Netscape’s dreams are finally becoming reality

Back in the 1990’s, during the first great browser war, we were assured that our web browser would soon be the only platform we would need. Applications would dynamically download and the single-click hyperlink would simplify interfacing to the point where computing was accessible to the masses.

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Sadly, and despite waterfalls of VC cash splashing around at the time, that didn’t happen, but twenty years later at least part of the dream is becoming true.

At VisionMobile we’ve been looking at Desktop developers, taking data from our biannual Developer Economics survey which reached more than 13,000 developers across 140 countries. When we look at that data we can see that the never-humble web browser is now the most-popular platform amongst desktop developers, and those who aren’t developing for it are distributing their apps through it.

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Windows Classic (versions prior to Windows 8) still makes a strong showing, but with the sole exception of Eastern Europe the most-important platform for desktop developers is now the web browser.

Many of the original arguments in favour of web-based applications are still valid: Inherent support for cross-platform applications, fast development using WISIWYG paradigms, and a runtime environment that can execute code which make a finite number of monkeys blush, while the many of the limitations have passed into oblivion.

Back in the day Apple users were still happy with a single click and the long-hold, but the rest of us could manage to use two fingers. But that didn’t stop Microsoft wholeheartedly embracing the hyperlink-as-an-interface with Windows Active Desktop, in 1997. The new paradigm replaced the Windows desktop with a web page, complete with hyperlinks, embedded content, and security holes big enough for an Australian road train. Anyone who had used Windows before ended up running applications twice (double click is a hard habit to kick) while everyone else wondered why the icons were all underlined (hyperlinks were always underlined in the 90’s), and Microsoft shelved the idea with the launch of Windows Vista.

But shelving doesn’t mean giving up, and web interfaces have come on a very long way since then. Drag ‘n drop, right clicking, accessible hardware, and application persistence, have made the browser into a workable user interface, which is why [tweetable]65% of the global desktop developer community is targeting the browser as a platform[/tweetable] in which to run their applications.

Google is rebuilding the browser-as-a-platform with ChromeOS, though its recent announcements regarding the use of Android on laptops (notably the Pixel C) throws some doubt on the company’s commitment to the Netscape dream.

Even developers who aren’t creating browser-apps are dependent on the browser to get their native apps distributed. Our figures show that the majority of applications are being distributed that way even if they are executed locally. Both Apple and Microsoft are trying hard to get desktop developers to embrace the app-store concept, exchanging the freedom of channel for the security of a curated store, but with limited success. Even in games; the most-popular category, only 25% are sent out through an app store compared to the 29% which are delivered through the web browser.

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App stores are very nice things to have. Secure distribution of applications reduces the quantity of malware enormously, and the tighter the platform is locked down the less malware there is, but app stores also assure clean uninstallations and provide a central location for peer reviews to quickly identify errant (or worthless) applications.

That’s one reason why Microsoft and Apple are working so hard to promote them, but it is not the only one. Quite apart from the revenue stream (30% of every transaction sure adds up) there is the matter of control and communications – Apple controls the applications available for iOS devices, while Google exerts less (but still significant) control over Android, but those companies also maintain a relationship with the end user which disintermediates the network operator, the device manufacturer, and anyone else in between.

In 2007 Vodafone’s CEO, Arun Sarin, summed up the operators’ position, which was largely built upon hubris:

“The simple fact that we have the customer and billing relationship is a hugely powerful thing that nobody can take away from us … Whoever comes into the marketplace is going to have to work through us”

Application stores replace that billing relationship, undermining the operators’ relationship with the customer and opening the way for more premium services (video, music, etc) to be sourced from the platform owner with the minimum of friction.

Right now the browser is the preferred runtime platform, and the preferred distribution mechanism for desktop developers, just as Netscape envisioned it 20 years ago. That’s where we are today, but it would be a brave man who’d state that the age of the browser has arrived – developers might like it, and users have grown comfortable with the extended feature set it offers, but [tweetable]the web browser might not be serving the corporate interests which are (after all) paying for it all[/tweetable].

