Mobilized Health is coming to an iPhone near you. Is this the year of mHealth?

All sources indicate that Apple’s next frontier is the Health sector.

Tech prognosticators rely on endless public data, corporate espionage and outright rumormongering to predict Apple’s next innovations. Given that the impact of even a simple release of stomach gas from Tim Cook’s lips can wreak havoc on the stock market, its become an industry to guess what the Wizards of Cupertino are going to offer up next. It seems almost daily that prolific bloggers, tech tastemakers, financial sites, news organizations and mac addicts serve up daily doses of insight on Apple’s plans for domination. Because Apple’s new offerings impact so many different groups of people, its not surprising to find this level of obsessive focus. Despite Android’s vastly larger user base, and Samsung’s seemingly Big Brother-like presence over the last few years, Apple is still looked at as the driver of the mobilized marketplace. Consumers tend to adopt (or at least try) Apple’s innovations, and Apple’s connected ecosystem offers integration on all fronts: retail, home, workplace. A number of recent moves by Apple make it clear they are making a huge investment in health-related products and features in its next round of devices and software.

 

For many readers, this is old news. But for the average Apple /iOS/iPhone consumer, the details and implications of this will be far-reaching and can potentially coalesce a score of past efforts and techs that have been hammering on the mobile health door for the last 10 years. If adopted, Apple’s health, wellness and fitness innovations could open up a massive, long hoped for opportunity for consumers, doctors, health professionals, hospitals, insurance companies and the general “wellness” industry. This is no shock. Health Care on the whole represents a staggering 1.6 Trillion dollar industry. Despite their stated and likely genuine altruistic intentions, its not surprising that Apple wants to get a slice of that pie. These ambitions are clearly evident by a number of recent developments:

 

  • One recent move uncovered by Apple Insider, is an Apple Patent filing entitled “Wrist Pedometer Step Detection”.  This patent filing details a program where sensors placed inside of a fitness-tracking device (likely a watch or band – more on that later) would interpret motion and accurately record and represent the users activity. Device patents and info-leaks speak of Apple’s imminent “iWatch” (or whatever they plan to call it), which points to usage for medical, health and fitness related integrations (not to mention the usual fawning and drooling that comes with the prospect of Apple building ANY new gadget). Pundits report a planned wireless tether between the iPhone and the iWatch that will allow a host of intriguing possibilities for tracking, data gathering and interpretation.
  • Recently, Apple showed its hand by revealing Healthbook, a new app that will be part of the standard OS apps in the new operating system, OS 8, which will be a dedicated Health application. The details of this new app show an incredible level of sophistication and scope – allowing users to measure not only weight loss, sleep and fitness tracking, but blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, respiratory and oxygen saturation. Apple is clearly looking to provide consumers with a virtual/mobilized health center – and the implications of this are unlimited from a physician/patient data sharing and hospital visit perspective – not to mention health insurance data.
  • Another more auspicious development, the story broken by ManagagedMarketAccess, was a meeting in December by a group of Senior Apple executives and the United States Food and Drug Administration, apparently to discuss the development of mobile medical applications.  At the meeting from Apple’s side were top software development executives, operational executives and a member from their Government Affairs group. The F.D.A. folks included members from their Center for Devices and Radiological Health, and Bakul Patel, who authored F.D.A.’s mobile medical app guidance. Clearly, this meeting is indicative of serious developments inside Apple to work out the regulatory minefield that will no doubt have to be navigated as these plans come to fruition. That meeting indicates some challenges that Apple is already experiencing as they work out the deployment details of their mHealth ambitions. They are clearly covering their bases on the hardware, software and regulatory fronts.

mHealth is already a crowded space. According the BI Intelligence, there are already roughly 100,000 health applications available in major app stores, and the top 10 mobile health applications generate up to 4 million free and 300,000 paid daily downloads. These are pretty significant numbers. The lion’s share of these apps is not used very much (downloads are not indicative of long term adoption), have limited functionality, are highly specialized for the management of specific health conditions, or are fitness /wellness related apps (these are the most popular). Forty-two percent of apps rely on a paid business model, according to an in-depth study by research2guidance. Only 15% of apps target health care professionals, and the balance are aimed at consumers.

