Progress towards the mobile web and away from apps

By December 18, 2009Mobile

Regular readers will know I see the iPhone/app store as a passing phase in mobile, a step on the way to a web paradigm equivalent to what we have on the PC.  One of the big questions is how long this current phase lasts and with the momentum of the iPhone and the rush by all sorts of mobile players to open app stores one has to say it is still in the growth phase.  That said, two pieces of news today point to the true mobile web not being too far away.

Firstly Firefox has announced a new mobile browser which they claim will:

  • be very fast
  • support plugins
  • sync with your PC, including bookmarks and open tabs
  • allow developers to have apps running on multiple devices from a single code base

The fourth bullet is a big deal, and Firefox sees this as the beginning of the end for app stores.  Jay Sullivan, vice president of mobile at Mozilla put it like this:

As developers get more frustrated with quality assurance, the amount of handsets they have to buy, whether their security updates will get past the iPhone approval process… I think they’ll move to the web.

and like this:

In the interim period, apps will be very successful. Over time, the web will win because it always does.

Rollout of the Firefox Mobile browser looks a little slow though, with the initial launch only on Nokia and Android and Windows Mobile versions not coming until the New Year.

The other piece of news is that Android, which is much more ‘true web’ than its mobile OS competitors is fast gaining share.  This post on Comscore has a list of ‘Android gaining momentum’ facts, perhaps the most telling of which is that a survey of American consumers found that of those in the market for a smartphone 17% were considering an Android device versus 20% for an iPhone.  The overall Android market share remains small at 3.5% though.

In related news the iPhone has finally overtaken Windows Mobile for OS market share in the US, and the proliferation of Android platforms is starting to cause headaches for developers.

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  • Yes, just as walled email in the early days lost out to openness and interoperability, the various app stores will morph into an open solution around HTML5.

    Most people think this means the monetization aspect will evaporate, but that's not true. In fact, I know of a great little Italian startup that is working on just that …

  • Rob Scoble had a nice video with nextstop.com about this, RWW and Gruber picked it up, too. Check out nextstops mobile HTML5 page – especially if you add it as a homescreen icon, its really well done (fast, nice functionalities). I am sure that this kind of app will be the way to go for many startups, as they are less complex for existing devs (i.e. web people) to build than native apps.

  • Thanks for the pointer. I will check it out.

  • Charging for mobile apps is already on the slide. In the long run I expect business models on the web and mobile web to be the same.

    LMFramework looks interesting.

  • Thanks. Yes, business models on mobile/desktop web will converge. The issue is around advertising. As users get more control of their screen layouts, there's less scope for banner ads. This is exasperated on small mobile screens. Hence the rise of inter-text advertising, which has yet to be proved. Subscriptions are definitely not the answer.

  • No subs, ads are difficult, you describe a challenging future! Do you discount subs as part of a freemium model – e.g. like Spotify?

  • Well, out of challenges springs opportunity! I don't mean to be negative, but if you follow the trends to their logical conclusions, that's where you end up.

    Freemium isn't a business model – it's a marketing model. The cost of supporting non-paying users is generally a lot less than that of a marketing campaign which delivers a similar number of paying users. But the end result of freemium is still a subscription.

    For the numbers to work, the subscription price must be set artificially high, because the paying users must subsidize the freeloaders. But if everyone paid, subscriptions would cost pennies rather than pounds. In other words, web subscriptions are expensive.

    Take one of the cheapest subscriptions, flicker, which costs $25/year. If you compare that to the full MS Office suite, which can now be had for around $100, you can see there's a gulf between the two offers. On the one hand, a *recurring* subscription to a very simple service, whilst on the other, a one-off payment for a vastly more powerful offering.

    Flickr should cost $2/year.

  • I've got the links now, was out before:
    Scoble “iPhone devs abandoning app
    model”<http://scobleizer.com/2009/12/16/iphone-developers-abandoning-app-model-for-html5/&gt;
    Gruber “pastry kit” <http://daringfireball.net/2009/12/pastrykit>
    RWW “mobile apps skip app
    store”<http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/web_vs_native_mobile_apps.php&gt;

    Cheers, Phil

  • Tks Phil

  • It is a different approach to selling services and without it the payers would have to cover the cost of customer acquisition. I guess the market will determine which of the two methods is most efficient. It could be that freemium is better only in the short run as people need to learn the benefits of new services.

  • There's a key difference between letting people *try* products for free (which is clearly a great idea) and letting them use them *regularly* for free (not so smart).

  • One factor we haven't talked about here is the cost of supporting the free users. The argument looks very different depending on how close to $0 it is.

  • Bravo. The very crux of the argument. Since it's so painless to distribute your wares for free on the web, the temptation is very much to do so.

    FWIW, I think the market price for digital content will fall progressively until it's just above the opportunity cost (read: hassle) of copying it manually (bit torrent, copy/paste, etc).

  • I agree.

  • Partly to stress test your Disqus nesting, but mainly because this topic absorbs me, I'll just add that (similar to many real world situations) the price of a service/content should not really be a function of its distribution cost, but more a function of the distributor's acceptable return on capital.

  • 😉

  • There's a key difference between letting people *try* products for free (which is clearly a great idea) and letting them use them *regularly* for free (not so smart).

  • One factor we haven't talked about here is the cost of supporting the free users. The argument looks very different depending on how close to $0 it is.

  • Bravo. The very crux of the argument. Since it's so painless to distribute your wares for free on the web, the temptation is very much to do so.

    FWIW, I think the market price for digital content will fall progressively until it's just above the opportunity cost (read: hassle) of copying it manually (bit torrent, copy/paste, etc).

  • I agree.

  • Partly to stress test your Disqus nesting, but mainly because this topic absorbs me, I'll just add that (similar to many real world situations) the price of a service/content should not really be a function of its distribution cost, but more a function of the distributor's acceptable return on capital.

  • 😉