The recent buzz about the Verizon/Motorola/Google (An)Droid vs. Apple/AT&T/et al iPhone has revolved around two customer-critical issues and one supplier-critical one (can you guess which is which?):• Which device+network combo meets customers' usability requirements?
• Which brand evokes the most loyalty?
• Which ecosystem will attract the most apps?
As pundits review and early adopters swarm, I've been noticing a few patterns in the dialog. It's not about the device. Sure, everyone comments about display resolution, keyboard quality (or lack thereof), industrial design, and user interface. But there are also provocative wars of words (and maps) about network availability (in the U.S.—other countries have more pervasive mobile networks than ours). These are the initial barriers to adoption. Do I like it? Can I use it?
To me, the most interesting discussion has been the one about which platform will attract the best and coolest apps. The conventional wisdom goes that whichever platform succeeds as the biggest app-magnet will draw the largest customer base in a virtuous circle.
I beg to differ. I believe that both the iPhone/iTouch platform and the Android platform are spawning amazing innovations in mobile application development and inventive mash ups. Apple has a head start, but Google's APIs always attract huge amounts of brainpower and inventiveness from all over the world. A year from now, we'll see very healthy and dynamic ecosystems of smart, mobile apps on both platforms.
What does this mean for your company? Whether you're an established brand, a start-up, or an aggregator who wants to attract customers to rely on your brand's mobile apps, you're probably already developing apps for (at least) both platforms. The good news is that there are a number of cross-platform development environments as well as cross-platform usage tracking and ad-serving networks available. The bad news is that you'll need to ramp up your mobile development resources if you don't want to be left in the dust. Not having state-of-the art mobile apps is now akin to not having a Web site in the late 1990s. It's embarrassing. Bad for the brand and bad for business if you want your customers to "have it their way."
Mobile apps are rich, interactive tools that enable customers to interact with your company and your services anywhere and anytime, without having to search and browse. Customers who value the information or services you provide will download and use them. Cool apps may win Word-of-Mouth buzz, and bring you new customers. But their main purpose is to foster loyalty and brand passion with your existing customers. So you'll probably justify your investment through customer retention, mindshare and walletshare, rather than customer acquisition. But, as you present your mobile apps business case, don't forget to consider your customers' metrics. How much time are you saving them? How many steps are you saving them? How much added convenience are you providing? What leg up are they getting vis a vis their competitors or in crowd?