Permutations Of A Billion-Dollar Mobile App

When you look at the 21st century, a long time after early innovations appeared like the lightbulb or the phone, to later innovations such as the Arpanet protocol, to later search engines and portals,  you might ask yourself what the future of innovation will look like.  Will it be about solving a problem, with something never done before on a global scale (see above list) or will it be about mashing existing things together and making them better at a global scale?  Google made the world’s information accessible. Apple made the world of devices simpler/prettier. Facebook made the world closer.  But what’s next?

Video is one of the fastest-growing markets, according to eMarketer, and there is definitely going to be a lot of innovation around video -- especially in the mobile environment. What should the video mobile experience mobile be? An app, or an HTML5 one? Both?

I don’t like to follow trends so much, but I have this time -- so let’s talk about Instagram. I don’t care so much that it sold for a billion, and I don’t care so much that they got to 35 million users. I'm more interested in what can we take from this at a higher level.

This is all connected to what Vivian Schiller, NBC News Chief Digital Officer, said on a panel I was on with her at She said, “Platform agnosticism is completely wrong," and argued that at the end of the day companies need to craft the experience to meet the environment it lives in. We are no longer in a time that we have to (or should) invent brand-new ideas. In many cases we take existing ideas, and revamp the context they live in in a really great way. Modern art vs. contemporary art. Platform-agnostic vs. platform-orthodox.

Which leads me to mobile apps, and how we should we consider them with regards to video, for example. Mobile apps are not about being mobile, really. Yeah, they're on your mobile phone. But mobile apps are about the experience. When you go to Cielo Club on Monday night in NYC, you can wear jeans and a T-shirt as it’s a casual dance bar, and when you go to speak at Yale MBA club in Manhattan you wear a jacket because they expect you to, and when you’re home you wear comfortable clothing as you’re home. You’re always the same person, but you adjust yourself from the way you look to the way you articulate yourself given the circumstances. You must. Otherwise, it’s odd.  It’s out of context.

 Apps are strategically important to publishers, to companies and to us all as they address the native small screen we all use a thousand times a day. To that extent, Facebook didn’t miss on being the world’s biggest social network in the mobile environment, and it didn’t miss on porting most of the web features into the iOS/Android Facebook App. The company missed on having an experience that was built for mobile from the grounds up around its biggest core – images. It was never about having a ton of features in an app to copycat the Web experience, it was about having one core winning flow -- Picture/Filter/Publish/Follow -- in a well-designed mobile app.

Publishers should invest in developing apps that are not ported from their web experience but rather thought of from the grounds up -- for the mobile context.

As publishers invest more and more in video and in mobile, think about what Vivian said -- or about what Instagram did building a great app. Don’t be platform-agnostic; build it to win it where the experience going to end up living.

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