Francisco Kattan

Insights on the Mobile Ecosystem

In Hindsight: What Went Wrong with Adobe Flash in Mobile

[This is a repost of my guest article at the SlashData blog]

Ever since Adobe announced that it will stop developing Flash for mobile browsers, the blogosphere has been buzzing with a broad range of sentiments including “I told you so” by critics, disbelief by Flash developers, Monday morning quarterbacking by analysts, and even a petition for Adobe’s CEO to resign.  Check out also the Occupy Flash and Occupy HTML manifestos from the opposing camps. Flash is one of those topics that attract very emotional responses from both its passionate developer community and its very vocal detractors. Although I am generally an Adobe supporter, I will put emotion aside and summarize, in hindsight, what went wrong. For full disclosure, I am a former Adobe employee, but this post is based only on publicly available information.

HTML5 did not kill Flash. Steve Jobs did not kill Flash. The death of Flash was caused by a time bomb planted inadvertently by Adobe many years ago.

Although Flash for mobile ultimately died because Adobe did not adapt fast enough to post iPhone changes in the ecosystem, the seeds for Adobe’s failure were planted earlier on. To understand what went wrong, let’s first review what happened before the iPhone and how those events set the stage for what happened later.

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Written by Francisco Kattan

December 16, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Why Amazon should NOT Acquire webOS from HP

Rumors about who will buy webOS from HP have been floating around for a couple of months now, including a recent surge in buzz as HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman ponders how to deal the whole Palm mess she inherited.   One of the potential buyers that has gotten lots of attention is Amazon (main story here).   Why not? After all Amazon has now emerged as one of the most significant threats to Apple and its ecosystem.  Although this threat has been brewing for some time, it only became obvious after Amazon’s recent launch of the Kindle Fire, a Tablet that is expected to split the market with the iPad and relegate all other contenders to “also rans.”

The Kindle Fire relies on Google’s Android operating system and the prevailing argument in the blogosphere is that Amazon needs webOS to differentiate:

“By purchasing the remnants of Palm, Amazon would have free rein to redesign webOS to its own liking, and it would be able to further differentiate its Kindle devices from the slew of Android tablets in the market” (from the story referenced above).

A cursory analysis of both companies (see table below) seems to support this argument.  Amazon has all the pieces in place to pose a credible threat to Apple, except for the ability to differentiate at the OS level.

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Written by Francisco Kattan

November 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Posted in Amazon

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Mobile Blog Digest for May: Carnival of the Mobilists #249

I have the pleasure to host this month’s Carnival of the Mobilists.  If you are new to the Carnival, it is a digest of the best mobile blogging for the previous month.  Please join the conversation by contributing your posts and hosting in the future.

Last month we had a good mixture of analysis and round up type blog posts.  I selected the ones that I thought were more insightful and/or contained practical advice for developers or marketers.  Be sure to check out my pick of the month at the bottom of this article.

If you are a developer, Sean Thompson, VP of Production at GOSUB 60, wrote a nice piece on the WIP blog to help you decide if your app should be free.  The top grossing apps are free to download and are monetized through in-app purchases, but should you also monetize your app this way?  Sean helps you decide by considering five key questions.

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Written by Francisco Kattan

June 1, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Is RIM in the Smartphone Business? Or the Messaging Business? Time to Decide

When you buy a BlackBerry, why do you do it?  Because you want to run many apps?  Or because of RIM’s leading messaging applications and services?

In the era before the iPhone (aka “Bi“), this question did not matter as there were no viable alternatives.  In fact, with hindsight, the notion of a smartphone to run many apps did not exist for most consumers.    You bought a BlackBerry primarily for messaging and phone calls (maybe a couple extra apps, at best).   However, in this new “Ai” era (after the iPhone), the situation is dramatically different.  RIM has been incapable of defending its position as a smartphone platform against new entrants Apple and Google.   And the situation can only get more difficult for RIM with the resurgence of Web OS under HP and of Windows Phone thanks to the recent Nokia deal.  If RIM can’t compete in a 3 horse race, can it survive a 5 platform war?

