When devs create apps, it feels like that is the project. But once an app is built and released on an app store, it becomes obvious: creating the app was just the start of the journey.
Developers are makers. They solve pains, entertain, enlighten, and enhance productivity. Building an app can be an exhilarating experience and the joys of shipping can linger for… about ten seconds. Then comes the question, “I’ve built an app, now what?”
Now comes the really exciting (and scary) stuff: getting that app in front of users who will find it useful, and making sure they keep coming back to your app on a regular basis.
Building strategies for user acquisition and retention are the two major tasks for dev teams after they have built an app. Acquisition is really about marketing (app store optimisation, paid & organic acquisition) and user retention is about marketing and the product working together (user experience, re-engagement and performance).
Analytics helps understand exactly what is happening and how to keep building traction. From there, new possibilities can emerge that will help you grow your user community even stronger and help you identify novel ideas that may offer you a winning edge.
[tweetable]Facebook will live or die by user engagement, especially on mobile[/tweetable]. Whatsapp sends 18 billion and receives 36 billion messages a day. Let’s say it takes about 7 seconds to send a message and 3 seconds to read a message. This is based on watching how my teenage kids use Whatsapp texting and sending pictures. The math is simple:
People have limited time and attention. So most of these 110+ Billion minutes were taken from the potential Facebook mobile engagement minutes. Wow! That is the cost of doing nothing for Facebook.
There is more
Whatsapp is growing at about 1M users a day. That means Facebook looses at least an additional 12.4 Million engagement minutes each and every day. For simplicity I take into account only Whatsapp users that are active daily, which are 70% of 450M monthly active users:
3.9B minutes per day / 315M daily active users = 12.4 minutes per day per user
“Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.
The company remains independent and loyal to its promise of “No ads!”. There will be no immediate monetisation opportunities for Facebook. What can be there for Facebook beyond averting future disaster of Whatsapp killing Facebook mobile engagement? Or even worth, falling into Google’s hostile hands?
Mark Zuckerberg writes about the acquisition:
Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. We do this by building services that help people share any type of content with any group of people they want. WhatsApp will help us do this by continuing to develop a service that people around the world love to use every day.
Will we see 450M mobile numbers brought in by Whatsapp coming into play helping Facebook connect people? Time will tell, but the potential is there for Facebook to become huge integrated communication provider on par with China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator.
(China Mobile has 700M subscribers but, given that many people have two phones, the number of users is much lower and close to 450M of Whatsapp monthly active users.)
(This article was originally published on Michael’s personal blog – here)
Another excellent move by Google: Offload Motorola Mobile Devices to Lenovo, while keeping the patents to themselves.
Skimming through the news this morning, I found there is apparently a lot of confusion about the planned sale of Motorola by Google. From decrying a huge loss by Google by such infotainment sites like Wired and Slate, to seeing Google giving up on copying vertical integration of Apple (hardware + software + services), like Stratechery by Ben Thomson.
Let’s look at things from a broader perspective. The acquisition of Motorola was necessary to protect Android, after Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry outbid Google for Nortel patents. The Apple-Microsoft-BlackBerry trio made it very clear that they intend to put a drag on then-fledging Android ecosystem and extort royalties from Android OEMs. The cost of doing nothing was huge for Google – just think how much more nasty the patent wars may have turned out for Android if the acquisition hadn’t taken place. Any “profit and loss” analysis of the Motorola deal must account for the opportunity cost associated with Motorola patents. Android is, was and will be critically important for Google’s core online ad business, as I will explain in a bit. Continue reading No, Google is not going 'horizontal' by selling Motorola
[RIM’s acquisition of UI firm TAT marked the largest mobile software M&A of 2010. Research Director Andreas Constantinou explains why the acquisition places RIM a leap ahead of the top-10 OEMs in terms of UI capabilities and asks – can RIM execute on the promise?]