A terrific 2013 report by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics reported some solid info on the use of health apps in the iTunes store.  Every single app categorized as “Health and Wellness” or “Medical” was reviewed. The report itself is over 50 pages long and offers one of the more comprehensive reviews of the mobile health app space.

Here are some highlights:

  • Of the 43,000+ apps evaluated, only 23,682 were designated as having a legitimate health function
  • The Apps were further categorized by 7 capabilities:

–      Inform (10,840 apps)

–      Instruct (5,823 apps)

–      Record/Capture data (5,095 apps)

–      Display User entered data

–      Guide

–      Remind/Alert (1,357 apps)

–      Communicate

–      None of the 7 capabilities (1,622 apps)

  • 5 apps accounted for 15% of all downloads
  • 16,275 were called out as “patient facing”
  • 7,407 were deemed “provider facing”
  • Smartphone use for health apps is lowest (18%) in the 65+ demographic

The mHealth marketplace “seems” crowded- but still only has traction with a few niche consumer groups: Fitness enthusiasts who run, exercise or ride bikes as a main part of their lifestyle, Wellness-types who care a great deal about their food, calorie, sugar intake, weight loss consumers who use apps to track their progress, diet, calorie burning and weigh goals and a segment of patients who have adopted mobile health apps to support their ongoing disease management regimen – like Diabetes sufferers or Heart patients.  The average everyday consumer still does not show a strong desire for mHealth offerings – and until mainstream adoption occurs they likely wont participate or maintain a long-term usage of these tools.  Apps of this type require a great deal more than just a cool interface and gimmicky gadget pairing. Apps of this type are high-engagement apps, which demand commitment, dedication and time on the part of the consumer in order to gain optimal value.  Apple understands this. And it looks like its development group is going to try to bake in some of the tracking and measurement features so that they work in stealth mode, in the background, like dormant record keepers –and provide users with valuable insights and data that the average, busy consumer would not likely take the time to input.

 

Which is really what is so daunting:  The hope is that when Apple releases new features and software – pre-baked into their OS and accompanied by their sexy, shiny new line of gadgets and simple-to-use interfaces – consumers will adopt them, and push competitors out of the market.  The potential good news will be in the increased adoption of Health related behaviors by the consumer.  Or so Apple hopes. But lets be honest: Apple is not always successful at capturing adoption for their innovations: Apple’s Map platform was a mitigated disaster (and still is – it tried to send me to Cleveland from the NJ turnpike last week); Passbook is not revolutionizing the ticket industry (I use it – but still don’t really see the value) and Apple’s native apps like Calendar and even Safari have been trumped by better versions from third party developers. However, iMessage is now default (I hate when someone’s’ texts turn green), iTunes platform integration is pretty seamless, Siri is not perfect, but I use it daily as a dictation tool and scheduling program, and the iPhone is the most used camera on the market. Overall, iPhone users statistically do more with their phones than Android users do. Apple simply makes it easier for users to get into their offerings, use them and stay there.

 

So the question remains:  Will these factors result in a successful mHealth ecosystem? Will consumers adopt Apple’s mHealth innovations and devices?  Will Apple’s attempts to gain regulatory and industry acceptance drive the mobile health industry? We should have a good sense of things by Q1 of 2015. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

 

 

 

 

Brands without a Strategy – Google’s Mobile Wasteland

Google is doing all it can to force brands over the mobile cliff.  It’s not working apparently. Nor is the obvious fact (glaringly obvious at this point) that the entire realm of online consumer media consumption is moving to mobile.  The charts included in this post are from a recent Business Insider article that speaks to how Top US brands still are not mobile-ready. In my experience from being on the other side of this syndrome,  the issue resides at the top of the food chain at the C level.  Most, if not all,  rank and file brand people are fully aware of this glaring omission.  Speaking to them and their exasperation is profound:   “I know. We are aware of this and we are on top of it.  Stay tuned” or “I know, I know. It’s a big missing right now, and from what I hear, Exec Mgmt. is working on a global mobile portfolio strategy” or some gobbled-y-gook like that.  More likely, the bureaucrats are still trying to figure it out, or are hiding under their desks waiting for IT to make sense of it or for some agency partner to tell them what to do.  The bottom line is that it’s not getting done.

