We continue to be excited about the mobile sector and the opportunities for entrepreneurs to build large companies. The industry has seen the smartphone universe expand dramatically and now no smartphone is complete without an app store. New business models like mobile advertising, which were touted in 2005 and 2006 but failed to live up to early expectations now seem to be blossoming. That said, we believe we’re still in the early innings with many more innovations to come.
Here are our predictions for the mobile sector for 2010:
1. Virtual goods means real revenue in mobile
We’ve all seen the rise of the virtual-goods economy in the online world. Like its impact on the online world, virtual goods is poised to have profound positive impact on mobile-app startups for several reasons. First, unlike the subscription fee or one-time purchase business model, virtual goods can help eliminate the friction to adoption. The cost to the consumer to try the app can be $0 yet the app developer still has a way to make money by selling virtual goods.
Second, the virtual-goods business model has proven to be a very scalable one. It has helped to create multiple public companies valued in the billion-dollar plus range including DeNA (in mobile) and TenCent (in the online world). Finally, it’s not mutually exclusive with the existing purchase, subscription and advertising business models. Certainly widespread adoption of virtual goods in mobile will take time and, depending on the platform, various issues will have to be worked through. But this business model’s entrance into the mobile arena bodes well for the entire ecosystem.
2. Still waiting for “off-deck” to (really) happen
Well, in some ways it has happened—almost. Certainly, the iPhone App Store is a great step forward for the industry. But, compared to the success of the iPhone App Store, the rest of the industry’s major players—Android, Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Windows and RIM (NSDQ: RIMM)—have a lot of catching up to do. Those app stores are not quite functioning at where they need to be to give iPhone’s App Store a run for its money.
The most cynical in the industry may actually say the iPhone App Store is not truly “off-deck,” it’s just a different deck. But however you want to slice it, we’re still a long way off from mobile-app developers being able to create true direct-to-consumer offerings like their cousins in the web world.
3. Nokia or RIM buys Palm (and the next round of big battles begin)
Palm built a slick OS but it is in a tough spot as a standalone company. It’s not RIM and Nokia, big handset guys with material smartphone market share, and that creates a tough spot for Palm (NSDQ: PALM).
Apple’s iPhone not only created a great consumer experience but it created a great platform for developers. This platform allows developers to create compelling mobile apps, to reach the consumer without going through a carrier, and to bill the consumer leveraging the iTunes merchant
relationship. Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) set off the virtuous cycles that feeds both the growth in the installed iPhones (and iPod Touches) and the growth in apps (and developers).
Legacy software at Nokia and RIM and the lack of deep OS software expertise at other handset vendors meant Palm had a chance to create its own virtuous cycle. Until Android pulled the rug out and ran off with the momentum.
In the world of mobile operating systems, Palm has created a real asset. For large OEMs like Nokia and RIM that have solid hardware and massive distribution but legacy software, Palm may be an asset they can’t live without.
4. The enterprise moves past using mobile data for just email
RIM did a great thing for industry in driving mobile data into the enterprise. This was no easy task since the enterprise is complicated. It not only involves catering to the needs of the end user but also getting IT comfortable that you are conforming to and not breaking their network and security architecture. Mobile email now has a healthy adoption rate in the enterprise and the good news is that people believe in the productivity benefits and are looking for the next set of applications to mobilize (the bad news about mobile email adoption is that response-time expectations have shrunk to hours and there’s no such thing anymore as an “out of office” auto response for why you can’t read email).
Other smartphone platforms beyond RIM, such as the iPhone, have also seen interesting levels of adoption, and we expect that to grow. With a rich and growing smartphone base in the enterprise and a positive experience around the benefits of mobile data from both end users and IT, we expect 2010 will create an opportunity for a new generation hot mobile apps and technologies—this time focused on the enterprise.
In 2010, mobile innovations will branch out into new categories, while also benefiting as the recipient of long-awaited applications. Both these trends will create new methods for monetization in the U.S. and beyond, and ultimately, promise another important and profitable year for the category.