A guy by the name of Hamish McKenzie wrote a blog piece for PandoDaily.com and a link to it wound up getting tossed over my way. If you haven’t checked out PandoDaily, it’s an interesting startup that covers startups… worth checking out. I haven’t run across McKenzie before, seems up and coming, but he’s got the mobile thing wrong.
The piece, “Web 2.0 Is Over, All Hail the Age of Mobile,” takes the position that mobile is a big deal. And, OK, he probably got that part right. He further shares a view with Keith Teare, a tech industry veteran who founded one of Europe’s first ISPs and later co-founded TechCrunch, that “Any company that isn’t primarily delivering its service via mobile five years from now will probably be irrelevant.”
A provocative stance, but Teare and Hamish have got the emphasis a bit wrong. It probably is right to think of what’s arriving as “the Age of Mobile.” But what’s changing is only in part about the actual mobility of the devices. Yes, There’s no question that people are moving to mobile devices in droves, but not because mobile is a successor to Web 2.0. Rather, people are opting to get the right-sized device for the various kinds of computing that they do. This is naturally leading them to acquire smart mobile devices and to do so at a much faster clip than they were initially convinced they needed desktop computers.
Adding that much more mobile to the equation is definitely having a huge effect, but I think it’s not so much because of the mobility of the devices, but rather because mobile *as it’s actually been delivered* has changed the computing playing field in several important ways:
- It’s possible to charge for content at relatively small, single-dollar rates. Launching any sort of digital content business today has to take into account that what you simply can’t charge for on a Web site you may very well be able to charge for if you package things up in an app.
- The cost of traditional software apps is being dramatically undercut. If you can buy a pretty good word processor for the iPad for ten bucks, I’d say the days are numbered when you can charge $300 for similar capabilities on desktops. Clearly, “cloud-based” apps are having a similar effect, but nowhere is the change more dramatically, apples-to-apples (intended) visible than with an app on an iPad.
- The expectation is growing that everything will be synched. Your bookmark on the iPhone is your bookmark everywhere else. So the devices become interchangeable and you choose the best axe for any given tree. There’s a huge paradigm shift lurking in there, but it’s really more about cloud than it is about mobile devices (though it’s also probably not critical to decide which element is more important).
- Because so much of it is happening on smaller screens and on the go, interface across *all* platforms has to be that much more intuitive and pleasing. Design values are vitally important.
If you’re in the content business, combining these four points brings me to something that I’ve believed for a while, but that I don’t see much talk about: content is becoming software. It’s not so much that you take some content and pour it into a platform (which is the CMS approach, which is arguably a Web 2.0 construct), as that you decide how the user best interacts with a given set of content and you mold it into a small app that best delivers that content as a user experience.
While it drives me crazy sometimes, the way that the iOS operating system doesn’t really even let you talk about “data” as such (there’s no “documents” folder on an iPhone or iPad). If you want to see something, you do so through an app that is paired with the content that is built into it. I don’t think that this can exactly last as the exclusive way to get at things on a tablet computer—if you think about it it’s sort of the exact inverse of the Internet, where the browser *is* the primary way you access all data.
Content providers have to think about multiple platforms. And it’s trendy in development circles right now to talk about “mobile first,” meaning, figure out the minimal, hand-held version of your content and then add functionality as the screen gets bigger. But while there’s nothing even the tiniest bit wrong with a “mobile first” approach, mobile also presents opportunities for different kinds of interactions, some of which are more like applications, not just a dollop of content thrown onscreen. The focus has got to be more on context-aware applications that offer themselves or don’t based on the device where the presentation is occurring.