By contrast, RIM has been very successful with its messaging and collaboration applications.  RIM is the clear leader in Enterprise email, with others playing catch up.  And in case you have not been paying attention, RIM has been able to build a very large base of consumer messaging users with its flagship BBM application especially in international markets.   In fact, RIM’s troubles in North America are only being masked by its unprecedented growth of consumer messaging users internationally (for more on this, check out Mike Mace’s Tale of Two BlackBerries).

Should RIM continue to try to compete as a platform play? Or would RIM shareholders be better off if RIM focused on building its messaging franchise across more platforms?

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Written by Francisco Kattan

March 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Microsoft Shows its Cards with Windows Phone 7

As the launch of Windows Phone 7 approaches the question in everyone’s mind is:  is it too late for Microsoft to secure a leading position in mobile? We’re now at year 3 “Ai” (After the iPhone).   In the last 3 years the landscape has changed dramatically:

  • Apple launched 4 successful phones plus the iPad
  • Google launched Android and quickly secured a market leading position
  • RIM has lost some ground with two under achieving devices (Storm and Torch)
  • Palm launched the failed Pre and ran out of cash
  • Once almighty Symbian faded
  • Nokia and Intel joined forces with Meego
  • Samsung launched Bada….

all this… and Microsoft has yet to make its first move.

In a platform battle that is surely to consolidate, in the limit, to likely one big winner plus niche players, it’s not a pretty situation for Microsoft.  But if you are in Redmond you can’t afford to lose in mobile.  PC shipments are an increasingly small share of device shipments, with mobile devices enjoying all the growth.  Losing in mobile would relegate the Windows platform from a virtual monopoly to a minority player in only a few years when looking at all connected devices.

The question is what cards does Redmond have to play (besides a ton of cash)?

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Written by Francisco Kattan

August 25, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Why Steve Jobs will Never put Adobe Flash on iPhone OS Devices

[First a quick disclaimer:  although I worked for Adobe in the past and I still have many friends there, I have no inside information on this topic.  This post represents my personal opinion based on publicly available information.]

Given the launch of the Flash-less iPad and the leaks from Apple’s post launch employee meeting most industry insiders have finally concluded that Adobe Flash is not coming to iPhone OS devices.    Over the last two-and-a-half years the conversation has shifted from

  • When will the iPhone support Flash? to…
  • Will the iPhone ever support Flash? to most recently…
  • Why won’t Apple devices ever support Flash?

The question in most people’s mind now is why not?  That is the question I want to address with this post.

While most of the debate in the blogosphere  centers around technical reasons, the real reason is not technical at all.  It is a calculated business decision made by Steve Jobs.

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Written by Francisco Kattan

March 7, 2010 at 10:54 am

Dynamic Cell-ID: Clever way to Block Google, but will it Backfire?

Location was once a unique asset for the mobile operators.  You wanted to locate someone?  only the mobile operator could find him/her.   A valuable asset indeed, but as we now know most operators missed their opportunity to monetize it.  Location is now being commoditzed and is available freely on many high end handsets, especially those that support GPS or WIFI.  However Google also offers location based on the operators own base stations, and it does this in an aggregated way, across operators and countries.  This service is available on any handset that supports Cell ID APIs (most smart phones and many Java devices). To be fair, operators still have the advantage of offering location across all devices, however.  In addition, operator APIs are network based and don’t require that software be installed on devices which is an advantage for some applications.

How did Google build this database of operator base stations?

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Written by Francisco Kattan

February 6, 2010 at 8:38 pm

The Mobile App Store Landscape 5 years Ai (After the iPhone)

[This is a repost of my guest article at SlashData‘s blog]

2009 was the year of the app store wannabes.  Following the remarkable success of the Apple App Store, OEMs, mobile platform vendors, mobile operators, and traditional aggregators either created new app stores or repositioned their existing offerings as app stores.  There are now between 24 to 32 app stores depending on who is counting (see Distimo’s app store report and the WIP App Store Wiki for reference), and more stores are surely to follow.  However, key questions remain about how the app store landscape will emerge after the current period of hysteria subsides and the dust settles.

