For some time at Adapptor we’ve been talking about building services rather than just apps. We believe it reframes how people think about mobile applications. In reality the best ones offer more than just device specific features, and thinking of them as services sets organisations up to think of the opportunities a lot more broadly. It also helps these organisations consider the implications from a user’s point of view, which is critical in today’s world. It’s interesting to consider this perspective when looking at some apps that have gained a lot of recent publicity. Dark Sky is the app store’s recent poster-child; a mobile service that tells you when it’s about to rain in your exact location. Not something we can get in Australia just yet, and in all honesty, not something we need much of in Perth (given the propensity for the place to almost always be sunny). However, it gets rave reviews in the US and UK. Dark Sky’s secret sauce is its unique weather data service, they rather obviously named, ‘Forecast’. When designing the Dark Sky solution, the company built a very intelligent service that could make hyper-local predictions about weather. It wasn’t simply a cooler design applied to the same data, it was a whole new set of data, which allowed them to create a new type of forecast. This was the key to Dark Sky’s success, and intelligently the company now offers Forecast as an open API with a very simple cost structure: the first thousand API calls per day are free, and then $0.0001 each thereafter. How an iPhone app is revolutionising the way we get the weather Uber is one of Adapptor’s other favourite applications. It’s an easy one to talk about given the publicity, and in most cases people have used the service. What’s more interesting is that it’s certainly not just an app, and what’s more, it’s actually not a new business model; it’s a service that’s improved an industry that hasn’t changed in a long time. What differentiates it is clearly visible with their website’s list of features. Like we said it’s certainly more than just an app. It’s a sophisticated service that involves a company with engineers, designers, marketing, support, operations, finance, and obviously a good legal team. It’s not a throw away 99 cent app. Just to mix things up a bit, we thought we’d throw in the newly launched range of apps from the Kardashians. The Kardashians? Well it seems that after Kim Kardashian’s success with her ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ game (still in Apple’s Top Grossing list) and apparently making Kim “$43 million in three months,” the rest of the clan hatched a plan to reach out to fans through their own collection of apps. Will Kylie Jenner’s New App Beat ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’? Each app provides content from a family member; a mini-magazine of sorts, with it’s own monthly subscription. It certainly makes you wonder where this leaves gossip magazines and traditional television shows. A brand new avenue for celebrities to reach out to their audience, by-passing television networks and magazine publishers. What’s even more interesting is what it means when you consider B&T’s recent interview with Hewlett-Packard’s marketing director Darren Needham-Walker, in which he says, “Gen Ys Are Interacting With Their Devices 35 Times An Hour,” and that “(It’s) engagement over fan size. I rate someone who puts a comment or share much more than someone who purely likes.” “Gen Ys Are Interacting With Their Devices 35 Times An Hour” Unsurprisingly, the Kardashians are very much in touch with how to engage today’s fickle audience. What all these “apps” teach us is this audience expect more than just a throw away app, they want something with intelligence, depth and ongoing engagement. This means that brands need to create are compelling services, with real and scaleable models that enhance a business, service or product. It takes some thinking, but really does offer some amazing opportunities, you just need to think like a Kardashian.
Just like Fleetwood Mac, the Internet wants to be with you everywhere. On the train, in the café, even tucked up in bed on a Sunday morning, nursing a hangover, that little terrier we call the Internet runs in the room, licks your face and begs you to share your condition with friends and strangers alike.
It never used to be so clingy. We would ‘log-on’ and more importantly, ‘log-off’. There was, after all, a time and a place. Not anymore, no sir-e. Thanks to our mobiles the majority of Australians now wake up to the Internet, commute with the Internet, work on the Internet and ‘relax’ with the Internet.
By 2015 Telsyte predicts 87 percent of Australians (over 16 years old) will own a smart phone. So just about every adult will be online for 100 percent of their waking life: reading, playing, sharing and consuming company services via their mobile.
Even now, in 2013, the phone is our Internet device of choice, but ask any of Australia’s best digital marketing planners and they’ll tell you their clients still fail to invest the appropriate time, planning and budget towards ‘mobile’.
We’ve seen this kind of lag between digital opportunity and digital spend before. In Australia at least, we didn’t see an appropriate media investment in Google Adwords until 2008, a full eight years after Google launched the service. Similarly we’re now seeing investment in social media gaining favour, some three years after Facebook became Australia’s number one media destination.
