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A Review of the Mobile Market in 2011

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Overall Mobile Trends in 2011

Mobile in 2011 has been very much a case of hurry up and wait. Immature is maybe a better way to put it. The market remains consumer focused. Business’ have largely sat on the sidelines. Mobile software innovation has been somewhat limited, with too many copycat ideas; “I want to build a site like Foursquare”. Games continue to dominate. On the hardware front, things are evolving. Tablets were the most hyped item in 2011. Things have been hit and miss here. Notable misses include: the Blackberry Playbook (great platform but the screen is too small), the various split screen releases, and the lack of 3G on many tablets. The IPad2 and Galaxy stand out as hits. Smartphones have evolved. Releases like the Samsung Infuse with large 4.5″ high resolution screens, have vastly improved the user experience.

To summarise our overall thoughts:

1) Mobile is still a consumer focused market, with social networking etc
2) As in the early days of the Internet, business adoption has been slow.
3) Mobile remains a confusing marketplace; hardware and software/platform wars continue.
4) Key business applications of mobile include improving mobile worker productivity, improved real time decision making, email, inventory/warehouse management, field sales force, asset management.
5) Mobile devices remain physically fragile. Rugged cases and more rugged actual devices will reduce concerns.
6) Overall 2011 usage survey – According to a Guardian survey, 84% of tablet owners play games, ahead of even searching for information (78%), emailing (74%) and reading the news (61%). Tablets are predominantly domestic devices, with 82% of people primarily using their tablets at home, versus 11% who say they are used primarily on the go, and 7% who said at work. 28% of respondents said their tablet is now their primary computer, while 43% said they spend more time using their tablet than they do their desktop or laptop computer. The most popular smartphones apps are games, weather, maps, social networking, music, and news.

Businesses are looking at portions of enterprise apps being mobilized. Much of this is focused on 2012, and a maturing mobile market. B2C enablers will flourish as mobile web continues to gain importance as a channel. B2B will remain challenging.

Mobile GIS, LBS & Map Development Tools in 2011

Adobe have been one of the key development tool providers to get behind the mobile revolution. With their increasing focus on mobile AIR for installed mobile applications, and support for HTML5 for mobile web apps. Adobe are one of the companies leading the mobile charge. Many of the major mapping, spatial and location focused companies have turned their attention to mobile. ESRI have launched a number of mobile products to support their ArcGIS flagship. The free mobile app released to the Apple and Android markets, allows users to leverage ArcGIS online to visualize their spatial data. MapQuest have made some very interesting recent announcements, with a new mobile web release (m.mapquest.com), their MQVibe product (mqvibe.com) and release of their mobile Flash api. They provide a comprehensive array of mobile solutions. In the open source world Openlayers is turning its attention to mobile (http://trac.osgeo.org/openlayers/wiki/mobile). Mobile web tools are proliferating. It will be interesting to to test OpenLayers mobile as an installed application using Phonegap. A number of the newer location based service companies, such as Foursquare and SimpleGeo, have opend their apis. Making it possible, for example, to pass a lat/long or current location, and get back a list of venues nearby.

Mobile Software Trends in 2011

The year started with the dominance of the Apple IOS mobile platform. This maintained the demand for Objective-C developers; the native language of IOS. The steady growth in popularity of devices running the Android platform over the year, has seen more demand for Java mobile apps. Apple have continued to throw their weight around, maintaining their stance on preventing third party plug ins to be included in any IOS browser. Effectively stymieing Adobes Flash Player and Microsoft’s Silverlight. The growth of mobile cross browser solutions has been one of the biggest changes this year. For installed applications, Adobe have put their weight behind mobile Adobe AIR. On the Web HTML5/Javascript seems the emerging favored choice. Indeed at their end of year MAX show, Adobe threw in the towel on Flex and Flash (one can speculate in large part due to the Apple plug-in decision). Pushing HTML5 and mobile Adobe AIR. They even went as far as to buy PhoneGap, a technology to convert a web HTML5 mobile app to one which is installable. Then to open source the product, under the Apache license. We are a long way from seeing the end of PC’s, but should that day come so ends the Flash Player. Some of Adobes end of year decisions, makes one wonder whether they have seen the writing on the wall.

