A slice of innovation pie from Appsworld Europe, London 2014

In its 5th year, Apps World claims to have “grown to be the leading global multi-platform event in the app industry”.  Did it live up to the hyperbole ? whatsap (!) in the Mobile world and why is it different ?

The mobile and tablet  market is alive with innovation. The growth of Apps is different – even cheaper  than the affordable Home Computers of the 80’s and 90’s plus even wider access than the internet of the 90’s and 00’s – the first potentially universal access global communications network.

Read on to find out what I learnt in two days at Apps World Developer Conference & Exhibition, ExCel London 2014

DSC_9378 e1 Apps World 2014 800 pix

Customers expect mobile to be beautiful and Product Managers are focused on responding

Mobile is personal technology – closer than any previous generation and intimate like only our wallets and jewellery has been in the past. So, the User Experience, UX, is critical to success since consumers are fed on a diet of beautiful looking products.  You know all this, so what does it mean for innovation ?

This means Product Managers are centre stage calling for ‘user value’ – if people get something back from engagement with a App, they will keep on using it and not be part of the extra-ordinary high rate of App abandonment in the first month after installation.

Again, mobile is different with consumers not just consuming, but sat at the co-creation table influencing development decisions.  This may not be the lengthy market research of old.  Organisations able to gather critical feedback and respond will be winners.  In a panel discussion centred on retail applications, Kate Cuthbertson, former Head of Mobile Innovation at Asda gave a nice case in point for when they needed to decide between options – they would draw on users for content choices.

 “We would write directly to our most frequent users and say ‘we need your help’, we would always get a response”

– Kate Cuthbertson, former Head of Mobile Innovation at Asda

This rapid and focussed approach seems to have paid dividends with claims that the Asda App came to market in just 16 weeks.   This is neither the “I know best”, humility gap of Steve Jobs, nor the time consuming inconclusively of lengthy market research.  Pair-wise (or multi-choice) comparison can be a great tool.

Users at the centre are changing how organisations innovate

After the ‘users have spoken’, the response needs new ways to manage development and innovation.   A free for all or trying to do everything is not a recipe for launch success.

However, the democratisation around customers is encouraging organisations to gain traction for their ideas before a first release or look-and-feel choice by exposing their development plans and projects earlier and more than ever.

On the Enterprise stage, HMRC presented some of their ideas for exposing their API explaining how they would encourage developers to make the process of submitting our tax return easier.  No surprises on the API idea, but the session got into some interesting issues.

Mark Dearnley, Chief Digital and Information officer at HMRC set the scene by explaining they had a “only 41 Million customers in the UK”.  With this number of accounts, they can’t afford to get things wrong.  Yes, they are no technology laggards, having processed the UK’s first electronic money transfer more than four decades ago.

Questions from audience got to the heart of the business and market opportunities that open up by  having an API. However they also revealed some of the confusion around how to build an API eco-system.  Hinting at the old style planned economy of Government services one questioner asked  “How will you marshal all the developers that want to use the API ?”. Mark Dearnley answer was simple “We won’t, they develop what their customers want”.  He did explain that they had a responsibility to consider technology compliance to the API, but this was a separate issue. The HMRC stance is typical of progressive organisations looking to get the best benefits of ‘market-led’ innovation.  Standards are needed, and are a great aid to fast-track innovation,  but the standard setter should not see it as their role to determine the details of an implementation since this is a matter of picking winners early in a race whereas you actually want lots of runners and users to do the betting.  ‘The market will decide’.

On a  smaller scale Ashley George, Head of Innovation CoE, GSK lifted the lid on how the global pharmaceutical giant is asking their staff to bring their consumer technology experience to work.   Highly qualified staff  like those at GSK and elsewhere are hugely demanding in their expectations of corporate facilities and, like so many, are savvy consumers.  He explained how he and his team were bringing these strengths together with the full gamut of Lean and Agile to bring new products to the internal IT offering.

Ashley George DSC_9375 e2 800 pix

The case study he worked through was rapid development and ‘user-led deployment”  of a video messaging and sharing application – allowing staff from the CEO through team-leaders and regular desk staff to post their communications in video.   What caught my innovation-eye was that this work was itself driving innovation at the firm – doubtlessly a shrewd choice from the Head of Innovation.  Peak use of the service was hit at Christmas where now a cheery message in video can come not just from the CEO, but from your team leader in another country or time-zone. It not radical stuff, but if this can become a habit of effective management – why not post regular updates to your team ?

 Communication is a key ingredient of innovation and making that easy to produce, more informative and easy to access may help improve quantity and quality.

As for concerns about postings of ‘cute cat videos’, Ashley George was frank “It is bound to happen and it does, you can’t stop people”.

Technology – it can be devilishly difficult to see where the best benefits sit, but bare with us

Seeing the potential of new technologies is always tricky, but you’d have to be a real naysayer to disregard the opportunities that HTML5 is addressing.  With HTML4 dominant for around 15 years, now is beyond the time for 5 to take hold.

With recent reports of  more teenagers today having access to a tablet than a radio (though it’s not a simple statistic), the pressure to connect all media in a “served” format is there.  This is  one of the drivers encouraging the BBC to use  HTML5 as part of their drive to meet their commitment to universal access. So, HTML5 is gaining strength as a prime non native platform using the format’s  potential for easier  “any screen” applications.  Though native iOS and ANDROID applications continue to lead the field in prettiness and functionality, there are reasons why HTML5 is being supported to catch up.  A substantial benefit for the BBC is that their “design for compatibility” is hugely simplified by using browser technology rather than having to  maintain many different applications with differing code bases and levels of functionality in order to support hundreds of different set top boxes, smart TVs, mobile and desktop environments.

Two other key benefits land with HTML5 –  both help mobile and tablet users as well as simplifying things for content providers.

  • HTML5 will bring to an end many of those annoying (but necessary for their time) bolt on application environments like Flash and Java. Cutting the plug-in saves on CPU and therefore battery power – another challenge unique to mobile which is in dire need of a solution.   Power dongles for your daily travel are a stop gap, HTML5 will go part way to some better solutions in the usual mode of sustainability. The approach for batteries is the same as any envi –  Reduce, Re-use and Recycle.
  • The capability to run HTML5 applications off-line but in standard (HTML5 compatible) browser is a second benefit particularly suited to addressing one of the weaknesses of Mobile – lost connectivity.

 Payments – let innovation battle commence !

Payments are a vibrant area sector for innovation.  It would be folly to attempt to summarise or find the highlights in the competing offers – or even try to categorise them.  Tim Green of Mobile Money Revolution speaking at Mobile Academy identified 37 mobile payment routes.

Why are payments so complicated for such a fundamental thing you ask ?

Most mobile money solutions add one or more additional layers in the “stack” that ends up with traditional banking – where most people’s money sits. Each has some nuance of added value.  More radical web/mobile money offers to trade in a new currency, without further involvement of your bank after you “invest”.  Potentially radical benefits in low cost transactions and single “global currency”.  It’s a big step however, so here’s one thought. Banks tempt us with real cash to switch to their account – and standards try to make it risk and pain free, yet people don’t switch, more than every few decades even though it may save them money and hassle of actual bad service.  Switching out of that system altogether ?  – that’s a bigger leap of faith.

How much Bitcoin would convince you to dive into an alternative currency  ?

This is an extended version of a Post published by The Mobile Academy, a col­lab­or­a­tion between University College London (UCL) and Mobile Monday London.

The Mobile Academy is a 10 week / 36 hour evening master class for anyone keen to start or continue their journey in mobile innovation.

– I recommend it !

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