Bengt Nordström: The Android/Apple iOS duopoly will be
eroded by the arrival of HTM5, running apps through the browser
Growth in mobile apps is phenomenal and unstoppable. Global app downloads for 2011 are expected to have reached 29 billion, a massive increase from the nine billion in 2010, according to ABI Research.
Of course, the proliferation of apps is driven by the increasing popularity and availability of smartphones. While there are many smartphone manufacturers, however, it’s the operating systems that dictate the app market share. Last year, according to ABI, Android overtook Apple’s iOS to become the market leader in mobile app downloads, with the Q2 market shares coming in at 44% and 31% respectively.
Android’s open source is the driver of its success in taking the apps market by storm. It is not difficult to take apps to market on the Android platform.
But in the not so distant future, we will see the majority of apps become OS agnostic, decoupling the OS from the existing ecosystems. This will erode the current Android/iOS duopoly, and open up the market to far more players.
The arrival of HTML5, running in all operating systems through the browser, will catalyze the change. Late last year, Strategy Analytics forecast that sales of HTML5-compatible phones will exceed one billion in 2013 — and many features of HTML5 have been specified with mobile apps in mind.
Drivers of change
Those device brands that are struggling today could be the major drivers of change. BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone do not have the market share or the application ecosystem to compete in the apps market as it stands today — so they will need to be instrumental in the drive towards the cloud app as standard. HTML5 will enable a cross platform OS-agnostic cloud resource for apps and content. It will create a universal platform destination.
Apps are already moving cross-platform — BlackBerry’s Playbook runs Android apps, and software that enables porting of Android apps over to Windows, building on the early work of the likes of BlueStack, will rapidly take off.
So how will this change the business models? HTML5 will be faster and cheaper for developers looking to deliver multi-device and multi-platform apps for the cloud:
• one version only required, as opposed to the multiple OS versions needed today to reach all potential users;
• no approvals will be needed for acceptance within the walled OS gardens; and
• apps will run on any device via the web browser, irrespective of the OS.
The decoupling will force OSs to compete on their own future-looking merits, not on the strength of their installed base. In this environment, Apple in particular will find it hard to justify their margin in the App Store — as the iPad and iPhone maker stands to receive little from a cloud app.
Apps hypermarket in the cloud
This brings us to the ever present question of revenue. If HTML5 opens up the web for apps, then will an apps hypermarket be created in the cloud? Will users purchase via their mobile service provider, or via subscription to a third party global app store — a Netflix for apps? Who will address the security issues, given that smartphones are in effect handheld computers, and that malware is already becoming a problem in mobile downloads?
And what of quality? Apple invented the apps market, and it has a robust approvals procedure and attractive monetisation policy that attracts the most professional developers. Open up the internet as a free-for-all cloud platform, and all that will stop. More apps mean more competition for consumers’ cash, so developers will receive even less for their efforts.
Or, could the widespread emergence of the cloud app create a new premium app market based on user experience? Despite RIM’s recent woes, there is arguably still no device that handles mobile email as well as its BlackBerry. So we may see consumer apps heading towards HTML5 for the widest possible audience, with enterprise services maybe still tailored to respective OSs to ensure the best possible performance.
Pricing would be free or advertising-led — or low for the mass market, premium for the tailored and targeted. Could the cloud app in fact put device quality and operator service back at the top of the list for user consideration?
Apps are of course data, so the quality, continuity and cost of access to the cloud will be a major consideration for the end user — the customers who support the growth of the mobile industry.
So if cloud apps become the norm, network quality will dictate their performance — and the consumer experience may well begin to drive the choice of service provider once again. GTB
Bengt Nordström is CEO of Northstream Consulting
Further reading from Global Telecoms Business:
Broadband access drives home networking 26 Jan 2012
View from the Top: Today's technology forecast: cloud creating ... 03 Jan 2012
European infanticide as regulation slowly suffocates mobile ... 22 Dec 2011
4G-LTE: the latest international opportunity 16 Dec 2011
Why telecoms and media companies are first to the cloud 15 Dec 2011
Spectrum diversity breeds complexity for 4G roaming and ... 30 Jun 2011