarly, government agencies are often required to provide non-discriminatory access to their services and cross-platform tools will enable them to do just that. Another group of early adopters of cross-platform tools is CIOs of larger corporations. They face increasing demand from senior staff who want to use their favorite smartphone for secure access of internal company data. Once these early adopters have driven down the prices and sorted out stability issues we should expect to see a fast uptake of cross-platform tools in the mainstream app development market.

Assuming more developers move to cross-platform tools, the power distribution in the mobile sector will be challenged. The difference in the number of available apps between dominant and up-n-coming platforms will be reduced. This will allow smaller platforms to compete on a level playing field.

Web apps and HTML5 should make the largest dent in the market power of traditional platforms. But the final nail in the coffin will come when C++ cross-platform engines can offer almost the same performance and functionality as coding directly on the target platform. This is possible if the cross-platform engines can fully integrate native platform and device extensions. In that case, developers of native apps might reconsider Android, iOS and WP7 and choose to code to a cross-platform IDE, not to the platform. In this scenario, the cross-platform IDEs would become players of equal or even greater importance than the native platforms. At the very least, today’s OS platform wars will move to a totally different level.

Jonas Lind

[Jonas Lind has been working in the TMT sector since the late 1990s. Among other things, he has worked as an industry analyst for TeliaSonera HQ, with trend forecasting and scenarios in a project commissioned by Ericsson Research, as a strategy consultant during the dot com bubble and with femtocell concept development. He runs the blog Mobileforsight and is currently a strategy analyst at the seed stage VC fund STING Capital.]

Developer Economics 2011 – Why app stores are a one-way street

[Which are the top app distribution channels for developers? Which platforms offer the highest revenue potential? In this part 2 of our 3-part Developer Economics blog series, Marketing Manager Matos Kapetanakis looks at how app stores have effectively re-written the distribution landscape]

Developer Economics - Why app stores are a one-way street

App Store Boulevard

Since the launch of Apple’s App Store in 2008, developers found a market delivery channel that greatly reduced time-to-market and time-to-payment and provided a direct channel to consumers. The result: users started buying more and more smartphones, accessing app stores and downloading billions upon billions of apps.

Today, app stores have become the a one-way street for developers. Over 45% of the respondents in our Developer Economics 2011 report used an app store as their primary route to the market, climbing nearly 30% since last year. At the same time, we found that the use of other distribution channels (own portal/website, 3rd party aggregators, via customers, Telco portals) has greatly decreased since last year’s research.

Developer Economics 2011 - Top app distribution channels

The decline of traditional challenge comes as no big surprise; Telco portals, that once upon a time dominated content distribution in the US and Europe, have now lost their allure. “Downloads through operator portals are still less than one million per month on average per operator. Compare that to one billion per month downloads from the Apple App Store”, noted an executive at a mobile app development house who participated in our research.

But why do developers choose app stores over other distribution channels? Reach is by far the most important reason behind developers’ preference for app stores as a distribution channel. More than 50% of developers distributing through the Apple, Google, Nokia or BlackBerry app stores cite the ability to sell to more users as the primary reason for app store selection. (also, see individual app store ratings in the full report)

However, the use of app stores as a primary distribution platform varies greatly by platform. As we found in our research, the use of app stores is much more pronounced for platforms that have a native app store.

Developer Economics 2011 - top 2 app distribution channels vs platform

As some of you will be quick to point out, Windows Mobile/Phone developers use their own portal/site to an almost equal extent as their platform’s native app store.  We attribute that to three factors: First, as we discussed in the previous post, Microsoft has tapped into two developers segments (Xbox, Silverlight), which are new to mobile. Second, the Windows Phone Marketplace is rapidly growing, but still lagging behind in terms of app volumes. Third, distributing through the Windows Marketplace has only become mandatory with Windows Phone.

The app store duopoly

Despite the many opportunities in this accelerating app economy, not all app stores enjoy the same level of success. Out of the 70+ app stores currently out there, only a handful have managed to emerge as winners. Out of those, the Apple App and Android Market are in a league of their own.

