Recap of the 2016 Open Mobile Summit
Building native vs. mobile web apps. Creating great user experiences. Testing and validating code. Quickly adjusting to changes in market conditions. Building great apps counts now more than ever.
The great mobile market in which we live seems to be a result of two big technology launches: one by Apple with the iPhone and its iOS software platform under the leadership of Steve Jobs on June 29, 2007; and the launch of Android open source platform by Google led by Andy Rubin on September 23, 2008.
There were others that participated earlier, such as BlackBerry’s fits and starts, and going back further to the “the three musketeers” (Donna Dubinsky, Jeff Hawkins & Ed Colligan) of Palm/Handspring who demonstrated that you could integrate a cell phone, access the web and PIM sync with the desktop.
So, here we are ten years later with mobility permeating into all aspects of the global society, with broad success in both consumer and enterprise now communicated through the Cloud.
Open Mobile Media, a division of FC Business Intelligence in London, recently held its 8th Open Mobile Summit, one of the leading mobile-centric conferences, which just migrated to San Francisco from New York City. The conference draws together the most influential B2C brands, mobile-first companies and app idols. However, there is a great deal of technology that underpins the entire mobile market and is used by the most influential B2C brands. Anyone working in the mobile industry (B2C, B2B and B2B2C) would gain a lot of perspective on just how fast the industry is moving forward.
The speakers at Open Mobile Summit represent companies in which many of the most recent advances in mobile technology stem from; and discussion topics include critical issues such as native vs. mobile web. For example, PowWow Mobile developed an advanced next-generation enterprise infrastructure to mobile app, including both native iOS and Android-based apps, plus mobile web. This is a good example of how mobile app development has migrated in the past ten years from developing every app from scratch, to only native-to-screen scraping, to using an app acceleration tool kit, to run-time analytics that include the development of both native and mobile web that drive business transformation.
The Open Mobile Summit (OMS) held plenary sessions each morning of the two-day conference, and two breakout tracks in the afternoon. Here’s a summary of a few of the sessions, along with key takeaways.
Physical and Digital: Make the Most of Data to Perfect the Art of Omni-channel
Andrew Vaughan, Chief Product Officer, Hyatt Hotels Corporation
Farhan Siddiqi, VP Global Digital Experience, McDonald’s
Matthew Witt, Chief Marketing Officer, M1 Finance
Moderator: Daniel Chatelain, Managing Director, BayPay
This session focused on the integration of the digital and physical world and how the mobile digital world affects the physical world in two ways: B2C, in cases where the retailer focuses on customers; and B2E, where mobile helps the company operate more efficiently. Andrew Vaughan of Hyatt Hotels discussed how mobile is helping transform the overall customer experience with check-in and access to the facility’s resources.
Farhan of McDonald’s discussed where mobile is helping customers pre-order their food so that it is ready when they walk into the local restaurant. They are experimenting using mobile ordering stations at the tables, which basically disintermediates the entire concept of a ‘line.’ The results of McDonald’s test phase demonstrate an increase in sales, shorter delivery times and increased customer satisfaction.
Discover how to use Payments to Acquire New Customers
Jay Parekh, Director of Business Development, Venmo
What I found fascinating about this session is how Venmo (now a division of PayPal) has turned the concept of mobile payments and cash transfers into a social experience of sharing what the customer is doing and when they need a payment. Venmo becomes a mobile messaging social experience that removes the stigma of asking for or sending money. It seems that there’s a lot of opportunity for PayPal to take the experience of overall payments into a more social experience.
Fireside Chat: Embrace Mobile Lifestyles: TV in Your Pocket
Ben Smith, SVP Experience, Hulu
David Pierce, Senior Staff Writer, WIRED
This session focused on how Hulu is working to compete with Netflix’s recently launched ‘download now, watch later’ feature (which Hulu is working on as well) by focusing on the delivery of live TV shows to Hulu customers. This is a case of being upstaged in the tactics of delivering video to customers. However, there was clearly a more interesting issue of how video (TV, video and movies) are going to be distributed Over-the-Top (OTT) and how users are going to be able to find them. Thus, video search is going to become a big issue for all OTT players over time.
