How Soon Is Now For The Mobile Web?

This may be the year when the mobile web apps finally go mainstream. Or, at least, their hybrid cousins will.


Not because the technology will finally be ready. For most apps, it already is. Rather, the web will finally hit the big time with mobile apps precisely because we’ll talk about it less and use it more.

Time for HTML5
Oh, sure, there are good reasons for the mobile web to finally hit its stride. Sencha’s Nick Harlow offers five:

  1. High quality WebViews are now available on most platforms (and getting dramatically better thanks to Apple’s new WKWebView in iOS 8). While low-quality WebViews persist within the Android device base, on balance things are looking up;
  2. Broad platform support is only economically feasible using web tech;
  3. Web tech bridges the desktop-mobile divide;
  4. Using web tech helps to simplify application management and security; and
  5. Device fragmentation is accelerating. The web helps developers keep up

But before we herald the future of hybrid, it’s worth pointing out that some believe that future is already here. As EmberJS co-creator Tom Dale tells me, “”The dirty little secret of native [app] development is that huge swaths of the UIs we interact with every day are powered by web technologies under the hood.”

While Dale may be getting ahead of himself – [tweetable]the reality is that the web still has a long way to go to achieve mass-market app adoption[/tweetable], and maybe constitutes 10% of apps within the app stores – the trends do point toward more hybrid apps, especially among the enterprise set. VisionMobile’s own survey data shows that today 30% of developers are using some kind of cross-platform tool, of which 60% are using PhoneGap.

This is great, but it doesn’t obviate the need for the mobile web to get better to erase complaints about performance. And it will.

Getting better all the time
Summarizing the Google Chrome Developer Summit, Divshot CEO Michael Bleigh says, “Google is doing everything it can to get mobile web to 60fps, which gives you about 16ms per frame to do everything you need to do. It’s hard to even enumerate all the different ways they’re working on this.” Speed will bolster web app performance, perhaps eliminating the “jank” that many associate with web apps.

But it’s not just about accelerating the mobile web.

We also need to rethink how we approach mobile web apps, as Ionic (based on Google’s AngularJS) and React Native (from Facebook) do. While the latter is not “web technology,” strictly speaking, these frameworks are actively advancing the state of the art for web apps.

The result, as Mozilla (and longtime native app) developer James Long puts it, is impressive:

It only takes a few minutes playing with React Native to realize the potential it has. This works. It feels like I’m developing for the web. But I’m writing a real native app, and you seriously can’t tell the difference. At the UI level, there is no difference; these are all native UIViews beautifully sliding around like normal.

Indistinguishable from native performance… but with a far more accessible development platform. That’s powerful.

A question of competence
But let’s be clear: [tweetable]if your development team isn’t any good, it really doesn’t matter which development platform they choose[/tweetable]. A bad iOS programmer is going to lose every time to a good HTML5/web programmer, and vice versa.

Indeed, one of the primary problems with the web is that it so dramatically lowers the bar to development that virtually anyone with Javascript and CSS skills can build a mobile app.

A lame one, that is.

Mobile developer Nic Raboy nails this:

All my applications, native and hybrid, have mostly positive reviews and if you visit the apps on Google Play, you’ll see no reviews include mention about how the application was crafted. This is an important thing to notice because many haters will attack developers on the idea that hybrid applications do not perform or look as good as native applications. This is simply not true. Native or hybrid, if the developer or designer is no good, the application will suffer regardless.

So as fantastic as advancements like AngularJS and ReactJS will be for web app development, they’re not going to be enough if developers underinvest in learning them. There are already exceptional hybrid apps like Instagram that demonstrate what strong developers can do with the web. We just need more of them.

Or maybe what we need is better tools.

That’s one primary takeaway from VisionMobile’s “How Can HTML5 Compete With Native?” report. As report author Dimitris Michalakos concludes, “The question is no longer *whether* HTML5 can produce quality apps, but *how* easy it is to create quality web apps.” Given that “HTML5 is like driving a car without a dashboard,” the key is to deliver better dashboards, or tools, to make it easier to build great web apps.

This involves significant improvements to the debugging, profiling, and memory management tools available, but it’s also something the web frameworks can help with.

As such, it increasingly looks like a question of WHEN, not IF, mobile web apps will take off.

And the answer to that question is either “now”, if you’re paying attention to how developers actually build apps today, or soon, if you’re waiting for them to start talking about the fact that they’re building with the web.

Consumers outweigh the CIO in the Internet of Things

We continue with insights from our most recent publication, IoT Developer Megatrends – a short publication on the most important trends for the Internet of Things. In this post, we look at the potential of consumer and enterprise IoT markets. Enterprise IoT (industrial, large-scale applications) are currently the biggest market in terms of revenues, but will that remain so forever? Consumer applications like Wearables and Smart Home are hyped in tech media, but will that translate into a real business opportunity? History and data can provide some answers to these questions.