Together, the Apple App Store and Android Market hold over 700 thousand apps, while their cumulative downloads are somewhere in the area of 20 billion. While other app stores have also enjoyed a level of success, this huge gap means we are in effect witnessing an app store duopoly.

Theoretically, the most reasonable approach for developers would be to distribute their apps via multiple app stores. However, in practice, the app store landscape is far more fragmented than one might think; each app store has its own developer sign-up process, app submission process, artwork and paperwork requirements, app certification and approval criteria, revenue model options, payment terms, taxation and settlement terms. This implies that the marginal cost of distributing an application through one more app store is significant, contrary to popular perception.

Plus, there are added entry costs to each platform, in the form of time and money spent. Some platforms have a steep learning curve (see full report for each platform’s learning curve), while others have expensive tools or poor documentation.

Looking at Android, we see that more and more independent app stores, like Andspot, AndAppStore, SlideME and Amazon, are competing with Android Market for user attention and developer app submission. The same also applies to operator and OEM app stores. There is simply too much app store fragmentation.

We believe that the app economy needs a single entry point for application submission (one per platform), along with a million distribution channels:

– one app submission process, i.e., a single website, single contract, single approval process, single billing & settlement and a single mix of business models per platform

– a million distribution channels, i.e., a million different channels through which to retail and sell apps to consumers with a variety of prices, promos, bundles, and regional access that help developers more effectively market their applications.

App revenues and monetisation

The single most important aspect of any business is monetisation. But, in this gold rush of apps, not everyone is making money.

Around 30% of our respondents make less than $1,000 USD per application in total, which means they’re actually losing money, considering it takes months to develop an app and that some platforms have expensive tools.

Which platforms have the largest revenue potential? Monetisation differs from platform to platform, with Symbian having the lowest revenue potential, as our research indicated. Taking Symbian as having a revenue index of 1, we can compare its revenue potential with other platforms. iOS topped the chart, making 3.3 times more money per app than Symbian developers followed by Java ME (2.7x) and BlackBerry (2.4x).

Developer Economics 2011 - Platform revenue index

Another interesting aspect is how the actual revenues compared to the expectations our respondents had. For example, while Java ME offers relatively high revenues per app, Java ME developers did not necessarily respond positively when we asked about their level of satisfaction with revenues (i.e. whether revenues were above or below their expectations).

Developer Economics 2011 - revenue expectations

The previous graph is quite telling. The good news? One in three developers see the level of revenues they expected. The bad news? On average, there are five times more developers who are dissatisfied with their mobile application revenues than there are satisfied developers.

To see the top revenue models, download the full report.

The big picture

What does it all mean? First and foremost, apps have irreversibly changed the way we discover, monetise and distribute content. Second, it’s not Android Market vs. the Apple App Store, but app stores as a whole that have become a one-way street for distributing apps, leaving Telcos, aggregators and OEMs in a diminished role as distribution channels. Third, monetisation may still be a pain point for a significant portion of the developer base, but at the same time 1,000s of companies are after commissioned iPhone or Android work and salaries are on the rise.

One last note: We have yet to see the potential of handsets as app retail outlets, but we believe that OEMs will soon be leveraging on their potential to bundle apps anywhere on the handset real estate and to any region. And, as we know, there’s a higher profit margin in real-estate than in the manufacturing business.

– Matos

For more Developer Economics updates, follow us on Twitter (@visionmobile).

…and for those of you who still haven’t done so, download a free copy of the Developer Economics report.

[Report] Developer Economics 2011 – Winners and losers in the platform race

[Who is leading in the platform race – and who’s lagging behind? Marketing Manager Matos Kapetanakis examines the flow of developer mindshare and discusses how success is measured in the app era – in part 1 of our 3-part blog series on our newly released Developer Economics 2011 report.]

Developer Economics 2011 – free download here – has been created by VisionMobile and sponsored by BlueVia.

VisionMobile - Developer Economics 2011 - Platform race

Developers driving innovation


The role of mobile developers has changed dramatically over the past three years, from a lowly position as back-room engineers to the much-sought-after engine that drives mobile software innovation. Never before have developers, from big development houses to aspiring students to garage entrepreneurs, had such an enormous impact in mobile industry innovation and dynamics.