In December, RIM surprised industry observers by buying TAT (The Astonishing Tribe), a 200-strong UI technology and design firm based out of MalmÃ¶, Sweden. At nearly $130 million, RIM’s move marked the largest mobile software M&A transaction of 2010 globally and an impressive 5.5x multiplier over TAT’s 2009 revenues of 170 million SEK. It follows a string of RIM acquisitions since 2009, namely QNX (operating system), Cellmania (content billing and distribution), Dash (two-way navigation), DataViz (document viewer), Torch Mobile (WebKit experts) and Viigo (software house).
More importantly, TAT’s acquisition places RIM a leap ahead in the league of top-10 handset manufacturers in terms of own UI capabilities. Here’s why.
A leap ahead of the competition TAT was founded in 2002 by 6 games engineers and designers out of university (here’s their story) but has come a very long way. TAT is not just another technology company. It has seen its Kastor 2D/3D graphics framework deployed in over 500 million phones across 5 out of the top-7 OEMs. More important to the RIM story is TAT’s Cascades product, a UI framework that allows OEMs to design their phones not in terms of applications, but in terms of screens, allowing what can be termed â€˜rapid variant management’ (more about that later).
TAT has also been clearly ahead of the UI technology vendor pack – vendors like Ikivo, Digital Aria, Acrodea, Bluestreak, YouILabs and Scalado – thanks to its design skills. When other vendors have banked on technology marketing, standards implementation or operator deals, TAT has used its design skills to get into the door of both OEMs and operators/carriers (check out this video on the â€˜future of screens’). The marriage of design skills and technology licensing allowed TAT to build momentum and cash-flow when OEMs were cutting budgets post-2005. These same skills were what got TAT the deal to design Google’s Android 1.0 UI. TAT’s strength lies in the combination of UI framework technology and the first-class design skills – both of which are now with RIM.
So what does RIM get?
TAT’s acquisition is far more encompassing than many would have thought – it puts RIM a leap ahead of the pack in the league of top-10 handset manufacturers in six ways:
1. Match the iPhone With the Cascades technology, RIM can now match and even exceed the sophistication of the iPhone UI (see this and this video demos). Long term this means RIM has a chance to contain the exodues of enterprise customers opting for replacing their RIM with iPhones due to the outdated UI and usability on the Blackberry OS 6. Heck, it would be even easy for RIM to offer â€˜deep skins’ for BlackBerry handsets where the navigation and core apps closely resemble the iPhone apps.
2. Rapid variant management TAT’s Cascades is a departure from how OEMs build handsets today, by allowing the UI to be designed in terms of screens and not applications.
The downside is that Cascades-enabling an existing software stack means that legacy â€˜spaghetti’ applications have to be ported one by one on top of TAT’s framework, which takes 9-12 months for the complete UI (it’s 10s of millions of lines of code that have to be ported). This is what has historically limited Cascades to only tactical wins for specific applications on Motorola, Samsung and Asus handsets.
The upside is that with Cascades RIM gets rapid variant management; creating 100+ operator variants from a single vanilla UI is just a button (and an XML file) away. Designing in screens rather than apps means that RIM can keep its investment into messaging, graphics and enterprise middleware but radically change the UI look and feel. This allows RIM’s carrier customers more differentiation and exclusivity opportunities, all without delaying the time to market – and therefore securing the carrier multi-million subsidy and marketing carrier budgets.
Rapid variant management is today one of the few domains where Android suffers and Nokia’s Symbian still excels, so a very important differentiator for RIM once the integration work is out of the way.
3. Consumer and enterprise personas We covered earlier how RIM needs to escape its dual personality disorder by designing separate consumer and enterprise product lines. However, designing a different set of apps for enterprise and consumers is complex – not to mention managing many more device models and variants in the field. With TAT, RIM buys the ability to have enterprise AND consumer UI personas ship in the same phone – not only that, but in a way that can be easily switched by the user at the flick of a button. Switching between enterprise and consumer personas is also much cheaper to do at the UI level rather than the bare metal level with what’s called â€˜mobile virtualization‘.