For those who view the absence of mobile-specific web content as an indicator of no mobile strategy, many large top brands, like Snuggle, for instance, still have no mobile strategy.  Now in all fairness to Snuggle, they may be in the process of building mobile content while I write this post, but putting up a simple mobile-friendly landing page should take a week at most.  And at this stage, it’s a week too late.  You know that I have been beating the drum about this issue a lot on these pages, but it defies understanding when billion dollar brands can’t get out of their way fast enough to move in step with the times. This is the reason that smaller start-up brands are able to appear more innovative and gain more traction from mobile users.  Fewer executive layers, less committee, less pontificating, leaner IT cycles.  It’s not that smaller brands are any smarter, or better marketers even.  They are not.  P&G and their ilk are brilliant folks – they just have created monstrous battle ships that are hard (or impossible) to turn around.  And making a billion dollars a year globally makes it easier to rest back on their laurels and “work on a cohesive strategy that takes into account all of our key stakeholders while maintaining our commitment to excellence for our loyal consumers” blah blah.

The Business Insider study conducted by Pure Oxygen Labs, indicates that 44% of Fortune 100 brands have no mobile content strategy – and only 56% are currently serving mobile-optimized content.  Only 45% have built dedicated mobile sites, while only 11% deployed responsive websites.

Google’s new requirements support a Responsive Design strategy – and this makes sense – as the development of a true Responsive Strategy would require a great deal more thinking and organizational alignment than just creating a simple mobile-friendly approach.  Responsive Design is not a development plan. It’s a Strategic approach that impacts all online and off-line digital content.  Developing a Responsive strategy would in fact FORCE all executive marketing layers to align and orchestrate across the entire communications and IT spectrum.  And that’s what all of todays brands need to do.  Re-arrange the entire structure of their development, deployment, targeting, content management and analytical disciplines.  And this is what will happen.  Eventually. Just not today when it offers brands the most obvious opportunity for competitive advantage.  CMOs should be drooling over this ripe time in history when 1 month head start will gain them a 6 month lead in the race.

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Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/top-us-companies-arent-mobile-ready-2013-8#ixzz2b7tKyfaT

Don’t wait for the money

It’s clear that the old school approach to media buying is behind the lack of commitment to mobile spending.  I am not a true believer in the idea that traditional media strategies (banners and rich media units) will ultimately work in mobile, but before the riddle is solved one thing is certain:  we need more data in the channel to figure it out.  Since no brands are offering free placements, there needs to be a much greater level of spending to definitively see what works and what doesn’t.  Until then, these drips and drabs of trickle-funds will not yield anything compelling enough to open the floodgates.   We are at a strange inflection point in mobile marketing, where virtually all brand marketers finally agree that mobile is real – hell, critical – but no one really knows the “formula” to unleash its power from a ROI perspective.  So, brands wait for the money to return and keep one toe in the water until it arrives.  What’s needed is something that won’t likely happen:  an industry consortium of brands across verticals who collectively agree to spend another 10-20% of their media and marketing dollars to mobile in 13 Q4 and 14Q2/2 to flood the channel with campaigns (as well planned and strategically sound as is possible of course) to generate some real data that can be evaluated by mid-year 2014.  Someone will make it through the glass ceiling.  This will never happen.  Brands will continue their Hamlet-like approach to mobile – pontificating, philosophizing, ruminating, doubting and waiting for their money to return.   