Handset manufacturers, platform vendors and even network operators (or carriers to our American readers) are competing over who’s going to build the biggest developer community, as success today is measured in terms of thousands of apps and billions of downloads. Platform and OS vendors are the most active in this game, trying to steer developer mindshare towards their platform and create a new plateau of innovative services, as well as a whole ecosystem around them.

So, which platforms lead the race and which are lagging behind?

The platform race

In the platform race for developer mindshare, there are some clear winners. According to our research, the developer mindshare is firmly flowing towards Android and iOS, with 67% of developers currently using Android and 59% using iOS.

VisionMobile - Developer Economics - Developer Mindshare

These figures show a considerable increase since last year, with the two platforms climbing nearly 10%. In contrast, the ‘old guard’ comprised of Java and Symbian are leaking developer mindshare.

However, the most surprising finding is the adoption of mobile web, i.e. the platform for apps written in HTML or JavaScript, which claimed the 3rd spot in terms of developer mindshare, being used by over 55% of the developers. We do not attribute this to the ease of learning this platform (which has a deceptively steep learning curve, as you can see in the full report), but rather the influx of non-mobile developers to the industry. Also, mobile web is fast becoming the de-facto cross-platform choice for developers, especially now that Java and Flash are waning. In addition, there is a veritable host of HTML-to-native development tools that are helping HTML/JavaScript developers target smartphone native app markets.

More on Developer Mindshare in the full report.

It’s also worthwhile to take note of the Developer Intentshare, i.e. the platforms that developers are planning to use.

VisionMobile - Developer Economics 2011 - Intentshare

Android still reigns supreme, but the surprise comes in the form of Windows Phone, which is fast becoming a developer favourite. Despite lukewarm sales in 4Q10 and 1Q11, the newly revamped Microsoft platform has managed to gain the vote of developers.

This can be attributed to a number of reasons: First and foremost, Microsoft has actually released a competitive platform with a strong toolset. Also, the platform’s future seems bright, after the now-famous Finnish Deal. Finally, Microsoft has invested a lot of time (and money) into attracting developers, tapping into the Xbox and Silverlight developer communities to divert the flow of mindshare in their favour.

The inclusion of Chrome OS in the top 5 platforms in Intentshare is more a result of curiosity for Google’s dark horse platform – how will it stack up to other platforms? MeeGo also seems to be vibrant, which goes to show that strong developer communities go a long way in this software era.

In contrast, BlackBerry has lagged behind in Intentshare, suffering from fragmentation issues (see our full report for the surprising answer to which platforms are the most fragmented), as well as minor fixes to an aging platform.

Who’s lagging behind in the platform race? Symbian and Java have suffered the biggest losses in terms of developer mindshare. Nearly 40% of developers currently using Symbian and 35% of developers currently using Java ME are planning to abandon the platforms.

VisionMobile - Developer Economics 2011 - Abandon index

No surprises there, especially in the case of Symbian, which carries an expiration date, despite Nokia’s slow transition to the WP platform. Java’s loss of mindshare is less expected, especially considering the platform’s reach as global sales are still dominated by feature phones – but developers are not sticking around for that.

Palm’s platforms are also being rapidly abandoned by developers, since Palm is all but dead and HP has still to ship its first webOS handset.

What’s in a platform?

 

How do developers make that all-important decision of which platform to select? Well, according to our research, the biggest driver in platform adoption is large market penetration – a sentiment shared by 50% of our respondents, irrespective of the platform they spend most of their time on.

VisionMobile - Developer Economics 2011 - Platform adoption

But what exactly is market penetration? A platform’s installed base is an important aspect – i.e. just how many actual handsets can run a given app – but that is not all. Penetration is also measured in terms of a platform’s ability to reach users and that is also a factor of how and where that content is available. – a centralised distribution and discovery point, such as an app store, accessible by mobile devices, tablets and PCs goes a long way towards providing developers with a direct access to their customers.