But what’s causing the current lag in mobile app investment; is it an Australian thing, are we just too laid back or do we consciously ignore the data? Possibly, but a more likely cause is a simple lack of ideas, caused in part by a lack of understanding of what’s possible.
To understand what’s possible businesses need to understand the difference between branded apps and brand advertising. The best branded apps do not belong to a campaign, they are not simply another channel through which to communicate the current brand message or product promotion. They are a utility in their own right; something useful that earns the attention of consumers. This type of app should be the obvious starting point for marketing and operations managers, take an existing business process or service and mobilise it through an app, thus delivering an improved customer experience.
But the more exciting opportunity lies in using mobile apps to provide brand new services that only the mobile Internet can deliver. Take a look outside of Australia and it’s not hard to find examples of disruptive new mobile services. Walgreens, the US based pharmacy chain has developed an app driven service allowing customers to ‘scan and refill’ their own prescriptions, an innovative use of mobile technology that provides a distinct point of differentiation over their competitors.
Australian businesses may have been a little slow out of the mobile blocks but 2013 will see the ideas (and investment) begin to flow. Financial services, health, telecommunications, education and real estate will likely lead the charge. Many of the apps will continue to mobilise existing business services but a few innovative companies will seize the opportunity to do something different.
As with Walgreens, it will be the brave first movers in Australia, who’ll reap the rewards through app differentiation. By considering ‘mobile’ to be an opportunity to deliver useful new services (and not just another channel to market) these disruptive Australian companies will be rewarded with publicity for their innovation, earn referral from their existing customers and increase profitability through more efficient service delivery.
Next time you’re in a café, airport departure lounge, or any other place in Australia where phone/tablet usage is acceptably explicit, take the time to do a quick count of those using smart devices compared to those folk texting away on their ‘appless’ mobile.
And the result? Well according to mobile analytics company Flurry, your ‘café survey’ should show almost 8 out of 10 people using a smart device. Flurry’s most recent mobile usage report finds 79% of Australians aged 15-64 years actively use an iOS or Android capable device. It’s an impressive figure (particularly given its omission of other operating systems such as Windows Phone and Blackberry) and places Australia 4th in the league of smart device penetration, beating technology loving nations such as the US (78%), South Korea (76%) and the UK (74%).
This rate of growth is making a mockery of respected industry forecasts. It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast. According to Flurry, the growth of iOS and Android is happening 3X quicker than our recent uptake of social media and 10X more rapid than the 1980s uptake of personal computing. And very soon the vast majority of these smart devices will be downloading and pushing data at 4G speeds transforming the experience from super convenient alternative to our undisputed Internet of choice.
Make no mistake, this hyper-connected mobile audience presents the greatest opportunity for industry since the creation of the worldwide web. And as per the desktop web, the service industries have been first out of the blocks: Banking, Insurance, Telecommunications, Travel, Government and Health were first to mobile optimise web sites and build self service apps. After all 100% of Australians connected to a mobile Internet means 100% of Australians capable of serving themselves, anytime and anywhere, massively reducing the all important cost-to-serve.
But mobilising pre-existing company services is just the beginning; think of it as the necessary housekeeping before moving onto the important stuff. Creating entirely new mobile services for existing customers and the wider market is where the real opportunity lies. The banks are a case in point, after taking the standard online banking experience to the phone, the banks quickly turned their thoughts to the creation of new services such as mobile-to-mobile payment. The result has been a race to market between ANZ’s goMoney and CBA’s Kaching, with both banks actively campaigning the new services.
The health insurance industry has also been quick to respond. The first apps in this sector focused on mobilising existing services such as online claiming and account management but quickly progressed to entirely new applications like Bupa’s FoodSwitch app, a food nutrition aid and HBF’s ‘Pocket Health’ app*, a personal health record to help members document their family health. These apps serve not only as a retention tool to existing health insurance members but also provide compelling reasons to recommend the brand to others.
And so as Australia’s big brands move from ‘mobile housekeeping’ to ‘mobile innovation’, so they will be rewarded with unique opportunities to disrupt the market and differentiate through utility. It has already begun, even the slowest moving organisations are restructuring for disruption, creating internal innovation groups charged with harnessing the power of ‘Big Data‘ to provide highly sticky applications that customers simply cannot give-up. So it should come as no surprise, that with 100% smartphone saturation fast approaching, many of these innovation groups are taking a ‘mobile first’ approach.