The Approach to the Universal Web: A New Era for Mobile
Daniel Bernard, Chief Product Officer, USA TODAY Network
Daniel’s thesis depicted the idea that since there are more people using the mobile web (the blue bar in the graph above), companies like USA Today should focus on the mobile web or, as he calls it, the Universal Web. Daniel supported his thesis with the following chart. As you can see, his belief is that the Universal Web is more appropriate (than building native apps) because it allows for web search, social/chat messaging, and provides quality content.
He (and others below) point out that you can now get the Universal (Mobile) Web to load pages faster (than in the past), hence delivering a quality experience to the large number of visitors that come to the USA Today website on a mobile device.
Currently, there’s a lot of dialog centered around the improvements to the mobile web experience. One of the obvious reasons that native apps are better than the mobile web is because native apps yield much faster speeds. Now, with the speed difference less than before (but still not quite as fast as native), the reasons to do native instead of the mobile web are more marketing reasons than technical ones.
Daniel pointed out the major reasons why USA Today has gone exclusively to providing a mobile web experience to the user community. As you’ll see shortly, there are other reasons that you should choose to build a native app.
Mobile Productivity: Work and Collaborate from Anywhere with Office Mobile Apps
Alberto Martinez-Interiano, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Microsoft
With all of the changes in mobile strategy that Microsoft has made since Satia Nadella become CEO, it seemed pertinent that the company deliver a progress report on what Microsoft was doing behind the scenes in mobile – especially with some things happening recently with Microsoft Office in the mobile device arena.
Just a couple of years ago, users couldn’t get Office on their iPad, iPhone or Android device. Now, the app is available and includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for these devices at no charge as long as the user has a desktop subscription to Office 365. The most recent enhancement includes the addition of pen support for all of MS Office. This feature allows users to annotate with a pen to make notes, highlight portions of your text, create shapes or write math equations and have them converted to text on touch devices or pen-enabled devices.
From Awareness and Discovery to Consideration and Transaction – Why Understanding the Full Journey is Key
Kalpak Kothari, VP of Product Engineering, Poshmark
Angela Wise, Head of Product, Sprig
Gadi Weiszlovits Lahav, Head of Product, Financial Times
Marie Floyd, SVP Customer Experience, Wells Fargo
Stu Aaron, President and COO, Mixpanel
Moderator: Robin Li, Vice President, GGV Capital
I found this panel fascinating partly due to the excellent moderator, Robin Li, a venture capitalist with GGV Capital, a fund that has offices in Silicon Valley and China. GGV Capital makes investments in the internet, mobile, hardware, cloud and SaaS in the world’s two largest tech markets.
While all of the panelists were good, I particularly enjoyed Angela Wise, Head of Products at Sprig, an online (mostly mobile) ready-to-eat meal and delivery service. Angela emphasized how the mobile and web experience had to be as good as the food they cook and deliver.
I also liked Marie Floyd’s discussion on the importance of accuracy in the customer experience on Wells Fargo’s website and mobile app. She emphasized that the company goes above and beyond to ensure that the site is accurate in every way, noting that if customers see errors on the website or mobile app, they are also inclined to think there may be errors on their bank statements.
The over-arching theme in this session was the importance of building the right customer experience, and beginning the process by ensuring the customer experience is in line with the mission and culture of the company. In the panelists’ opinions, it isn’t so much about native apps vs. mobile web; but nailing down the user experience first and then figuring out whether to build a mobile app is second. Gadi of the Financial Times focused on how you work to convert users from free to paid. He went into great detail about how the company covers that issue and carefully opens the site to the content when the user begins to pay. Thus, it wasn’t about pay-to-play with a closed door, but a sensible business-based approach to migrate new users along the path toward paying; knowing full well that numbers of users drop out at each phase.
