Beyond Apps: the ecosystem – the Battle of the Titans

Walking through the endless halls of the Mobile World Congress, you see mobile applications everywhere, ranging from e-health, over facial recognition, location based services and dating to picture apps, and apps juggling with a growing number of social communities.

One might even think it is all about the application. But, admit, that is exactly the same feeling you get while wandering through a supermarket where you have the impression that the battle for the planet is between a handful of price competing cornflakes-brands that struggle for your attention.

We all know the reality of life is that it’s not about the cornflakes. It’s about which supermarket will survive. So it’s safe to think it’s not about applications either.

The magic handshake between Steve Ballmer from Microsoft (clnt), and Stephen Elop from Nokia gives something away that has been preluding war since the dark ages: getting the right ally by your side before rallying the enemy.

The battle for the mobile consumer will not be a battle of devices, or a battle of applications, it will not even be a war of platforms. The very battle for the soul of the mobile consumer and world supremacy will be fought over the ecosystem.

Let’s face it. Heavy consumers do not care about the device as such. Heck, holding Android, Apple, RIM and Win7 together, you barely know what to choose. Same networks, same functionality… and more smartness and megapixels than we can ever use.

And applications? Steve Ballmer almost apologized for only having 8000 apps to choose from today. 8000… how many of those will make a real difference…. 100? It’s also a fact that most users do not even know or care about what operating system their mobile sidekick is packing. They know the brand. But is their HTC now running on Android, or Winmob7? Va savoir…

The consumers are simply looking for the best user experience. And most users like to stay in a trusty environment. So the ecosystem will be where the big players will battle for consumer loyalty; ecosystems, where the ease of use of functionality between the different devices in the consumers’ Personal Area Network will be key. Seamless interaction between mobile phones, tablets, laptops and more heavy desktops is increasingly important, and the ability to juggle data and documents between devices is what differentiates the experience most.

Apple has been working on its ecosystem for a while, HP (clnt) is back into the battle through the cloud-loving Palm OS system, and Android hopes that its open source approach and its mighty brotherhood with Google is the way to go. With Nokia and Microsoft Win7phones joining forces, the next generation of Nokia phones will be able to integrate the Microsoft ecosystem, with features that most users need every single day: like Sharepoint, Office (with Outlook) and the imminent Explorer9. Taking the great user experience of Windows7 PC’s to mobile devices might appeal to more consumers that Apple finds comfortable.

The battle of the ecosystems will be a battle of Giants. As long as user experience benefits from the effort…. I do not care who’s winning ;-).

Applications: when numbers touch the ridiculous

Funny. Big phone manufacturers are constantly shooting data around to prove how big, good; tough, thought leading and amazing they are. Nothing against that, of course… but it is pretty mind-blowing how much irrelevant data is used in trying to prove the case…

Allow me to pick one: number of applications available for the platform… Apple, RIM, Android, Windows 7 phones all boast a staggering number  of different applications that run on their platforms, and post nebular statistics on downloads. In all these infographics, Apple leads, followed by Android.  Scary thing I notice: people use these stats to determine which phone next to invest in.

Let me tell you this: the number of applications is utterly irrelevant. There is a gazillion apps available for my iPad. I could not care less: most of these apps are no apps I would ever use, or pay for. Some are –to my use- utterly unsuitable, badly made, not working, or of a general quality that makes me long for the Spanish Inquisition to deal with the developers.  Same for my Blackberry. I can have thousands of apps available. I just not want them.

Cruising over the app stores and download platforms of the big 3, I find more apps than rocks in the asteroid belt just outside Mars… but most of those… well, you get the picture.  Only a small percentage is stuff I would actually use. And I am a power user…  –  Nielsen proves me right: While about 35% of U.S. adults now have apps on their cell phones, only 24% of adults actually use them. About a tenth of all U.S. adults don’t even know if their phones can run apps.

So… look for handy applications. Quality over quantity. Select the top 10 applications that will make your life more easy, and more enjoyable. Trust me: the other stuff will be forgotten on your expensive touch screen within days.

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