This implies that with TAT’s technology, RIM can allow users to switch between consumer and enterprise UI personas; a consumer UI when you want to browse on Facebook and check out Flickr and an enterprise UI when you want to check the email attachment for your next meeting. Note that Nokia and HTC Sense have also implemented basic switching between work and personal skins.
4. Enterprise UI customization Besides the runtime technology, TAT develops Motion Lab, a tool that a designer can use to define UI screens and UI flows through a drag-n-drop environment. For RIM, this means that enterprises can customize the phone’s navigation to focus on the few key applications that are used most of the time. It also offers RIM a level of enterprise customization beyond what other OEMs can achieve out of the box.
5. UI personalities With the erosion of the market of downloadable ringtones and wallpapers, the industry has turned to apps as the next premium content market. Yet, there are still new revenue opportunities in downloadable content. In Japan, DoCoMo has led the market of downloadable UIs in the form of “standby screens” (programmable home screens), and which Acrodea has extended to the dialer and menu apps. This has created a small market of downloadable UIs for both DoCoMo and KDDI.
With TAT, RIM can extend that market to the world, and across more embedded applications – creating what can be called the market of downloadable UI personalities. Whether RIM can turn this capability into a new â€˜market’ is questionable, but it certainly presents a unique point of differentiation and an opportunity for a new revenue stream for RIM.
6. Connected experiences With the acquisition of Dash, a 2-way car navigation company, RIM has its sights set beyond phones and tablets into the automotive segment. To deliver a consistent UI across these varied form factors a new OS (QNX) is far from adequate. It needs a portable UI technology that allows RIM to reuse its UI assets with minimum maintenance overhead across different form factors, from phones to cars. TAT’s Cascades is exactly this technology and as TAT has shown, it can be extended to connected screens in the living room, in the street, in the car, and in the hands.
Filling in the gaps that TAT left With TAT out of the picture, how can other OEMs catch up to the level of UI technology sophistication and design skills? There’s a variety of UI technology vendors out there (see below for an extract from our Mobile Industry Atlas), but none really combine the UI â€˜screens’ framework or the design skills of TAT.
Many companies claim to have “UI frameworks”, but they all invariably mean a combination of SVG engines, 2D and 3D graphics toolkits or compositing engines – which address UI development as an application, not a screen paradigm. Historically there have only been three companies who have developed screen-based UI frameworks; TAT, Digital Airways and Next Device. Digital Airways was behind the UI of the Vodafone Simply series of five handsets launched between 2005 and 2007 and the Porsche P9522 handset introduced by Sagem in late 2008; the company has since transitioned into UI services in mobile, embedded, automotive and aerospace – however the company ceased trading sometime in 2010. Next Device was acquired by Mentor Graphics (makers of the Nucleus RTOS), who didn’t manage to leverage the technology asset as the licensing model was markedly different to Nucleus’ site-licensing. The gap that TAT left creates an opportunity for other UI middleware vendors (e.g. Ikivo, Acrodea, Digital Aria, Sasken,) to maneuver into this technology space.
Another way to deliver ‘screen-based’ phone design and variant management is via development tools; much like how OpenPlug (now Alcatel Lucent) uses the Adobe Flash IDE to create mobile apps. However this is still virgin territory and we â€˜re not aware of any sufficiently advanced UI tools vendors in the mobile domain.
Can RIM execute? All in all, TAT can deliver Apple-class user experience that offers RIM a strategic advantage compared to OEMs leveraging 3rd party Windows Phone and Android platforms. This all sounds great on paper of course, but it’s all a question of execution.
Can RIM’s corporate monoculture adapt to the creative minds of TAT? Will the TATers get the mandate and budgets to innovate deep into RIM’s product lines? How long will RIM take to integrate the TAT technology on top of the QNX platform and where will the competition be at that point?
Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.
you should following me on Twitter: @andreascon
[Andreas Constantinou is Research Director at VisionMobile, and oversees the research, strategy and industry mapping projects at VisionMobile. Andreas also served on TAT’s advisory board during 2008-9]
[The acquisition by HP will not save Palm. Guest author Michael Valukenko explains why the sum of Palm and HP is close to zero]
As an old-time Palm user, I was always secretly hoping for resurgence of this familiar and trusted company. At a rational level however, I didn’t believe that the new Palm stands a chance in rapidly changing smartphone market. See my earlier analysis in Who can save Palm here at the VisionMobile blog.