Mobile App Development in 2011 – Many Challenges

For developers there have been both opportunities and challenges. The maturing of HTML5, release of Adobe AIR for mobile, and opening of Android market (considerably reducing the pain of distributing mobile apps) have improved the life of mobile developers. Listing some of the challenges:

1) Project issues – changes in spec/scope creep, incomplete specs, and app complexity,
2) Distribution & update issues – multiple markets (Apple. Android, Blackberry), submission policy too long (particularly Apple’s), painful certificate process (again particularly applicable to Apple), expensive and long distribution.
3) Other issues – security, back-end integration, mobile web is a different beast to PC web must design accordingly (UI/work flow)

How are the Public and Private sectors using Mobiles?

Looking back on our year as a company we have had many mobile application development conversations. Ambitious entrepreneurs have formed at least half of these inquiries. Those with good ideas, and limited budgets, looking to better understand how to make these ideas a reality. We expected more media driven ideas; social media apps for example. Certainly there were plenty, but fewer then we expected. Which was a relief. Our real interest is larger scale enterprise mobile application development. Looking for better ways to improve enterprise efficiency using mobile. Both replacing and extending existing software processes. Long term mobile has the potential to change many of the processes within the enterprise. But, as was the case with the Internet, currently only small steps are being taken. We did notice a trend over the year, with more inquiries from larger enterprises. Many of these conversations were informational. But the trend was encouraging and bodes well for 2012. Key application discussions have been around data collection in the field and linking that to GPS location, dynamic data visualisation (GIS layers, routes, traffic), data editing, local search (what is near me). Below is a list of some of the industries/sectors we were approached by in 2011:

a) Forest service – Looking into use of mobile email and testing for GPS accuracy
b) Political campaigns
c) Engineering
d) Agriculture
e) Facility management
f) Outdoor recreation
g) Medicine – self diagnosis and referral
h) Car dealerships
i) Police & Parking meters officer IT providers
j) Surveying
k) Forest management
l) Pipeline, water, transportation

Reflections on WebMapSolutions 2011 Mobile Business Strategy

Just as an aside from general discussions. We thought readers might be interested in how mobile application development companies like ours fared in 2011.

The PC based Web continues to dominate our activities. We’ve put much emphasis on mobile, since we feel this is where much of application development will be focused. But, as we have indicated above, we have found enterprise adoption slower than expected. From a business perspective our mobile strategy has been as follows:

1) Position the company as a mobile application development company focused on location; GIS, maps and location based services (LBS).
2) Write an very active blog on mobile apps and mobile app development.
3) Publish articles. We have has a number of articles published in leading geo and industry specific magazines, in the US and Europe.
4) Build partnerships with key companies – MapQuest, ESRI, Adobe.
5) Write a plethora of demo apps (with supporting videos for marketing) which show the capabilities of online and offline location based mobile apps.
6) Launch GeoMobile for ArcGIS, a free mobile app into the Apple and Android app stores.
7) Provide free application code.
8) Making available free mobile and development planning guides.

It is still hard to gauge the success of this strategy. Our blog has caused a noticeable uptick in Web traffic. Our Web site traffic has changed from 20 daily visits to over 150. Positioning ourselves as a location focused mobile app development company is in may ways redundant. Since most if not all mobile apps will take advantage of GPS and location. But we have had comments from potential clients that they were looking specifically for mobile location app experts. We have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the free mobile app. The fact it is free and user configurable maybe problematic. But in each mobile store the mobile app gets a 4 star rating which we take a positive. Its purpose was simply to demonstrate the potential capabilities of a cross platform mobile GIS application. The demos have proven very powerful. Every mobile contract we have signed this year has been a direct result of a demo. Our partnerships we see as long term relations. We are particularly excited about our MapQuest and ESRI partnerships. Article writing we hope helps raises our profile as industry experts in mobile application development. We are now writing regular columns in two high circulation magazines.

With a core group, within the company, who can advise and consult with clients on their mobile strategy. And a network of highly skilled developers. We feel well positioned for what we expect to be a busy 2012.

Trimble
Teledyne Optech
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