– Are we going to see many app stores on each handset?
– Will app malls emerge to host multiple app stores within?
– Will operator stores gain critical mass?

[Or will we see a “no app store” future as proposed by Matt Millar via the comment thread?]

Andreas Constantinou wrote an excellent article that defines the app store building blocks and predicts a “dime-a-dozen” app store future.  I will build on this post, but will offer an alternative view of how the landscape will evolve.

It’s a Winner-Take-All Contest

If we were to extrapolate the current trend, we could expect a future where each handset will host many app stores.   An LG Android device on the Orange network would have the LG App Store, the Android Market, and the Orange App Shop.  The Verizon version would have the V CAST store in place of the Orange App Shop.  On top of this, you could add the Getjar multiplatform store and several specialty stores for say, games, health, and productivity apps to name just a few.  Can you imagine the mess this would create for the user experience?  Which app store do I launch? Which apps do I find on which store? Are apps duplicated on multiple stores?  Are the prices the same across stores or do I need to shop around?  Are the versions of the apps consistent across stores?

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Written by Francisco Kattan

January 22, 2010 at 10:35 am

Why Droid will hurt RIM more than the iPhone

By now I’m sure you’ve seen Verizon’s aggressive “idon’t” campaign to compete against the iPhone with its new Motorola Droid.  This is Verizon’s second attack on the iPhone after the first attempt with the Blackberry Storm failed miserably.   Despite the Storm, AT&T continued to add new subs on the strength of the iPhone.  Just last quarter AT&T added another 3.2 million new iPhones, 40% of whom were new customers to AT&T (a 2 year trend now).

Although Verizon desperately needs to counter the iPhone, I believe this latest attempt will hurt RIM much more than Apple.   In other words, it will backfire cannibalizing more Verizon RIM devices than AT&T iphone devices.   Here are two reasons why:

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Written by Francisco Kattan

November 18, 2009 at 10:20 pm

How to Merchandise Your App 2 Years Ai (after the iPhone)

