“App stores” are all the rage at the moment, and no wonder. The more mobile applications that are in the hands of end users, the greater the opportunity to drive up mobile data usage and revenues. The challenge is to find the best possible way to offer compelling service propositions to end users while also creating a vibrant ecosystem for application developers.
The key building blocks for a robust mobile application ecosystem are in place, and the stage is set for mobile applications to become a primary engine for driving up mobile data usage.
Advances are being made with every new generation of mobile device. Mobile devices are now equipped with increasingly powerful processors and more memory, capable of supporting more applications as well as more sophisticated applications and services. Cellular networks have increased the available bandwidth for data and are becoming ubiquitous. Improved pricing for mobile data access has made increased data usage widespread and post-sales mobile application distribution attractive. More mobile devices are shipping today with technologies that enable applications to be loaded over-the-air after the sale (e.g., devices with open operating systems or devices supporting the OMA DM SCOMO standards).
At the same time, end users are demanding a more personalized, PC/Internet-like mobile experience – one that includes flexible access to a diverse selection of applications and services that are updated regularly as tastes and market demands change. A fixed set of applications and services pre-loaded onto the device is simply not sufficient to meet this demand.
All of these factors are driving the increasing popularity of more flexible mobile application deployment models. The success of Apple’s App Store, which has now served up more than 25,000 different applications and registered more than 800 million downloads since launching, serves to illustrate how the combination of advanced devices, more bandwidth, and a well-managed application distribution mechanism can quickly drive up mobile application uptake, which in turn leads to increased mobile data usage and revenues. The huge success of the model is also reflected by the 50,000 members of the applications development program.
MANAGING THE STORE
A popular application store can significantly increase the uptake and usage of the new applications that underpin advanced mobile services. This is why mobile operators and service providers will be entering the “app store” space with increasing frequency over the next 12 months. The mobile operator has a number of inherent strengths that will help in building a robust and vibrant application ecosystem. These include their ownership of the primary relationship with the end user for wireless services, and their critical service capabilities such as billing and payment systems.
However, mobile operators must overcome challenges in order to succeed with this model. To reach the biggest addressable market, an operator-led mobile application ecosystem must work across multiple application environments and operating systems and must support millions of devices, thousands of device types and hundreds of thousands of different applications. More important, operators must provide a seamless, painless, hassle-free end-user experience at every step. These requirements make an operator’s advanced mobile device management solution key to ensuring that applications can be distributed and managed across a heterogeneous device portfolio.
There are a number of critical success factors for application stores. An application store needs to be compelling, relevant and usable for end users. The store must be prominent and provide an intuitive interface for users to discover and try new applications. It must provide simple processes for purchase and payment. Application pricing needs to be transparent. Download and installation must be simple and completed in as few clicks as possible. The user experience and technical support must work seamlessly across devices and device platforms. Any complexity in the actual process must be hidden from the end user.
Again, the operator’s advanced mobile device management solution is critical to achieving this goal and delivering a consistently great user experience across device platforms. In many respects, the enabling technologies are available today; the challenge is in coordinating the technology pieces, and more importantly, the participants, into a vibrant and exciting new mobile application ecosystem.
Kushwaha is co-founder and CTO at Mformation Technologies.