HP’s acquisition makes Palm part of large and financially solid company, but doesn’t compensate for its other weaknesses. Smartphone competition today boils down to competition of service platforms with Apple and Google leading the way. Considering the realities of today’s smartphone market, there are very few real synergies between HP and Palm.
The three missing synergies
Today people don’t buy smartphones for their hardware, but for what they can do with them. This largely means software platform and services built around the phone. Both Apple and Google excel in this area, albeit using very different approaches.
Palm’s WebOS offers a slick UI and a promise of simplified app development by fully adopting the web paradigm. But it lacks a clear differentiation (a killer use case) and an ecosystem unlocking the device into hundreds or thousands different things people could do with it. Let’s face it: It wasn’t that WebOS devices didn’t sell well because Palm lacked marketing dollars. They didn’t sell because they weren’t good enough compared to competition. HP marketing money and distribution muscle won’t save the day.
Today’s leaders – iPhone, Blackberry and Android – all have clear differentiation: iPhone is all about entertainment and Internet and is backed by large iTunes user base. Blackberry sells mobile email and is backed by corporate IT adoption and a strong distribution network. Android seamlessly integrates with Google services promising free and open Internet. The vague notion of “HP Experience” looks pretty pale in comparison.
Critically important, app developers and Internet companies already have their hands full with iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android, not to mention the upcoming Windows Phone 7. What does HP have to offer in exchange for some mind-share? Any bright ideas?
Last, but definitely not least. Mobile operators/carriers take on the lion’s share of smartphone promotion and subsidy costs, hoping to attract new subscribers and increase ARPU of existing ones. What can HP/Palm offer to convince operators to take marketing and subsidy dollars from iPhone, Blackberry and Android, and put them into HP/Palm? I don’t see much. Do you?
Clear differentiation, developer mindshare and operator subsidies are all critical today for the success of a smartphone platform. All these were and remain Palm’s weaknesses regardless of its financial situation. HP does not complement Palm in any of these critical areas.
Chasing the Apple dream A quick glance at HP earnings breakdown reveals HP as an electronics equipment company at its core. The company generates most of it revenues from selling printers, laptops, desktop PC and servers. Smartphone unit sales are catching up to laptop sales, while laptop margins are getting thinner and thinner. It is easy to see how tempting would it be for HP management to try to emulate Apple’s model of selling high-margin devices.
However Apple owes much of its success to its vertical integration, which allows blending hardware, software and services into iconic products. This vertical integration is ideally suited for breaking new grounds and creating new product categories. It is critical factor in Apple’s ability to create such products as Apple Lisa, iPod, iPhone and iPad.
As explained by Clayton Christensen in this seminal paper, vertical integration is an advantage in emerging product categories, where it helps to overcome technical challenges. Vertical integration however becomes a disadvantage in maturing markets, where flexibility, customization and modularity are of greater importance.
It is difficult to see HP successfully reproducing Apple’s model. The opportunity to be the first with iPhone-like product does no longer exist.
Is this good news?
The deal doesn’t look particularly bright for HP shareholders. But may be in the broad scheme of things the deal is great news for many other people: Investment bankers will pocket multi-million dollar commissions, Palm’s investors and management will be spared from their misery, HP executives will boost their ego, business newspapers will sell some ads, and bloggers (including myself) will have something to write about.
How do you think the acquisition will shape up for Palm and HP?
[Michael Vakulenko has been working in the mobile industry for over 16 years starting his career in wireless in Qualcomm. Throughout his career he gained broad experience in many aspects of mobile technologies including handset software, mobile services, network infrastructure and wireless system engineering. Today Michael consults to established companies, start-ups and operators. He can be reached at michaelv [/at/] WaveCompass.com]