Welcome “Home” Facebook Phone: Updated

Ok, so here’s a more accurate and current update to my earlier post about the so-called “Facebook phone”.

Seems like what Zuck is doing is now allowing any Android phone user to essentially turn their device into a “Facebook phone” by simply downloading an app called “Home”.   This app places a new Facebook layer over the existing Android OS, which makes Facebook the primary interface for all basic phone functions.  I was accurate that there will be a new device from HTC called the HTC First – which will be the first phone to be sold with Home pre-loaded into the OS.  But, on April 12, any Android user can go to the Google Play store and download Home and turn their Android phone into a Facebook phone.

According to TechCrunch:  Anyone who has the most recent version of the current Facebook App as well as Messenger will be able to download Home. If so, you will apparently get some kind of banner alert to download Home from the Google Play store. When you launch it the first time, you can decide to “try once”, or choose “always” to swap in Home for you home screen from then on. Facebook will try to make Home available on tablets within a few months, and it’s supposed to be a great experience there. Every month, Facebook will release a Home update to add new features and make it accessible to new devices.   The Newsfeed feature will be called “Cover Feed” and will display what are called “Chat Heads”, or little bubbles with the face/head of your friends when you receive a chat or message from them. These Chat Heads will appear at the top of the screen within any app or feature that you use on the phone and can be ignored or responded to via some swiping options. 

Overall, the idea is to fully layer or integrate Facebook into the entire Android experience, which for all intents and purposes makes the Facebook experience a 24/7 always on environment for users.  This is could be a real boon for people who already rely heavily on Facebook for updates, chats, invites, groupings, etc. on Facebook – and weave these functions more ubiquitously into their daily use.  It could also drive people to WANT to integrate Facebook’s tools into their usage if they find that the new Home OS works well, and provides more speed and connectivity to their social network. 

This is an interesting and very clever strategy.  By creating a universally accessible app for any Android user, Facebook has created a very robust distribution strategy.  You have to think that a lot of Android users are at the least going to download it and try it (the Home app allows for a “try it once” option- smart) and play with it for a little while.  Some will stick, some will not.  But this strategy exponentially increases the pool of potential users. 

Amazingly, Google cooperated with this – which is shocking frankly, as Google’s entire Android strategy is going to get killed by this new app. 

Here’s why:  One of Google’s primary objectives for the development of Android was to force users to rely on Google’s proprietary tools: Gmail, Search, Google Maps, Google Chat, etc. and hence continue to feed the beast with the heaps of data that nourish its colossal search juggernaut.  With Home, Facebook bypasses all of these tools by letting users simply use Facebook for most of these functions.  Why Google would be ok with this is curious. Could be that Zuck is playing a very clever game of gotcha – in forcing Google to make a Sophie’s Choice about its commitment to Open Source Free Range integrations.   We shall see how it plays out.

The new Facebook phone. What’s the deal?

Facebook is announcing the launch of their first “Facebook Phone” today at 1pm.  Alot of buzz on this new gadget is filling the net.  I thought I’d weigh in.

What is it?

First its important for folks to understand that Facebook is not “building” its own phone.  They do not have the desire nor muscle to get into the device manufacturing business.  Apparently, this will be a new customized version of Android that will offer a fully immersive Facebook integration – its an Application Layer to the existing Android OS that essentially makes Facebook ( and all of its components) the interface for the user that uses the phone.  They are partnering with HTC to create this new version – apparently called the HTC First, and bring it market in a very opportunistic way.  They are looking to target the midlevel mobile phone users that do not currently own the higher end smartphones like iPhone 5 or Galaxy III –  these folks are more inclined to “upgrade” to a more affordable phone that gets them into the more sophisticated device market without hitting their wallets on the higher end phones that are out of reach.  This is a good strategy as this integration and device may be the impetus for these users to make that switch.   Plus these people tend to rely a lot on Facebook as a core social connection platform.  