Flashback to 2007. “Five hundred dollars fully subsidized with a plan!” Steve Ballmer laughed as the journalist asked for his reaction to the iPhone launch. “That is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard. … Right now we’re selling millions and millions and millions of phones a year; Apple is selling zero phones a year. In six months, they’ll have the most expensive phone by far ever in the marketplace. … Let’s see how the competition goes.”

Who would buy an overpriced phone that doesn’t appeal to business customers, indeed! From a latecomer to the market with no experience in mobile telephony, nonetheless. Except for one small detail.

The demand for expensive iPhones (and later for Android) did not come from business users who wanted faster-better-cheaper. It came from consumers craving the millions of apps available on these devices. Not only was Windows Mobile overtaken by iPhone and Android, but these new products ultimately undermined the enterprise market that Microsoft and Blackberry owned. In 2014, iOS and Android accounted for 97% of new mobile device activations in enterprises, while the latter two were obliviated.

The new normal: consumers first

As it happens, the pattern we saw in smartphones is not the exception, but the rule for most recent computing technologies – Software-as-a-Service, social media, and even PCs. Likewise, IoT will find large-scale adoption in consumer markets first. After that, consumer technology will proceed to displace its supposedly superior enterprise equivalent. This might surprise you, as enterprise solutions comprise the bulk of the IoT market today.

Isn’t all the money in large enterprise projects then? [tweetable]Unlike in days past, the technology underlying the IoT is relatively cheap and ubiquitous[/tweetable]. It doesn’t require large government or enterprise budgets to fund so it is accessible to experiment and iterate with. Just like with mobile apps, innovators can take existing technology into countless needs and niches, most of them unimaginable today. (As opposed to inventing new technology to realize an existing vision.) The enterprise market caters to straight-forward, well-understood business needs and grows at a moderate pace. Meanwhile, for consumers without long procurement cycles, the plethora of use cases unlocks new demand – things we didn’t realize we needed – which grows the market at incredible speed. Finally, enterprise technology is overtaken: if I can have this fantastic, cheap, powerful consumer technology at home, why am I stuck with old, clunky tools at work?

It should come as no surprise then, that [tweetable]the most popular verticals in which IoT developers are active are the Smart Home and Wearables[/tweetable]: distinctly consumer-oriented sectors. The other verticals have a B2B orientation, requiring developers to sell their work to enterprises or partner with big companies to get their products to consumer markets. As a result, they are much less attractive to developers, and innovation will be slower there. The Connected Car market offers us an interesting view in what happens when a sector “consumerizes”. Up until now, developing car apps required partnering with car makers. Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto enable – for the first time – a direct-to-consumer model for developers. Immediately we see an uptick in developer interest.


Market reset

IoT is a greenfield market. When new use cases lead to new demand, this new demand is fair game for everyone. The rules of the current market will not apply. New players can appear out of nowhere and overtake incumbents (as Apple and Google did in mobile). New business models can emerge, some of which disruptive to incumbents. Some newcomers might give for free (or at zero profit) what incumbents sell, in a model that boosts demand for their core product. History shows that it will be nigh impossible for incumbents to react effectively.

[tweetable]We predict that by 2020, new players with new business models will dominate IoT[/tweetable]. Most incumbents will be bankrupt, acquired or uncompetitive.

Where to find the next mobile gold mine?

In our latest Developer Economics report, we discussed the rise of e-commerce as the most lucrative of revenue models, expected to account for 2.5 times as much revenue as the rest of the app economy put together in 2015.


Using the ‘Key Developer Metrics’ dashboard on DataBoard, our new, interactive dashboard service, we found that developers in the mature markets of North America and Western Europe had a weaker preference towards e-commerce as compared to the developing markets. Underlying reasons include high fixed line broadband and desktop PC penetration in North America and Western Europe, coupled with the maturity of the local e-commerce markets. Consumers are more likely to stick with their established desktop-commerce habits, while strong motivations would be needed to divert usage from web to mobile.

At the other end, developing markets leapfrogged directly to mobile, skipping the web-only maturity phase that North America and Europe underwent. In Asian markets, mobile-commerce is in many cases perceived as the only alternative to offline shopping and is therefore picking pace rapidly. In India alone, m-commerce went up from about 10% to 50% of online transactions during the last 12 months and is expected to reach 70% in 2015. This poses a significant opportunity for m-commerce apps, especially in the markets where there is weak competition from established brands.

App developers prioritizing the Mobile Browser (16%) have significantly higher adoption of e-commerce than iOS and Android. This is explained by the ease of porting an existing web e-commerce app to mobile and leveraging the popularity of existing e-commerce apps.


