Mobile Operators have a crucial role to play in adoption ang growth of the mobile applications market

Most mobile apps today are pretty much “dumb”, just scratching the surface of what could be possible.Mobile operators can help power the next-generation of smarter, context aware applications.

We have passed the point where there are now more people accessing the internet via a mobile device than via a PC, overall revenue from mobile apps is expected to grow. The iTunes store has delivered more than 3 billion downloads, 22 apps are downloaded per second from Nokia’s Ovi store, there are more than 30,000 Apps available in the Android store… you get the idea…

There can be no doubt that the explosion of interest around the app ecosystem brought home just how important mobile will be as a future content delivery channel, typified by the increasing number of apps being produced by leading brands globally and locally with increasing frequency. No digital marketer worth their salt would now neglect having an app story in their digital marketing plan, even if in all honesty some are not quite sure why!

However, make no mistake that we are still firmly in the realms of a version 1.0 ecosystem. The app retail delivery platforms are still very basic; in fact they have not yet significantly evolved in terms of features and capabilities from the content delivery platforms that were offering mobile games, wallpapers and ringtones at the beginning of the decade.
The Apps themselves are clearly “dumb”. What do I mean by “dumb?” The vast majority of today’s app’s sits on the customer’s handset and has no understanding, or appreciation of its context or the person using it. Yes, increasing numbers of Apps are using location to introduce geographic context, but that is hardly pushing the boundaries of the art of the possible.
To take the app ecosystem to version 2.0, apps have to become “smart”. I believe this is where mobile operators finally have a key role to play in the progression of the app ecosystem.
Of course this role is not a divine right. The mobile operators need to go through considerable change in order to be able to contribute effectively. That change is both technological: opening up “smart enablers” to allow developers to easily consume these capabilities, and secondly: culturally – to embrace the independent developer community and relax their traditional command and control philosophy for mutual gain.
So what does a “smart app” look like?
Well consider today’s customer experience. You run an app and it is a one size fits all experience i.e. the app behaves exactly the same way for every one of its users, regardless of who they are, and how they are using it. Imagine a “smart” app that could customize the user experience based on intelligent, real time, information delivered from the Mobile Operator.
Examples of Mobile Operator unique enhancements to the customer experience could include:

•    On the fly customization of the application user interface based on a detailed understanding of the device currently being used. Remember that increasing numbers of customers are SIM swapping. How do you know that a customer using your service on a Monday via an mobile phone is now using your service on a Tuesday using the same SIM in a 3G dongle connected to a laptop?

•    On the fly customization of content richness based on knowledge of the users current connection speed (e.g. 2.5g, 3G, WiFi). For example trying to force rich video content to a customer on a slower 2.5G data connection will probably deliver such a poor customer experience they will never use your app again. If you know in real time their connection speed, you can deliver the most appropriate experience.

•    Personalization of content and configuration of your application user interface based on user demographics (gender, age, location, social economic profile, etc)

•    Targeting & profiling of the audience based on segmentation information e.g. travel profile

•    Micro billing to the customer’s mobile bill or debits from their pre pay balance at VISA like transactions rates.

•    In-App interactivity via messaging or calling

•    Up -selling the customer from a basic service to a premium guaranteed service (for example low ping rate for multiplayer gaming apps).

•    Then for the owner of the App, post usage analytics providing data like who, where, how long their users are consuming their services, and other customers of the Mobile Operator that match their current users profile, who could be targeted by a marketing campaign.

Examples of the enablers that Mobile Operators could deploy include; quality of service, billing, handset information, customer analytics, network traffic analytics, messaging, call management, location, age verification, tariff information. The list can go on and on, and in fact in our own planning sessions we have identified over 50 potential enablers.
This is a more intelligent way of developing not only the App, but also the business opportunity. Via the Network Operators turning their network infrastructure and assets into a plug and play platform, Mobile Operators become vital in the creation process of the second wave of ‘intelligent’ apps that can deliver far richer experiences for users which will drive adoption, longevity, and profitability.
Evangelization and education on the benefits of creating “smart” Apps is crucial – this won’t just happen by itself. We are at the start of the process, and many companies are only now trying to get to grips with their App 1.0 strategy.
To ensure Mobile Operators both identify and capitalize on the opportunity to become relevant in the App ecosystem, it is vital they adopt an open and transparent approach. Therefore there cannot be enough effort to bring together the various players in the App ecosystem to share thinking, create strategy and influence product roadmaps, and marketing plans.
Critically the experiences and enablers I have described here are not commercial reality today. Talking and listening to developers will be essential to ensure that the Mobile Operators invest in the right technology enablers and introduce compelling business models to encourage their adoption.

Of course enablers are just one piece of a complex App ecosystem. There are many other challenges that hinder unlocking the full commercial value of the market place, not least the fragmentation and choices available to developers at the handset Operating System level. However, our approach is the same: dialogue and insight.adapted from article by @jamesparton

An Africa based entrepreneur in the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled striving to build services that have real-world value for my beloved continent and beyond while having fun along the way.

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