Some background:

As we have seen over the last few years, Facebook has been building and acquiring a suite of Facebook components that all work as a part of the larger Facebook ecosystem:  Messenger, Instagram, Voice Calling, etc, and all of these sub-apps can be independently placed on both iPhones and Android phones today.   So, over time, Facebook has essentially been creating their own “replacement” apps for all of the core OS apps of iOS and Android – in an attempt to gain more user integration on an adhoc basis.   The issue for them in this scenario, is that due to their landlord/tenant status on iPhones and current Android phones they are subject to the laws inherent to being inside of a controlled environment.  What this new concept does is free them from those shackles and allows Facebook to be the main if only choice for users to perform their basic functions.  The thinking here is that a vast chunk of Facebook users are on the Facebook app for a majority of the time each day anyway – looking at their feeds, sharing updates, texting their friends and sharing and viewing pictures, etc.  This new device will make those functions the core of the experience.  The main screen will apparently look like a Facebook welcome screen and all of the user interactions will be done through Facebook’s platform.  

 So, why are they really doing this? 

  1. At the end of the day its data.  Data is Facebook’s mother’s milk.  The more user data that they can cull, the more targeted their ads can be and more revenue they can drive.  So, getting those other pesky interfaces out of the way allows Facebook to essentially be the entire data gateway for this device and hence will be allow them to capture ALL of the user data that is captured on the phone. 
  2. International and Emerging Market Penetration:  This new OS will also be used as a strategy to gain ground in emerging markets like India, Russia, China and Brazil, where feature phone usage is still the norm.  Putting a cheap device into those markets with a simple version of Facebook baked in will capture new Facebook users for the long term when computers and advanced devices are more prevalent.  These Facebook phone users will be hooked at this point and likely create online Facebook accounts once they have the means to in order to maintain the connections that they have established via mobile. Pretty slick. 
  3. Expose Apples weakness.  I don’t know if this is a defined strategy – but it makes sense.  Apple is know for its closed and controlled environment, hence this kind of partnership would not even be possible on an OS device.  Android is know for its open source customization.  Users may flock more to Android phones as this initiative exposes some folks to the limitations of Apples controlled platform.  Maybe. 
  4. Mobile is Facebook’s future-  and they know it.  Getting some kind of beach front in the mobile space was an inevitability and this approach makes the most business sense. 

Wil users care?  

Who knows?  I don’t – aside from my interest as a mobile professional, I don’t have enough of a reliance on Facebook to see this as a value prop.  But users who DO use Facebook as their primary tool set and are social citizens may buy in.  Assuming that there are enough people out there who have lower end phones and see this as their affordable upgrade opportunity (and it carriers and HTC can make it affordable enough for users to get in) they will likely bite.  Who knows?  Perhaps once this launch proves successful, Facebook has designs to bake this new OS into more advanced Smartphones ( like the HTC One Second? ) it may be a new offering in the smartphone display case.  

The event is at 1pm today.  I’ll see how right or wrong I am then.

Groundhog Day: Where have the risk-takers gone?

Frustration-Eats-Pencil2Over the last year, I’ve found myself having the same exact conversation with my colleagues over and over again – and it seems like it won’t stop. Basically the gist of it sounds something like this:

“@#$$%$%@. Why won’t (input name of Brand or CMO, or Marketing Director here) actually try something risky and innovative for once? I’m tired of bringing ideas to the table, only to have them road-blocked by these bureaucrats. They demand fresh ideas, but they never have the onions to actually execute. Why am I wasting my $#$%*!@ time?”

It seems that there’s some law, similar to Moore’s Law, which postulates that the more new marketing innovations are made available to brands, the more risk-averse brands become.  This “Inertia Curve” doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  Too much choice sends marketers under a rock for some reason. I’m sure the economy and job security are a large part of this – but that can’t be all.  It just can’t.  We all know that down times like this are the BEST times for making waves. So where are the thinkers?  Where did they go?

Marketing professionals (myself included) are pulling their hair out performing acrobatic Bo jangles in the conference room, while our clients pore over mindless ROI projections and assess “brand risk” scenarios.  It’s enough to make one throw in the towel.  Media buyers and planners will always get a seat at the table, but talk about something fresh like mobile, and brands become Hamlet.