I want to write about merchandising apps in the mobile ecosystem, but first let me say that we need a new way to measure time in mobile.  The launch of the iPhone changed the ecosystem so dramatically that any discussion of how the mobile ecosystem works must specify Ai or Bi (Afer or Before the iPHone), in a similar way that historians use BC and AC to date historical events.
As an example, how you merchandise a mobile application today is radically different than any time Bi.   And this is what I want to post about.
At CTIA in San Diego I attended and spoke at the #wipjam event and I found the discussion on merchandising apps most interesting.   It was led by Mitch Oliver from Qualcomm with many developers sharing their experiences, and I thought it would be good to share with other developers looking to go mobile.
Before the iPhone (Bi):
Operators had a virtual monopoly on application distribution.    If your application could get on deck with an operator, this was half the battle. Investing in additional marketing helped, but was not required if your app got decent deck placement.  Because the operators had very limited shelf space, they did not take chances with “hit or miss” long tail developers.   So they pretty much stuck with proven, larger developers with a recognizable brand.    If your app did not perform (often because it was hard to discover), out you went.  Your livelihood depended not on consumer choice, but on the operator team responsible for programming its deck.  The programming team allocated valuable deck placement based on their own view of how an app would perform or in many cases based on behind the scenes deals.   Worse yet, developers had to make a signficant investment without any assurances of ever getting on deck (including hefty per handset certification fees).  This model left the small developers – often the more creative ones – out of mobile.  Small developers did have an opportunity to work with publishers  (or aggregators) who had reserved shelf pace for their catalogs with the operator –  but this model required the developer to share a signifcant portion of the revenue with the publisher, making it financially unattractive.
As a result, Bi, the most creative developers focused their energies on the desktop and the Web. The operators had squandered their monopoly position to distribute mobile apps and had stiffled innovation.   There was pent up demand, however, by brands, content owners and developers to exteand their reach to mobile open the doors to a new model.  Enter the iPhone.
After the iPhone (Ai):
One year Ai, Apple launched the the App Store. Now, 85,000 apps and 2 billion downloads later, the app store has redefined the model that is now being copied by many other app stores:
The App Store made the playing field even so small developers can get on deck as easily as the big guys.
The App Store eliminated the need for middle men (publishers or aggregators).  Small developer have a direct path to market.
While there are stil some nuances in the process (Steve does not like apps that compete with Apple’s own apps), the process is pretty smooth.
The programming team is gone, orther than for programming the carrousel (very important to get on) and for blocking competing apps that Steve does not like.
Developers get to price their own applications. Amazingly, Bi operators insisted in setting the price for apps as if they knew more about the developers’ customer.   More importantly, developers get to tweek pricing based on real time feedback.from their customers.
The app store eliminated certification fees
Introduced free apps.  This is a model that Lithuania based Getjar pioneered with it’s traditionally geeky audience of beta testers, but the App Store made it mainstrem.
OK, so the iPhone made it much easier to merchandize applications, right??   Think again.   The iPhone simply created unlimited shelf space.   If you app is one of 85000, how do you stand from the crowd?   Obviously if you can get on the carousel of promoted apps, you’re golden.  But this requires magic as the there not written rules. Now that Big Brother operator is not picking the winners with simple deck placement, you need to compete on your own merits and merchandise the old fashion way.   Here are some recommendations for developers:
You have to do your own marketing.   You can’t rely on the app store provider to market your app or on consumers disovering your app based on deck placement.
Know your audience and figure out where they hang out so you can reach them.  For example if you are trying to reach the social generation, use social media.  Developers at #wipjam reported great results from these efforts.  And it’s incredibly cheap.  Use Facebook, Twitter, and the bloggosphere as your CRM system.
If you deploy a free app with the objective of later upgrading your customers to a premium app, ensure the free app stands on its own.  Don’t just put out a demo or significantly crippled application.  Your objecitve is not to upgrade every free user.  Free users give you free marketing.  Many will never upgrade and this is OK.   But many will tell their friends, post on facebook or tweet about it.
Invest in an in-app analytics tool such as Motally.  This will help you get immediate usage feedback as you tweak your application.
Trial and error pays.  It is very hard to predict what consumers will want.  Don’t spend your life savings on a single app.  Instead develop quickly and try it out on the app store.  If consumers adopt it, update the application quickly and often.   If it does not fly, move on to the next one.
Cross Promote your app.  Look into App Treasures.
Port your app to the Palm Pre.   Unlike the iPhone, the Palm Pre is hurting for good apps.  You have a much better chance of getting noticed.  If you can get disovered on the Pre, you’ll get a ripple effect on the iPhone and other stores.
Getting on deck is not enough.  You must market your app via other channels!   Viral, facebook, blogs, twitter.
The launch of the iPhone affected the mobile ecosystem so dramatically, it reminds me of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.  Creative developers are now free to express their innovation pursue their

I want to write about merchandising apps in the mobile ecosystem, but first let me say that we need a new way to measure time in mobile.  The launch of the iPhone changed the ecosystem so dramatically that any discussion of how the mobile ecosystem works must specify Ai or Bi (After or Before the iPhone), in a similar way that historians use BC and AD to date historical events.

As an example, how you merchandise a mobile application today is very different than at any time Bi.   And this is what I want to post about.

