Commentary

Connecting The Dots For A Mobile-First World

When Tim Berners-Lee first conceived of a "hypertext project," the foundation that would become the World Wide Web, he chose to keep it open and free.

Twenty-five years later, the Web has seen great change. Software as we now know it is eating the world, and we now cannot imagine functioning day to day without it. The only problem was the medium. PCs could never reach true scale. It took a different kind of device -- one more portable in nature -- to hit global adoption. 

As most reading this are aware, smartphones are projected to hit the 10 billion mark by the end of the decade, and the implications of such a number are immense. But the question is how are the dots are being connected in the mobile-first world.

1. App vs. Web

In this ecosystem, we are given two frameworks: apps and mobile Web. While most statistics have slightly exaggerated the usage metrics of each, the writing on the wall is clear -- users prefer the simple, immersive experience of native apps.

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What does monetization look like in a native app world?

In-app purchase or in-app advertising. In-app ads are growing at 60 percent per year, and expected to surpass online display revenue by 2017. But the more pressing question becomes: how do app companies and brands market in a native ecosystem? 

2. Install is the new Click

In a native app world, downloads have become king. Yet no one seems to be talking about what happens post install:

Twenty-five percent of users will open an app just once after downloading it and 69% will open it 10 times or less -- i.e., the vast majority of people downloading a native app won’t become loyal users.  

What does this mean? 

UI/UX = Holy Grail.  

Install merely opens the door and acts as the initial intent signal. Retention is the one true metric and becomes developers’ and marketers’ ultimate goal.

Push notifications, email, and deep-linking are providing the framework to bring abandoned users back into the fold.

3. Mobile Payments

The in-app purchase ecosystem is alive and well. Apps like Uber are on course to hit the one billion mark, with the transaction experience becoming seamless -- and most importantly, with one click.

There is one gatekeeper that some of us believe has been patiently waiting to strike: Apple has close to 500 million credit cards on file, and they will hit a billion very soon. When you couple this with TouchID, which adds a much needed security layer to mobile payments, and iBeacon, which utilizes geo-fencing to potentially serve relevant offers based on user/merchant proximity, you can begin to see a foundation being laid out in Cupertino.

Pros and Cons

As the above holds great promise in the immediate, it's not all good news. Chris Dixon from a16z paints a very clear picture about the potential ramifications: 

"We are creating a future in which the Web becomes a “niche product,” and the dominant environment is one of proprietary walled gardens run by a couple of Web giants -- and this is bad for innovation."

The Web's Creator shares a similar view:

"If you look at it broadly, yes, a monopoly slows innovation, reduces competition. That's why it's important this is an open platform. But monopolies come and go all the time."

The good news?

The environment we have been painting today has a shelf life. And the search is on for the next great platform.

Some are hedging their bets on Virtual Reality and the Internet of Things, while AI and Machine Learning continues its upward trend. 

When Steve Jobs first envisioned running applications on the iPhone, it was centered around the notion of Web apps. When the browser couldn't live up to the vision, he pivoted and the rest is history. If HTML5 can begin to offer users a UX greater than it's native counterpart, we can all once again bask in the splendor of the open Web.

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