If you’d like to see more about what Cloud and Desktop Developers are doing then take a look at our Landscape report in the subject.

Best Practices for a successful IoT Developer Program

Events and training programs are a main component in many developer programs for IoT – but just how effective are they?

This infographic sheds some light into the effectiveness of training and events, based on our Best Practices for IoT Developer Programs report.

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The RoI of developer events

Developers deeply value the community they belong to. With this in mind, real-life events are surely the ultimate, high-touch way to get together. Or are they? Our new report uses data from 3,150+ IoT developers to shed light on the matter.

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[tweetable]Developers deeply value the community they belong to[/tweetable], and use community resources including open source communities and Q&A sites (such as StackOverflow) every day to find information, stay up to date, and get professional support from their peers on the tools, platforms, and APIs they use.

This is one of the clear conclusions of VisionMobile’s new report on Best Practices for IoT Developer Programs, which explores what IoT developers value most in a developer support program. For this report we surveyed 3,150+ IoT developers from 140+ countries in our 9th edition Developer Economics survey – the largest research to date on IoT developers.

If developers value the sense of community so much, then real-life events are surely the ultimate, high-touch way to get together. In our experience events are often the focal points of developer programs – and a big budget-eater! It’s worth looking closely at which developers attend the different types of events, and which don’t.

In general, events like conferences, seminars, workshops, Meetups, and hackathons are a mid-range source of information for developers. Between 10% and 30% of developers attend them, depending on the type of event and the developer segment. Workshops and conferences are the most popular, each a source of information for 22% of developers, followed by Meetups (18%) and hackathons (16%). In other words, [tweetable]you reach only about a fifth of the developer population with events[/tweetable]. The expectations towards developer programs to organise events are even lower: only 8% of IoT developers consider events to be a key feature of the support program.

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It is a good practice to tune the events you organise or support to your specific developer audience. For example, developers working on Data Mashups value the formal knowledge transfer offered by seminars, trainings, and workshops (+10 percentage points relative to other developers), and to a lesser extent conferences (+4 pp). In contrast, device makers value the opportunity for playful exploration offered by hackathons (+5 pp).

Similarly events are, by and large, an enterprise affair. Developers working in large organisations are significantly more likely to attend events of any kind. This includes hackathons, which are often considerably less formal events than conferences or seminars.

Events have limited reach and are certainly not the activity with the highest ROI in a developer program. They should be considered carefully before including them in the program mix. This said, they can be a valuable addition when they are centered around PR and networking, i.e. community building, and optimized for the right audience.

In the full report, we look in detail at what Internet of Things developers need and expect from your program, beyond the obvious activity of organising developer events. We show how Internet of Things developers can be an important ingredient in your business model, but also how competition for their attention is fierce. We discuss the best practices in supporting your developer constituency by fiercely attacking friction points and by fostering community. We also discuss how developers prefer to get educated in your technology, what role money and commercial opportunities play, and how you can reach out to developers in an effective way. Our data from 3,150+ developers lays out a roadmap for the creation of a solid developer program, in tune with developer needs. Get it here.

Look Ma, no apps, just messages

The fact Donald Rumsfeld is now in the app business is not the only reason to believe that mobile apps have reached a plateau.

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The mobile app industry, it seems, is settling down: Android and iOS have formed an entrenched duopoly, the same few familiar publisher names dominate app store rankings, while the rest are fighting for every app install. But…

Just as mobile app industry starts to mature, things are about to turn upside down again

The days when almost every mobile use case required a dedicated mobile app may soon be over. As it looks, fancy graphical user interfaces are about to give way to spartan-looking messaging bots.
Such messaging apps as WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, Viber, Weixin, LINE, consistently lead in usage and sessions per app. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, acknowledged in 2014 that:

“Messaging is one of the few things people do more than social networking.”