Have We All Become a Bit App-Happy? The Resurgence of Mobile Web
Thao Tran, Global Product Partnerships, Google
Sudev Balakrishnan, SVP Product, Grubhub
Ambika Nigram, Global Head of Mobile Apps and Connected Devices, Bloomberg Media
Moderator: Alex Austin, CEO, Branch
Every conference has one session that seems to outclass all the others. And while each session was headed by intelligent and talented individuals, one panel seemed to hit a home run by dealing directly with the central, gut issue that drives the native apps vs. the mobile web debate.
Thao Tran of Google’s Progressive Web group made a strong case for all the latest enhancements with Google’s Chrome mobile web browser to work faster and offer more services than ever before. Her thesis: why waste time and money to build a native mobile app when you can use the Pervasive Web – Google’s advanced Chrome mobile web browser – that gives just about the same experience? With that, the debate began a paradigm shift from “The Resurgence of mobile web.” to a surprisingly supportive stance on the case for native mobile apps.
Session moderator Alex, CEO of Branch, then asked Ambika Nigam, Global Head of Mobile Applications at Bloomberg Media, to give a rebuttal on why native app development is better.
Ambika didn’t hesitate to get straight to the point, opening her side of the debate with, “Well, folks I’m here to tell you that if you care about the experience your customers have with your brand, then native mobile apps are the only way to go.” She made the case for Bloomberg having customers all over the world which is comprised of both data and editorial content. Most pay a lot of money to get access to Bloomberg financial and editorial information.
She then laid out all the reasons that, in spite of recent positive developments in the Mobile (Progressive) Web, native is still the only way to control the user experience. I liked the way Ambika related the 12 different apps that she uses each day to manage every aspect of her life from the time she wakes up her family, to the very end of her day. She also went through the strategy to building the native apps for Bloomberg Media.
Sudev Balakrishnan of Grubhub, one of the top food ordering and delivery services in the country, supported Ambika’ stance, but added an important perspective: first-time visitors often use the mobile web as a precursor to the desktop. Sudev pointed out that from a business perspective, users typically find companies through search and referral, then companies get them to try products or services, and lastly the companies move to build and retain the customer’s relationship with native apps.
Throughout, the debate remained respectful, yet highly influential. I think I speak for most when I say that this session provided the best dissection of both drawbacks and benefits of Mobile Wed and Native App usage.
The Decline of Mobile Apps – What Next?
Beth Diaz, VP Audience Development and Analytics, Washington Post
Matthew Schulz, Lead Mobile Strategy Manager, USAA
Mike Vladimer, Co-Founder, Orange IoT Studio, Orange Silicon Valley
Moderator: David Wu, General Partner, Maveron
The title of this panel was misleading; as most everyone talked about why apps are so important. Much like the fore-mentioned sessions, Beth Diaz from the Washington Post talked about the importance of getting the user experience right. Matthew Schulz of USAA talked more about the design process of the company’s mobile app, and Mike Vladimer of Orange (a large telecom operator in Europe) talked about why apps are the wave of the future:
- Apps solidify emotional attachments to brands.
- Apps enable more meaningful engagements.
- Apps are breadcrumbs across the user’s journey.
The Age of the Bot: What Does This Applied Artificial Technology Mean for Your Branded Mobile Experience?
Craig Parfitt, Sr. Director, Product and Partner Services, Expedia
Laura Newton, Product Manager, Bot Platform, Kik Interactive, Inc.
Ilya Gelfenbeyn, Product Manager, API.AI at Google
Moderator: David Wu, General Partner, Maveron
This panel session looked at the underlying infrastructure of most apps and how:
- Machine learning helps determine how to understand and modify apps
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used to provide more intelligence in the services that apps provide
- The creation of bots is mostly code elements that are added to messaging and chat apps
I was impressed with the presentation by Laura Newton of Kik, one of the leaders in publishing bots (mostly) for messaging, with over 300 million users.