I read an excellent article about A.G. Alley’s new book ‘Playing to Win’ where the marketing titan discusses his assessment of today’s corporate brand culture.  He summed up exactly what me and my colleagues are feeling a lot of today.

“They think they have a hot product or hot service, and these don’t last forever. They think that benchmarking, best practices and copying what the rest of the industry does is a strategy. They try to be all things to all people. “

So in essence, he points out how brands rest on their laurels and play it safe – kicking the proverbial budget down the road without thinking about the bigger picture.  And in this kind of environment, no ground-breaking marketing decisions can be made.  So for those of us who got into mobile marketing to cause a stir and do something exciting, the search for risk-taking clients is like hunting for the elusive Yeti.

The Mobile channel is rife with this mentality. While we are certainly seeing a great deal more respect paid to mobile (there are some stellar standouts who are taking risks that are paying off) it’s still an afterthought for most mainstream brands.  Great ideas are brought to the table, but the scraps of shekels that remain after the standard TV and Media budgets are consumed are not enough to move the needle – but just enough to make the CMO feel like he checked the innovation box for the quarter.  The problem with this approach is that no significant mobile campaign will ever succeed unless the proper resources and focus is placed on it. So, they fail. And the cycle continues. Bean counters prevail, and it’s back to the basics.

Here are a few things that CMOs who are stuck in the mud can to do to move the needle on their innovations:

1) Re-think ROI:  Marketers have become spoiled by metrics like CTR, CPC and Conversion Tables.  This Spreadsheet Culture has created a new breed of market-think that by its nature shuns innovation and turns brand marketing into a Bloomberg Terminal.  This is no way to move ahead.  Mind you, I am not shunning the value (or necessity) of managing returns, however, I am espousing the return of bleeding edge thinking that got most top brands to where they are in the first place.  Take a look at your massive TV buys. What ‘measurable’ return do they get you (and please don’t cite Neilson ratings)?  Brand marketing is risky.  But it’s what drives the rest of the train.  Have the guts to slice off a significant hunk of your TV budget for Q4 and spend it on a truly integrated mobile campaign.  Sure, you will get push back from your CFO, but there is more inherent brand lift from doing something new, than making a cooler TV spot.  Create an experimental budget that is designed to make some smart mistakes. Learn along the way and in the process make some real waves.  You will enjoy your job again.

2) Think about Your Consumer:  Remember the days when the consumer came first?  Consumers are now doing more on mobile and social than any other medium.  I know, I know. TV trumps all.  But Second-Screen marketing is now a reality. Users now EXPECT more innovation and demand a mix of brand messages. Traditional marketing tactics will always have their respective roles, but branch out and think about how your consumers are buying, shopping and sharing.  Most good CMOs know this stuff, but for some reason when it comes to budget allocation time, they don’t take bold action.

3) Downtime is the Right Time:  Slow economies are hibernation times for innovation, but economic wisdom supports the idea that these are best times to make changes. Your competition likely has their head in the sand, too. Lets face it, once things look up again (and who knows when that will be anyway?) brands will gain the confidence to break out the red-velvet blazer. Break yours out now. You wont need to spend as much as you wont need to break through a lot of clutter – and your audience wont be over loaded with trinkets.

4) Listen to your Trusted Advisors:  Your agencies are good at what they do (well, most of them are).  Listen to them. They don’t want to lose your business, so it’s not in their best interest to do things that wont reflect good on them. You hired them to bring a fresh outside perspective and likely slogged through a brain-melting RFP process to select them. So let them do their job. I talk to a lot of pretty smart agency executives who have some really impactful and responsible ideas for their clients – and can’t get them to act.  We do care about your business regardless of how self-serving our motivation may seem to be at times.  We win by making you win.

I hope I wake up tomorrow morning to a new radio show.