At CTIA in San Diego I attended and spoke at the #wipjam event and I found the discussion on merchandising apps most interesting.   It was led by Mitch Oliver from Qualcomm with many developers sharing their experiences, and I thought it would be good to share some of the learnings with developers looking to go mobile.  Some of you not interested in the details may want to skip to the recommendations below.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Francisco Kattan

October 9, 2009 at 11:34 pm

My Number 1 Wish for Operators

I just participated in a panel discussion representing developer needs from operators.  The panel was moderated by Alan Qualye who kicked off the panel with the question:

If  you could have one wish to make working with a operator easier, what would that wish be?

Having worked with many developers I have many wishes, but my top wish for operators is simply to LISTEN to developers.  And by this, I mean to really listen, prioritize their requirements, and take action.

Only a year ago operators had a virtual monopoly for distribution of mobile applications and developers had to beg to get on deck.   It was difficult to get on deck, it was expensive to get certified on every handset, revenue share was low, and it was difficult to stay on deck because discovery by consumers was difficult.

But the tables have been turned now.  Competition for developers is at an all-time high.   Handset OEMs, OS players, development tool vendors, social networks, game consoles, operators, infra providers are all luring developers.  In fact, many developer programs have even created multimillion dollar funds to subsidize developers for their platform (such as the $10M Open Screen Project Fund my team and I set up for Adobe with Nokia).

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Written by Francisco Kattan

September 1, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Will Operators Miss the Boat with Payments Too?

I just read that Apple is rumored to be developing a digital payment platorm and this prompted me to post this article about another possible missed opportunity for mobile operators I’ve been thinking about.

For the longest time mobile operators have closely guarded important assets such as their customers’ location, messaging, and billing relationship.   As revenue growth from consumers is slowing, the talk in the industry is that operators should leverage these assets to generate revenue from third parties who value them.  For example, an application developer could incorporate location information to differentiate his application from the 1000’s of other apps in the app stores.   Another application could use text messaging for notifications, and a game developer could charge users on the operator’s bill to upgrade to a new level.

This all makes sense and would enable operators to avoid the same commoditization fate that the internet service providers already suffered.   The problem is that operators are not moving fast enough and these capabilities are now becoming available outside of the operator domain:

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Written by Francisco Kattan

August 6, 2009 at 12:58 am

Is BREW Dead? Lessons learned.

A while ago I attended Fierce’s Mobile Operating System Debate webinar and could not help but notice the dismal future of BREW as a platform for mobile application development.  As illustrated on slide 5 (see presentation from webinar referenced above), iGR found that ZERO percent of existing mobile developers surveyed planned to develop for BREW in the future.  We could debate the specifics of the data in the survey, but it is clear that BREW is losing developer mind share rapidly (while Apple, Google and RIM are all gaining share, as confirmed by iGR’s survey).

To make matters worse,  just yesterday Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s CEO, announced that Verizon (BREW’s biggest supporter) will be putting its weight behind the Java platform as part of its new effort to open its network to application developers.   Could this be the final nail in the coffin for BREW?  It’s not clear, but please voice your opinion via the poll below.  In any case, what is most important is to understand the key lessons learned from the BREW experience:

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Written by Francisco Kattan

June 3, 2009 at 8:29 pm

App store galore – friend or foe for the operators?

Once upon a time operator branded app stores were thought to be doing well.  After all, lots of games, screen savers, and ring tones were being downloaded on mass market feature phones.    Qualcomm bragged about its thriving developer community and Verizon’s Get it Now store was a good case study in the industry.

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Written by Francisco Kattan

April 9, 2009 at 12:41 am

BlackBerry App World – An App Store Wannabe?

Unlike the poor attempts thus far to launch a device that truly rivals the iPhone, the battle of the app stores is proving to be much more competitive and will require responses from Apple to maintain it’s advantage. Already Nokia announced plans to improve on the App Store with by leveraging location and the social graph to discover more relevant applications. Now RIM has raised the bar in a number of key areas as well. All this while operators sit on the sidelines watching the app opportunity slowly move away from their own walled gardens to OEM branded stores.

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Written by Francisco Kattan

April 4, 2009 at 6:17 pm