We’ve been in “New Mobile” – a world of wireless broadband and mobile OS platforms enabling great end user experiences – for about 5 years. The improvement in the capabilities of devices has been astonishing. But in truth we are still in the first inning of New Mobile reshaping just about everything we do and everywhere we do it.
Since leaving Facebook, I’ve been asked more and more for my perspective on mobile ecosystem. Here are my current observations on why New Mobile is still in the earliest stages:
- The move from feature phones – mobile phones without robust browsers or a compelling application ecosystem – to always-connected touchscreen computers in our pockets still has a long way to go. Smartphones are barely the majority of total mobile phone sales in the U.S., let alone globally.
- The industry talks about smartphones and tablets as both being “mobile” devices instead of seeing them as two very different beasts. This is starting to change and I’m excited to see the wave of companies that are “tablet first” – but please don’t let that become a mindless mantra!
- It’s no longer about iOS vs. Android. Now the hard question is which Android versions (Gingerbread vs. Jelly Bean) and flavors (e.g. Samsung, Amazon, etc.) you are targeting and why. Said another way, Android fragmentation, and dominance, has just begun.
- Completing transactions on mobile is still a big hassle (except for M-Pesa). App store and carrier billing fees are too expensive to be an option for anything other than high-margin digital goods. Whoever cracks this in a way that any 3rd party app can use is going to be very rich.
- Content creation on mobile devices is horrible. Much of the content we consume on mobile today requires the capabilities of a PC to produce, including the keyboard, mouse and purpose-built apps. Products like Paper and Vine have shown that there is considerable demand for creation via the touchscreen.
- True mobile multitasking hasn’t been invented yet. Smartphone screens are smaller and better suited to handle one app at a time with abstracted file access. But we’re used to working with multiple windows and applications our computers with a global file system. When will a new UX model emerge, especially on tablets, to enable multitasking?
- There’s no “mobile native” ad unit to allow publishers to monetize their audiences and thus focus on building richer and more engaging experiences. Instead, startups have to spend a ton of time on business model innovation, which is another really hard problem to tackle. My money is on Facebook cracking this nut (full disclosure: I am still heavy on the stock, so my money is literally on them) though I think Yahoo could be a surprise contender.
- Only two types of paid subscription services have gained traction on smartphones: Content licensing such as Rdio and Pandora One, and storage such as Evernote. What else are users willing to pay a subscription for on their smartphones?
- There have been some billion dollar exits like Instagram and Waze, but we haven’t had a stand-alone, New Mobile company go from garage to an enduring multibillion-dollar independent company in the Americas or Europe yet (it has happened in China though).
There is a lot to be unpacked and everything above is up for debate as we refine our collective thinking through discussion. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m excited to learn about, identify and nurture the best mobile-focused companies out there.
Bubba.VC, Much Needed Insight Into Mobile Operations | Haywire
Great post, thanks for sharing. I am long $FB as well, look forward to seeing what they do on mobile with respect to better targeting ads and making them more “native” to the FB experience.
On Mobile ad units – the IAB has just updated the MRAID standards http://www.iab.net/mraid which opens up a whole new level of potential creativity and interactivity in mobile advertising. What types of ad units are you thinking about? more integrated? a new paradigm?
Hey Andrew, thx for reminder of IAB MRAID. I hadn’t been tracking latest update so will have to go read it. My reactions to the IAB attempts in the past to create mobile ad unit standards have been less enthusiastic as they seemed like translations from web instead of ground up thinking. Not sure what is right here but seems like something totally different should exist for Mobile given all the different constraints in experience.
No mention of potentially ground breaking hardware innovation? What about a product such as google glass disrupting the market?
More coming on that topic soon as it is less mature but equally important area of future of computing.
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I doubt that we’ll see a large scale standalone US-centric mobile newcomer. There are so many challenges associated with mobile that you just don’t have on the web. User acquisition is very expensive and getting more so. There isn’t generally a sound/proven biz model yet. I wrote an article on this a bit ago http://technori.com/2013/06/4638-mobile-first-or-web-first-why-mobile-isnt-the-best-choice-for-most-new-startups/
Mobile makes sense for large players who already have solved (at least to a certain degree) business-risk, user acquisition etc. I’m thinking of anyone Pinterest sized or above like Facebook and Yahoo. They can make serious plays in mobile because they have cheap ways to build off their audience or at least afford the initial costs to be pumped up in the charts (pretty much the only mobile channel).
I could also see mobile making Series-A type companies into big players. I’m thinking of Wanelo type companies here. They do their product-market fit testing on web and then move onto mobile for hyper-growth.
I can also see a lot of mobile standalone companies in emerging markets where people are transitioning from no Internet to Internet versus Desktop to Mobile.
How do you explain instangram? Or up and comers like Paper by 53, MessageMe, or ?
9 Ways to Make a Billion Dollar Mobile Company | Rapid
Bubba, I would argue that there’s another huge factor play here, which is an impending mobile crush. I read about it on my blog: http://go.danielodio.com/crush
Or to put it another way, most of us have 100 apps on our phones but we only open a few of them every day. This problem is going to get way worse as we go past installs and actually start looking at engagement.
Great blog post, please keep it coming!
Agree that engagement and re-engagement are big challenges ahead for industry.
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StrictlyVC: March 28, 2014 | StrictlyVC, LLC