Mobile HTML5 and the Race to App Ubiquity

HTML5 Pros

Mobile HTML5, and the Race to App Ubiquity

For the uninitiated, you may have heard rumblings over the last year or so about this thing called “HTML5” app development. This wonky discussion is getting even more heated up recently and while it seems like a topic best suited to Stack Overflow chat rooms or WebMonkey, the fact is that this development trend will likely have a direct impact on everyday app users. In fact, many pedestrian smartphone users are likely interacting with HTML5 apps and don’t even know it.

HTML5 – What the hell is it?

Ok, according to Wikipedia:

“HTML5 is a markup language for structuring and presenting content for the World Wide Web and a core technology of the Internet. It is the fifth revision of the HTML standard (created in 1990 and standardized as HTML4 as of 1997)[2] and, as of December 2012, is a W3C Candidate Recommendation.[3] Its core aims have been to improve the language with support for the latest multimedia while keeping it easily readable by humans and consistently understood by computers and devices (web browsers, parsers, etc.).”

For those of you who are still scratching your heads, here’s a more pedestrian definition from Mediascope’s blog page:

“HTML stands for “Hyper Text Markup Language” which is geek-speak for “a set of rules that tell computers how to interpret code to display websites.”(seriously, there are literal sets of rules) HTML5 is the 5th version of these rules, and brings major upgrades to the capabilities of websites. To oversimplify the explanation, HTML5 is a convergence of several technologies currently used to make websites interactive.”

So, what is the big deal here? you may be asking. Well, simply put, this new development standard allows mobile apps to be built essentially as websites instead of downloadable applications. Right now, if you are, say, an iPhone user, and wanted to check out a new app you just read about, you would as, per usual, go to the Apple App Store, perform a search, find the desired app, and then download it from the store to your phone. This process literally places a packet of code directly into brain of your phone –which, depending of the functionality of the app – is powered by the device itself and runs “natively” on your phone, in many cases whether you are on the internet or not (again, depending on the app – for example, many game apps run independent of the internet – which is why we see so many people playing mobile games on their phones when down in the subway). What HTML5 development standards offer is a “bypass” of this process, by allowing web-based “apps” to run over the internet via the mobile web browser (in the case of iPhone, this is the default Safari browser). This emerging platform makes for some very provocative implications for users, app developers and the big OS giants (namely Google and Apple – and also Microsoft and Blackberry).

As the sophistication of HTML5 development matures, app developers will be able to build and deploy applications without having the deal with the toll booth and inspection process that Apple and Google (to a lesser degree) impose on apps before they are deemed consumer worthy. So, to provide some context for the reader, imagine a future where there is no longer an “app store” any more. Simply mobile internet-based links that allow anyone on any device to immediately gain access to app experiences via the web. No such thing as iPhone apps, or Android apps, or Blackberry apps or Microsoft apps or Whatever apps. These distinctions would disappear, and one web-based development initiative would be compatible to any smartphone user. Seems interesting no? Well in some ways that future is already here. In a number of instances for some apps, this deployment and development strategy is already being utilized. Take for example, YouTube. A totally HTML5-based mobile site. It looks like an app on your phone – but the YouTube icon on your smartphone is really just a “Bookmark” link to the mobile website. Netflix also utilizes this same development and deployment strategy. There are many other examples in the mobile webisphere that you can check out here: http://www.mobilehtml5.com/

Pretty cool. So, why is this not more the norm?