Overall, this was more of an awareness panel – giving the audience more information on things in which they might not know a lot about.
There were a number of major takeaways from this conference. Here is a brief analysis of the highlighted topics:
Messaging Traffic is Passing Social Networking
It seems clear from many presentations that we are in the midst of changing from a ‘mobile social’ world to a ‘mobile messaging’ world. It’s not that social is going on the decline. Rather, it’s that messaging (text messaging, chat, bots, image sharing and services) volume has caught up to the traffic in social networking. Take a look at this slide: (source Laura Newton, Product Manager, Kik)
I believe that the reason for this is due to the richness of messaging (as a platform), which started as text but has since evolved into services that include mobile commerce. The kinds of services led by WeChat in Asia are now coming to the US through the deployment of various bots inside of the major messaging platforms.
The following slide shows how the center of activity in mobile has evolved:
Continuing with the explanation of the evolution of mobile in the diagram above, the creation of desktop websites was followed by mobile-optimized websites, which flourished in the wake of the iPhone 10 years ago. However, it quickly became apparent that pushing a desktop website into a smaller smartphone screen had lots of challenges. Now, most websites are ‘mobile optimized’ so that when the device requesting a web page is accessed, the website delivers a modified display that appears on the mobile device in a layout conducive for easier navigation on the smaller screen. Some websites still appear to be programmed in basic HTML, rendering them slow and clunky.
At this point, you had both iOS native apps and Android native apps – both operated more efficiently and offered a better user experience. Native apps gained momentum with the launch of app stores and the mobilization of Facebook.
Facebook recently created a messaging app after the acquisition of WhatsApp. Now, these new services have been created in and around the concept of messaging. As a result, traffic has exploded. At this year’s Open Mobile Summit, it became clear that we may be starting another major transition to messaging-based mobile commerce and services as demonstrated by WeChat in Asia coming to the US market.
Native vs. Mobile (Progressive) Web (HTML5+)
Before this event, I felt that there was almost a war of sorts between building native apps and the mobile web (or as Google calls it – the Progressive Web). Now, I feel that we have gotten beyond the “War of the Apps” to understand the need for both: mobile web directed at the wide majority of mobile users – where they discover, try out and learn about the brand and its services; native apps are directed more for long-term users and customer relationship management.
When mobile executives go into meetings with top management, the topic of cross-platform most always comes up. In the past, it was thought a cross-platform approach was needed if you wanted to be on both iOS and Android. This meant that you developed an app in HTML5 (mobile web) so it could be utilized by all mobile users. The world then migrated into Native (IOS and Android) vs. mobile web. But now, the story is a little different.
Look at the mobile web as a way to get started, and then migrate to native apps for long-term relationships. There are also cases where a hybrid approach can make sense. One way is to wrap a native app in HTML or vice-versa. What’s clear is that if you care about your (either consumer or enterprise) users, you want to foster rapid adoption, which often is via the HTML5-based (Progressive) mobile web. If your strategy is more long-term, native will always enter the picture for both iOS and Android.
The App Sandwich
I came away from the Open Mobile summit with the realization that there are three very distinct layers in the world of apps. First, there are the apps themselves. There’s an art and science in building a good user experience. Second, there’s now a very rich infrastructure created underneath the apps that is used to build the user experience (UX), integrate with the Cloud and major corporate back-end systems, incorporating bots and machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and security.
Third, there’s also an upper, external layer that helps developers test how the apps are working that actually provides analytics and performance measurements. You can no longer develop simple apps, especially if you are serious about utilizing them to foster relationships and loyalty with customers. The stakes are high for B2C and B2B companies; forcing them to take mobile and its associated components very seriously in order to compete in the marketplace.