Messaging apps trained hundreds of millions of people to use a text-based user interface to message their friends and family. Now this user interface paradigm is being extended into communication with brands, companies and services. At the same time, [tweetable]messaging apps are transforming into messaging platforms[/tweetable].

The transition to a conversational paradigm is already in full swing in China. Weixin (known as Wechat outside China) allows users use the messaging app to hail a taxi, order food delivery, buy movie tickets, play casual games, check in for a flight, send money to friends, book a doctor’s appointment, get banking statements, pay the water bill, find geo-targeted coupons, search for a book at the local library, get updates from their kids school, get a loan, donate to charity, and even participate in court proceedings.

In 2010 reaching mobile users was all about apps. In 2016 messaging platforms emerge as the next frontier in tech after apps, social and the web itself.

Facebook is the undisputed leader in messaging platforms – Outside China

Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) have amassed 800 million and 900 million monthly active users respectively, becoming the largest messaging platforms second only to SMS which has 3.8 billion users. Both Messenger and WhatsApp are shifting their business models from person-to-person messaging to B2B2C, that is helping businesses to interact with mobile users.

This is very worrying news for Google’s B2B2C business. Hangouts, Google’s own messaging app, failed to make a dent and win substantial user base. Surprisingly, this is despite that the app has over 1 billion installs – every Android handset maker has to pre-install Hangouts together with Search, Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and other Google apps. However few people use the app – Most Android users don’t even know that the Hangouts app is installed on their handsets.

Apple can potentially become a player in messaging platforms with its iMessage service. However, learning from the history of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), Apple will need to make iMessage available on Android to provide comparable user reach. Coincidentally, Microsoft is a ‘no show’ at the messaging party, despite having had a head start with the Skype acquisition – another miss for the Redmond company.

Calling all chat bot developers

Facebook has began turning Messenger into a B2B2C channel by working with a small number of partners, that includes Uber, Hyatt, Walmart, and KLM airlines, as well as smaller e-commerce company JackThreads and startup Assist.

There is no doubt that as soon as the Messenger SDK is ready for the prime time, Facebook will make it available to all developers. Today messaging startups, such as Operator, Agent Q and Mezi in shopping, Magic in virtual assistants, Digit in personal finance, Pana in travel, have to either use SMS or build their own messaging apps. When Facebook opens the Messenger SDK (and presumably WhatsApp later) we will see a burst of innovation with all these startups moving to the platform with hundreds and thousands of new developers joining them.

The shift from apps to messaging platforms brings upon new opportunities to developers. They can innovate in creating engaging user experiences without fancy graphics, and leave behind the issues of dreaded App Store approval, app updates and OS fragmentation. This excellent post by Meekan, a calendar assistant bot, gives a glimpse on what it takes to “cheat on the Turing test”.

Moreover, building conversational bots costs less and takes less time than building and maintaining apps for iOS and Android platforms. This will allow developers to iterate much faster and discover new messaging use cases we just cannot imagine today.

We at VisionMobile believe that much like in mobile apps [tweetable]developers will be the kingmakers of the messaging era[/tweetable] – We will begin tracking the experience of messaging bot developers in our upcoming 11th Edition of the Developer Economics survey.

This time the developer-led innovation will shift from the walled gardens of Apple App Store and Google Play the the walled garden of Facebook. Discovery, recommendations and monetisation of messaging-based services will be controlled by Facebook in a sort of a messaging bot “app store”. How exactly such an “app store” will look like it’s too early to say. For example Slack, the messaging leader in the enterprise, takes the traditional app store approach for showing users all the bots and integrations available on the platform. (I’m not convinced that this is the only way – I’d like to see something as friendly as Meekan to help me connect with the right services.)

While many questions remain, it’s clear the tech industry is ready to move from the “there is an app for that” world to the “there is a bot for that” future.

— Michael