Good question. And this is where it gets complicated. Basically the big debate about HTML5 development came to a head when back in 2011, Zuckerberg finally released a NON- HTML5 version of the Facebook app. Yup. Facebook was from the outset, an HTML5 app. And it sucked. You remember how awful it was? How it crashed all of the time, and didn’t load, and never seemed to work and was a slow, cruddy mess? Well, it was because the visionaries at FB decided that an HTML5 deployment – for all of the reason above – was the way to go for its huge user base. And it was a good idea, frankly. A bit ahead of its time, but a good idea. In order to save face (pardon the pun) for years, Zuck tried to fix and mend and tweak the app to improve it – claiming that soon the HTML5 development standard would mature at the right pace and meet the needs of his development team. But it didn’t happen. So, in 2011, FB released a brand new “native” FB app – and the improvement was immediate. So, that brings us to the answer to the question, what is this not the norm? Because for all of the promises and opportunities that HTML5 development offers, its still a lousy experience for most of the more complex applications we use everyday. Here’s why:
1) The mobile internet, well, sucks. Lets face it. The mobile internet, while an incredible and earth-changing technology, has not kept pace with the way that we want to use it. Its unreliable, its patchy, its fragmented, and its frustrating. At least in the Western part of the world (Asia is light years ahead of us on this – but that’s for another post). So, running sophisticated, high-interactivity apps over the mobile web is a risky proposition. That’s what Facebook experienced. Hence, only specific types of apps are appropriate for HTML5 deployment – and those are the ones that best suit the platform (low interactivity, “thin” content). Banking apps, and shopping apps, as examples, are too information-heavy for a web-based experience, so these and others like this, are typically built in native format.
2) HTML5 is just not there yet. It’s still a nascent technology. The code standards are still fragmented. Development cycles don’t ubiquitously translate across all mobile operating systems (apps built this way still need some moderate “tweaking” per OS to ensure that they work across all devices and OS versions), and there is a great deal of disagreement among the community as to what will become standard and what is still open to interpretation. So most of these apps are skunkworks initiatives (other than the YouTube’s and Netflix’s of the world) or labors of love.
3) The Platforms Are Not Supportive - As you can imagine, the core players, Apple, Google and Microsoft, are very threatened by this development (Apple has the most to lose, frankly). They RELY on the platform ubiquity that keeps their users tethered to their devices. The App Store deployment strategy offers Apple a closed-gate environment where they can play traffic cop and gatekeeper to both the app developer community (who must comply with Apple’s strict app development standards) and the Apple device users like you and me who must go through Apple’s store to buy apps (and music and movies and books and magazines and soon clothes, devices, food, and who-the-hell-knows-what). So, as you can clearly see, allowing consumers to have access to all of this great stuff via the internet is a huge threat to their entire toll booth business model. Word on the street is that Apple sees the inevitability of this coming wave, and is simply going to develop some other standard or gate to maintain its hold – and I wouldn’t count them out. They are good at this sort of thing. But lets just say that the immaturity and unreliability of HTML5 at the moment is not something that Apple is weeping over.
4) App Developers are divided - While it seems to make for a boon to app developers to remove the shackles and deploy apps via the internet, the fact is it’s a mixed bag. Many app developers have spent years putting together their native app development capabilities and processes. And they make good money being a good citizen to Apple. And they like it this way. Others are clamoring for the day that the technology and maturity develops so they can get around the gate and start a direct to consumer business. So there is some polarity in the developer community which hampers R&D.

Summation: Keep looking
So, in short, its clear that the HTML5 development debate will only get louder and louder in 2013 as more and more of these type of engagements make it to the web and are successful. A few interesting development are occurring in the developing world. According the Business Insider’s Mobile Intelligencer:

• Gree, the Japanese social mobile gaming giant, has built an HTML5 platform to speed adoption of its games in the 169 countries where it’s already present.
• Telefónica has 175 million mobile customers across Latin America, as well as an investment in Chinese carrier Unicom. Telefónica wants to push HTML5 not just for mobile development, but also as an operating system via theFirefox mobile platform.
• Chinese manufacturer ZTE has also signed on to carry handsets powered by the Firefox mobile OS, in a bid to reduce dependency on Android.

And it looks like Mozilla is now creating a new mobile operating system based on Firefox that is supposed to launch this year – which is based entirely on HTML5. These kind of developments will only push forward acceptance and standardization of HTML5 development – and US based operators are going to take notice and see a new business opportunity in there. So, dear users, your apps may take a different turn in the coming year. Happy Apping.