On the other hand, [tweetable]iOS and Android, have a similar level of e-commerce adoption (11%)[/tweetable], though for different reasons. The former because of the established spending patterns of their consumers, and the latter because of the wider reach to consumers, prevailing in the regions where e-commerce is growing fastest.
Native apps in this case are not expected to replace web apps, but rather co-exist to address a different need: One-off buyers are unlikely to download an app and are better attracted to the service through mobile web. Once loyalty builds up, it makes sense to move into using a native app in order to take advantage of the better browsing experience and lower friction in transactions that native apps have to offer.

By using further the DataBoard filters we compared revenue generation between developers who use e-commerce vs. those using other business models per primary platform. Our data on 8,000+ developers indicates that adopting e-commerce makes sense across all platforms, as it increases significantly the chances of $5,000+ monthly app revenues (29%) as compared to all other revenue models (19%).


iOS developers building e-commerce apps stand a better chance (+6%) of earning above $5,000 per app per month as compared to their peers who use other business models. For Android developers, the opportunity is far more profound as e-commerce may prove to be the answer to their monetisation problems: The chances of making $5,000 in monthly app revenues are substantially higher for Android developers who build e-commerce apps (27%) than those who don’t (17%). Leveraging Android reach to sell something other than apps, or, in other words using Android apps as a channel, is an excellent opportunity for Android developers who are after app revenues and find it hard to monetise their apps using ‘mainstream’ business models.

The next logical question to ask would be on the profile of the app businesses who are successful in e-commerce. Posed differently, what is the recipe for success in e-commerce? Using our DataBoard service you can find out and plan your future strategy on e-commerce.. You can access packages including DataBoard services here.


The currency of the Internet of Things is data

In last week’s blog post, we said that IoT is breaking free from Internet and Things. That is, Internet of Things is not about how to add a service to my product, but about turning the information generated by all those sensors, devices, things and services into knowledge about the environment and meaningful action. [tweetable]Making sense of data is the core value driver in the Internet of Things[/tweetable]. Let’s explore this idea a bit further. We continue with insights from our most recent publication, IoT Developer Megatrends – a short publication on the most important trends for IoT.


Adding connectivity and services to existing products and machines often leads to a “one device, one app” situation. This proliferation of apps quickly becomes unwieldy to manage. A basic improvement would be to combine multiple devices into one user experience. Most of the emerging Smart Home solutions (e.g. Ninja Sphere, ImperiHome) focus on the ability to control all your devices from one place.

But why stop there? Services that create knowledge and drive meaningful action by mashing up multiple data sources are on the rise. Not all those sources have to be sensors or devices.

A good example is the Nest Learning Thermostat. To intelligently adjust the temperature in your house, the thermostat uses a lot more info than just the current temperature. It detects your presence with sensors. It talks to other appliances from Nest itself (smoke detectors), Whirlpool (washers), August (locks), Automatic (car adapters), Hue (lights) and others. Nest even works together with electricity companies who pay users to automatically turn down cooling during peak times on the electricity grid. The possibilities to make Nest smarter by pulling in more outside data are endless.

Other good examples are health & fitness platforms like Apple HealthKit or Google Fit. They pull together data from all your wearables, smart scales, apps and more into a full picture of you. That data could also be shared with medical professionals – the birth of a new type of medicine?

It’s easy to see that using more sources of information creates more opportunities for innovation than just connecting a single device, or even than listing multiple devices in a single service. By combining devices in one service, you add up their functionalities. By mashing up data, you multiply possibilities.

However, combining data from different sources presents some tough engineering problems. It comes as no surprise to see the rise of data-centric platforms and tools that help developers to pull together and mash up information. Examples include Samsung’s SmartThings and Apple’s HomeKit in the Smart Home; Dash and Mojio in the car; Validic and Jawbone’s UP platform in health.

A single platform for the Internet of Things?

The insight that mashing up data provides more opportunities for innovation will help us to answer another question that’s on many people’s mind. [tweetable]The Internet of Things is not one market, but a collection of many diverse verticals[/tweetable]: from Smart Home and Wearables to Smart Cities and Industrial IoT. Will a single platform cater to all these verticals, or will sector-specific platforms win out?

At this moment, both types of platform exist. In our IoT Developer and Platform Landscape 2015 report, we list 50+ vertical platforms and a similar amount of general purpose ones. In these early days of the Internet of Things, vertical platforms probably have the advantage: it’s easier for them to create beachhead markets in specific verticals from which to expand. But will this focus hurt them in the long term?

If combining more sources of information leads to more opportunities, then limiting platforms to a single vertical is an unhelpful constraint, not a useful focus. If your car pings your thermostat when you’re about to leave from work, is that a Smart Car scenario, or a Smart Home scenario? Both, and neither. It’s a Smart Life scenario.

At some point, [tweetable]IoT platforms will have to cross vertical boundaries to reach their full potential[/tweetable]. Already, key players like Google, Apple and Samsung are active in all key verticals concurrently. We predict that the top IoT platforms in 2020 will be cross-vertical. Sector-specific platforms will be niche or in decline.