Mark Curtis on final panelFuture of Mobile: Panel Discussion

Panel discussion:

Dan Appelquist, Vodafone
Mark Curtis, Flirtomatic
Alfie Dennen, Moblog
Justin Davies, Twenty10
Carl Uminski, Trutap
James Body, Truphone
Sam, A.N.Operator

Q: Carl, where did you get your jacket?
A: !

Q: For application developers: where were we 2-3 years ago, what's changed, what's good, what's bad?
MC: You can advertise on mobile. There's a large audience to reach on the mobile, who weren't there 2 years ago. We ran our first ads on Admob in August 2006, saw an attractive cost of acquisition, but low volumes of users. Just after xmas 2006 we ran our first ads on operator portals and got 3.5k users in 3 hours - and they're good users, they spend money with us.

Q: And you Alfie?
AD: Advertising has made a difference, particularly if you don't have a relationship with an operator. Users aren't as afraid as they were of going off-portal.

Q: Justin/Carl, are applications still a dark art?
JD: J2ME lets you go quite a long way across the board in handset support. Java implementations are getting better but there are still problems. Applications now do work on handsets - a year ago VCs didn't like the idea of them, they preferred sites, but now people understand them better. Android, Apple have launched marketplaces and people are now used to them. From a UE point of view an app lets you do things a web site just can't do.

Q: How have emerging markets reacted, Carl?
CU: They're often not 3G users. We're finding customers with good connections and data rates, they're very cheap to use. We use optimised protocols to avoid bill shock. Also handset manufacturers and operators like applications.

Q: James, has the iPhone changed much for you?
JB: The App store has been a big success. We were the first VOIP app in the App Store, and did very well out of that.

AD: Doesn't it take us back a bit to have these closed, partitioned areas where commerce takes place? Won't discovery suffer?
JB: The Apple system isn't perfect but there's a fair chance an app will work if you get it through there.

Q: Will the application store model ever be mass market?
JD: It already is.
JB: We generate more revenue from iPhone users than Symbian users
DA: The App Store has also debunked the idea that real users don't want to use applications. The prevailing wisdom have been that applications were for the nerds.
JB: It's more about people not being told what they can buy by operators.
MC: It doesn't make much difference whether it's operators or Apple telling customers what they can download. It's more about how users will discover you, and thinking about how it'll happen in a years time once the fuss around the iPhone store has gone away. It's easy to get in the top 10 now, outside of that you're in the long tail - so where's the discovery then?

Q: Are you familiar with the UK operators and their developer services? Vodafone Betavine, O2 Litmus, Orange, T-Mobile.
DA: It's great to see O2 coming to the table. O2 Litmus is different from Betavine.

Q: Sam?
Sam: Operators have some value to add: identity, location, and billing. Location is being eroded because they didn't do anything with it. Identity is useful (through control of the SIM card). Revenue shares on billing are still very high.

Q: Do you use external agencies?
MC: Yes, but it depends what for. In the last 2 years, an external agency for usability - and it paid for itself twice over.
CU: We use Future Platforms :)

AD: Panelists doing applications: do you see a move towards web-based?
JB: It's going to be a mixture.

Q: How does a company approach Vodafone? Who sites the budget/acceptance of a third party app. How realistic is it for me to get my new application onto phones?
DA: The answer long-term is to use the web as a distribution medium. Vodafone is in a joint venture with China Mobile and Softbank Mobile. Q3 they're launching an app platform with these guys to upload widgets to a single store and have them distributed across all OpCos.

Q: With gaming generating more revenue than movies, why no mention of mobile gaming today?
JB: In the iPhone App store, lots of the popular apps are games.
AD: There's no-one from mobile gaming on the panel.

Q: For a mobile developer starting a new project today, iPhone or Android?
MC: Logically iPhone, cos it's out there and Android isn't.
AD: What he said, in part because it's hard to get onto any portal. If your business doesn't need a complex application, look at XHTML.
DA: You can do more with the web right now, on Android you can use Gears with web apps to get location/local storage. On iPhone you can use PhoneGap to do the same.
JB: We go for the platforms that generate revenue. Number 1 is Symbian, because "quantity has quality all of its own", 2 is iPhone because there are fewer but you generate more revenue. 3 is Blackberry.
CU: When you're looking at social networking, you need Java to get lots of platforms. iPhone and Android don't do J2ME. GetJar does good distribution through their store.

Q: Are iPhone users normobs?
JD: Apart from the people on this panel, yes. It's changed perception of what a mobile can do.
AD: Let's not forget it was broken in so many ways, but it was good at the basics. I don't have much time for it - it's taken us back a bit.

Q: What user numbers are mobile ad servers looking for to place ads?
MC: More than a thousand a day. Depends on whether it's on cost-per-click or CPM. CPM means 20-30k+ users a day before you make an impact. The off-portal market isn't expanding as fast in the UK as we would've liked to have seen. We're very dependent on advertising on operator decks. You need different techniques to milk a cow, a pig, a goat and a chicken.

CU: On location services, most people don't go to that many places: work, pub, gym, home. Because it's in a social context - it's useful. e.g. my friends know where I am if I'm at work.

Q: What's the best way to get new users? Bring them from the web to mobile, or direct to mobile?
JD: Get them on the mobile web, because you know they're already using the net on their phone. You can also filter by device.

Q: Will the most exciting apps come from Silicon Valley or Europe?
DA: India
MC: Europe
AD: Europe
CU: Europe
JB: Europe
Sam: Europe for Europeans, America for US

Q: Future of Mobile is...?
DA: The web
MC: Complexity
AD: One Web
JD: Personalisation
CU: Please cheap data
JB: Freedom
Sam: One web

Q: Android or iPhone?
DA: Android will be to the iPhone what the PC was to the Mac
AD: iPhone will learn from the web, it'll be an even playing field
JD: Android because it'll be on more handsets in emerging markets
CU: There's no comparison. It's Android or Symbian, iPhone is an end-to-end experience, Android is an OS.
JB: Today: iPhone. In 2-4 years, Android's looking good.
Sam: Android on an iPhone

Q: What's your favourite mobile app?
Sam: Twitter
JB: Mobile facebook
CU: Google maps
JD: Google maps
AD: GMail
MC: Google Maps
DA: Koi Pond