Mobile Apps - here comes the flood
My younger son occasionally asks me what life was like in “the olden days”. “Did they have TV in the olden days?” “Did they have houses in the olden days?” “Did they have toilets in the olden days?” And so on. Now it must be said that Rhys’ understanding of what constitutes “the olden days” is perhaps rather different from my own – itself rather nebulous - conception which as I type is revolving around mental images of flickering fin de siècle film footage allied to vague recollections of Ladybird Book's Kings and Queens of Britain. For my six-year-old son, the olden days refers to some indeterminate period of time between the emergence of Boxgrove Man and his father’s childhood; hence my inability to give a straight yes or no response to the above enquiries. “Did they have mobile phones in the olden days?” Yes, he asks that as well, and so “Well, not when daddy was little, but…” And then I have to stop myself going off on one about incumbent telcos launching analogue networks and the history of the GSM standard. “Did they have app stores in the olden days?” No, he hasn’t yet, but knowing my various children’s enthusiasm for digital entertainment in its divers forms, it will only be a matter of time. And when he does, I will rejoice, in that I can say, definitely, absolutely, no. But so completely have app stores – and the app store model – transformed the mobile content ecosystem, that historical distribution mechanisms seem positively antediluvian. Since that joyous confluence of consumer smartphone and consumer app store in mid-2008, the ecosystem has changed, changed utterly (I could continue to quote Yeats and state that a “terrible beauty” was born, and then draw further parallels between the Easter Uprising and the struggle for the app ecosystem, but this is not the place for such a tangential discussion, however interesting.) What did happen was that from mobile content being a comparatively low profile sector, it leaped to the forefront of the industry’s minds, propelled there by downloads on an unprecedented scale. With the emergence of a host of Android smartphones – and a host of consumer storefronts – the market gained further impetus; consumers began to buy apps in large volumes; began to buy things through their apps in large volumes. Within a couple of years, the app store model had become the de facto means of accessing content; last year, apps delivered to mobile devices realised $22 billion in revenues, a figure that we anticipate will rise to nearly $52 billion by 2016. But will it stay that way? The drive for convergence allied to the onset of HTML5 has opened up opportunities for browser-based applications; the Financial Times, understandably reluctant to pay 30% of subscription revenues to Apple, has eschewed the native iOS app and instead opted for D2C distribution of a web app. Certainly, for larger media publishers – with sufficient web traffic and a variety of distribution channels – D2C might well be a more profitable strategy in the medium term. However, for the majority of content providers, the leading app stores, with their tens of millions of active users, will continue to be a critical means of app discovery and access. “Did they have HTML5 in the olden days?” Like I said, only a matter of time.