RWW Live: Mobile App Development – phones getting smarter, pipes getting dumber

After a month-long hiatus, I made a return appearance on ReadWriteTalk’s fortnightly podcast RWW Live hosted by Sean Ammirati. In this latest episode we focused on mobile app development and platforms, and joining regular contributors Richard MacManus and Marshall Kirkpatrick (ReadWriteWeb), along with Sean and myself, were special guests Loke Uei Tan, Tech Product Manager from Windows Mobile, Tom Conrad, CTO of Pandora, and Ben Strackany from mobile development company DevelopmentNow.

What ensued was a lively conversation about the challenge of building mobile apps based on the number of  different devices and platforms, and that’s before you factor in the carriers. From a technical point of view, a lack of a standard platform poses a real challenge, not dissimilar to the early days of developing for the web, or as one of our guests suggested, writing software for the Mac back in 1984!

But perhaps even more problematic is the love/hate relationship with mobile carriers that developers have to contend with. Tom Conrad, CTO of Pandora, spoke of the benefits of getting a mobile app “on deck”, industry jargon for having it pre-installed on handsets or promoted and sold through the carrier’s own portal, versus the real possibility that if an app like Pandora (Internet radio) tried to go-it-alone (“off deck”) it might be blocked by carriers because of its high bandwidth use.

On that note, all of our guests (including Loke from Microsoft) acknowledged how revolutionary the iPhone has been in terms of the amount of power Apple has wrested from its partner carriers (software updates, an app store, and a direct billing relationship with customers), along with building a robust development platform and eco-system in such a short time. It’s also doing wonders in educationg consumers about the benefits of mobile apps.

This lead to a great discussion about the dilemma that carriers face moving forward: the fear that they will eventually become a “dumb pipe” selling commodity services such as voice and data at commodity prices with little or no differentiation. The challenge over the next few years is for the carriers to find ways to add value by working with app developers and building new services, perhaps based on subscription models or mobile advertising, rather than become consigned to being just a mobile ISP.

At this point I interjected to argue that if mobile apps were to really take off, as has been shown to be possible with the iPhone’s App Store, then it’s inevitable that the carriers will have to get out of the way. When I recently shopped around for a new mobile phone contract I went with the carrier that offered the cheapest and most generous data plan, with the least restrictions on its use. That way I can install the apps I want, including VoIP, IM and video streaming players, without breaking terms of use or exceeding bandwidth limits too easily.

In other words, if phones are really going to get smarter, carriers will have to get dumber.

You can listen to the full podcast over at ReadWriteTalk.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

One Response to “RWW Live: Mobile App Development – phones getting smarter, pipes getting dumber”

  1. Annonymous says:

    I think a lot more people are going the same way you have – a generous data plan with the least amount of restrictions possible. What is the point of having a smart phone if you can’t use half the features because either the carrier blocks them or you can’t afford the bandwidth?

Leave a Reply