Proving that there’s more to market penetration than a large installed base, we present the case of handsets sold vs. apps. There is a large discrepancy between the number of handsets sold and the number of apps available on a given platform.

VisionMobile - Developer Economics 2011 - Apps vs. sales

In an app economy with close to 1 billion [Update: million] apps, more than half of those are concentrated on two platforms: iOS and Android. It’s easily apparent from the graph that vastly more pervasive platforms in terms of total shipments, like S40 and Java claim just a fraction of the app pie. Granted, this is a smart-centric game, but even a pervasive smartphone platform like Symbian cannot much app to the two app moguls.

Do apps mean money? Not directly, but it’s no coincidence that 2011 marks the first time Apple overtakes Microsoft in terms of revenues and Android rushes past the finally burned-out Symbian platform in terms of shipments.

-Matos

Want more Developer Economics?

Follow us on Twitter (@visionmobile) for updates and stay tuned for part 2.

And for those of you who still haven’t done so, don’t forget to download the full report!

[Report] HTML5 and what it means for the mobile industry

[HTML5 has been tipped to be a game-changer, with some predictiving it will take over most mobile platforms. But what is its real impact to the mobile industry? VisionMobile Research Director Andreas Constantinou evaluates HTML5 vs apps and what it means for the mobile industry as part of our newly released report – free copy here]

VisionMobile- HTML5 and what it means for the mobile industry

Background: Web vs. apps

In today’s world of apps, the web seems to have taken a seat in the back row. But many industry observers are predicting a comeback with HTML5 advancements, the proliferation of smartphones and ubiquitous backing by both telcos and Internet players. Is the web as we know it about to change?

First things first: what is the web?

Firstly, the web is a language for creating interactive, navigable content, which consists of three main parts: HTML (the language used to define the static text and images), CSS (the language defining styling and presentational elements) and JavaScript (the language describing the interactions and animations).

Secondly, the web is a paradigm for open, unfettered access to content that is not controlled by any single entity. In the era where apps distribution is controlled by single vendors like Apple and Google, the web seems to challenge the status quo.

There are many ways in which web pages differ from mobile apps today, as shown in the next table.

Differences between apps and web

From web 1.0 to the mobile web

The web has gone through two major phases: Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

Web 1.0 was the era of the dumb terminals and static web pages. The first generation of the web assumed all intelligence was in the network; the device had to issue a simple request to fetch a page and then present it on the screen.

Web 2.0 was is the era of smarter terminals and interactive pages. This second generation was designed around the ‘read-write web’ where the user is not just a consumer but also an editor, curator and producer of content. Web 2.0 helped create today’s phenomena of Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and nano-publishing.

Despite starting off as an outsider to the web, the mobile industry has been rapidly catching up since the early WAP days. WebKit, the Apple-born browser engine is now the common ‘circuitry’ behind more than 500 million devices shipped to Q1 2011, by all major smartphone vendors. Opera, the mobile browser vendor, counts over 100 million monthly active users on its Mobile and Mini browsers.

In the manufacturer camp, smartphones are expected to reach well into sub-$100 retail price points in 2011. In the operator camp, content delivery optimization solutions from the likes of ByteMobile, Openwave, and Ortiva Wireless are being deployed across tier-1 operators, facilitating efficient use of the network while browsing the web.

Mobile industry initiatives such as the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) are pushing the envelope for web applications (also known as widgets) while EU-funded initiatives like webinos aim to use the web as a medium for deploying applications across mobile, PC, TV and automotive screens.

HTML5 as a technology change

The hype surrounding HTML5 has peaked in 2011. HTML5 promises to push the capabilities of web applications to the point of making web apps as engaging as Flash applications and as integrated with the device as mobile applications. HTML5 introduces several technology improvements in these domains by adding off-line storage, 2D graphics capabilities, video/audio streaming, geo-location, access to the phone’s camera and sensors, as well as user interface tools.

This next generation of web languages in the form of HTML5 is being standardized by the W3C and the WHAT working group who are driving forward web apps as equal citizens to mobile applications. The W3C consists of 51 member organizations, over 440 participants with strong backing from Google, Apple, Opera, IBM, Microsoft, and Mozilla. In parallel the WHAT working group is working closely with Mozilla, Opera and WebKit who are implementing and testing the latest browser features.