Editor’s note: (16/10/2012) The title of this article has been changed from ‘Smartphone’ to ‘Smart Device’ to more explicitly show the inclusion of tablets in the referenced research data.
[*Disclosure: HBF is an Adapptor client]
According to research house Flurry, Australians downloaded 28 million apps last week. That’s 46 apps a second. Not too shabby.
But it’s far from topping out there. Despite this being an all time record, no doubt boosted by the Christmas rush, Flurry predicts that 28 million downloads per week will soon become the norm as the addressable smart-phone market continues to grow. And grow it most definitely will, the Telsyte/AIMIA’s Digital Nation Report forecasts 87% of Australians will own a smart phone by 2015, up from 45% ownership in 2011.
Couple this growth in market size with the rapid shift in Internet consumption habits (we now spend more time using apps than the desktop and mobile web put together) and what should now be obvious is that apps are here to stay, they won’t be superseded by some miraculous conception of superfast, easy to use mobile websites. Sure the mobile web will continue to grow but Tim Chang’s ‘Appification of Everything‘ is certainly upon us and the question for big business is no longer whether to invest in apps but what type of app to invest in, what service to provide or process to improve.
This will be the year of service delivery apps as the enterprise starts to realise the potential of business process improvement through mobilisation. For business the fun but ‘throw away’ apps (think branded games and novelty utilities) will be replaced with business critical applications that enable the delivery of new and improved services to customers, members and employees wherever they are.
It’s already beginning, insurance companies are making it easy for members to claim from their phone, tourism authorities are helping tourists to roam free of charges and banks are letting customers shop without cash or cards. These aren’t apps for the sake of apps, once distributed they can’t be thrown away or left unsupported; like the business itself they must evolve, improve and stay relevant. These apps provide valuable services, improve NPS and in some instances single-handedly sway a joining or purchasing decision.
As this realisation takes hold, 2012 will see Australian companies embrace mobile apps to deliver and socialise company services, gather business intelligence data, deliver product recommendations and serve customers in places (and at times) that were previously unserviceable. It will be the year that Australian apps get down to business.
Take note digital planners and designers, we’re undergoing the greatest revolution in user interface design since Microsoft and Apple thrust their point and click interfaces on us in the mid 1990s. The 2010s will see a shift away from mouse controlled Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) to Natural User Interfaces (NUIs) as users expect gesture, voice and touch in their everyday applications.
The NUI generation (born 2003 onwards) already demand a more natural interface having known nothing but touch screens and waving their arms in front on an XBox Kinect, but given the simplicity of NUI control it will soon find favour amongst older folks and everyone else in between.
Let’s face it, the mouse was always a bit fiddly and was bound for the bottom drawer eventually but it is the speed of change that’s caught many interface designers off guard. In just 12 months we have seen smart phones, tablets and game designers make touch controls expected, the next 24 months will see touch all but replace the mouse, aided by intuitive voice and gesture based navigation. This change will be driven largely by computer games but also by other application designers looking for more convenient, user centred, ways to engage with their content.
By way of example we recently launched an application with 303 (for West Australian energy retailer Synergy) that was aimed squarely at kids aged 7 and up. It was an application that sought to educate young Australians about energy consumption and needed to engage kids, who have little time for written instruction. In short, it had to be natural.
Taking some ideas from game designers we developed an Xbox Kinect style game whereby kids could simply step up to a mat and start running to power an application that would teach them valuable lessons about energy consumption. By making it a movement controlled game we created an interface that was not only natural to our target audience but also one which engaged them to participate.
The results had to be seen to be believed. Kids, as if at a theme park, queued to participate and parents stood in the wings soaking up the energy conservation message. Only by exerting physical effort themselves could children truly experience the the effort required to produce energy and in turn how we should be more careful with using it unnecessarily. A traditional web based GUI just wouldn’t have worked.
As developers we may get caught up in the intricacies of the technology at play, using Kinect and complex code to convert body movement to indicative energy output, but the success of this digital communication came down to a simple to use, natural interface that suited the target audience. No instructions required, no mouse, no keyboard, no information architecture, just run….and learn.