Yet HTML5 is still work in progress and even standards bodies show fragmented approaches to HTML5 completion. The W3C expects official completion of the HTML5 set of standards in 2014. In parallel, WHAT has taken a different approach to completion and is now working on ‘HTML’ as a continually evolving set of specifications.

Despite the adoption of the WebKit engine as a de-facto standard, HTML5 implementation on mobile devices is both fragmented and incomplete.

Independent studies by quirksmode.org and NetBiscuits have shown that every mobile WebKit implementation is slightly different. In addition, the leading smartphone platforms show inadequate HTML5 support; iOS, BlackBerry OS and Android devices show partial HTML5 support (at best 2 our of 3 HTML5 features supported), while Symbian and Windows Phone devices are lagging further behind.

Much like history has shown with the PC browser wars of the 1990’s and the Java ME fragmentation of the 2000’s, mobile browser fragmentation in 2010’s will be driven by the need to differentiate (’embrace and extend’), and the varying speeds among vendors in implementing the latest WebKit engine.

What about HTML5 app stores? Already a number of start-ups such as OpenAppMkt, Openspace and Zeewe have proposed app stores focused on web apps. The key advantages of HTML5 app stores are cross-device portability and a buy-once-use- everywhere application model.

Unfortunately, supply does not always imply demand; HTML5 app stores can’t deliver a business model change if demand is not there, for three reasons. Firstly, users care about availability of popular content (see Angry Birds, Skype and Facebook) most of which are not available as web apps often due to HTML technology limitations. Secondly, users care about choosing among hundreds of thousands of apps, which is currently a 2-horse race (Apple and Google) with the web lagging far behind in terms of number of apps. Thirdly, users are becoming loyal to their smartphone platform (Android, iOS or BlackBerry) where the native app store dominates.

How to compete in a software world

HTML5 introduces several technology innovations. However HTML5 remains a technology change that is not designed to solve discovery, distribution or monetisation problems – in other words it is not designed to change the business model.

What *will* be changing the business model of the web are the innovations introduced in the apps economy – where content is created with semantic tagging (description, category, user ratings, etc), discovered via web stores (much like app stores), distributed within walled gardens (much like Facebook), and monetised through micro-payments (much like apps). We call this web 3.0 – and we expand on its implications in the full research paper.

The question is: how can the mobile industry leverage on the web, and the native platforms that dominate the apps world?  The trick here is not to compete, but to leverage on the network effects of the Apple, Google and Microsoft platforms where handset OEMs or network operators can position themselves as a new generation of over-the-top players.

For example, operators can act as the matchmakers between developers and end-users by helping developers get the right apps in front of the right users through techniques such as featured placements, social- graph-based recommendations and segment targeting. Similarly, handset OEMs can act as on-device retailers, connecting the developers to the right audience, in the right region, through white space across the handset real-estate.

This is also where we believe WAC has the best chances of success but helping operators reposition as over-the-top players on top of the Android and Apple app stores – that is by helping developers reach out to users with ubiquitous billing, quality assurance, content curation, local content deals, privacy and security assurance, and help extend app stores away from the virtual and into the physical retail space.

In parallel, network operators and handset OEMs can help push the web into a viable alternative for native platforms in many ways. They can push the development of WebKit towards better bandwidth management, and closer integration with hardware multimedia acceleration. Moreover, the mobile industry can sponsor the development of better cross-platform developer tools that allow HTML and JavaScript developers to target multiple native platforms and mass-market browsers.

No matter how telecoms players decide to compete in the software world, they need to adopt ‘agile’ development methods and move at software speeds to catch-up the platform players in controlling the last mile to the consumer.

One thing is certain; the future of connected web and devices is going to surprise us – much like how applications turned telecoms economics upside down. Like Bill Gates once famously said “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”.

Web is going to be a game changer, but not in the way we expect it.

Read our full report for more.

– Andreas
you should follow me on Twitter: @andreascon