DiscoveryBeat 2010: “App discovery is the key to customer satisfaction in the smartphone era. Discuss.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the massive disruption underway in the mobile ecosystem (think iPhone, iPad, Android, app stores + platform wars) you’ve probably gotten the message that carriers aren’t what moves the market any longer. Operating systems (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, WebOS, Windows Phone 7, etc) and the app ecosystems they support are where value is being created (and extracted) now – just look at Apple’s share of mobile profits and you’ll get the idea.

“It’s the apps, Stupid”

The strategic battle for mobile OS dominance is fascinating to watch, but most consumers don’t actually give a shit what OS their device runs. As I’ve argued before, the real magic in this new mobile marketplace is being made by app developers, and the OS + handset is just the stage on which the real battle for consumer attention and loyalty is being fought. Put simply, the OS that delivers the greatest value to the largest number of mobile app developers will be the one that wins.

It’s in this context that the clever folks at VentureBeat have put together next week’s app-focused show: DiscoveryBeat 2010. With 350,000+ apps now available across the top smartphone platforms, app discovery is emerging as the gating factor to mobile platform success. A broken app discovery experience has nasty ripple effects across the smartphone ecosystem:

When apps don’t get found…

  1. Consumers are disappointed – and blame the handset maker, carrier and OS vendor (more or less in that order) for the crummy experience
  2. Mobile developers aren’t rewarded for their hard work – eroding loyalty to their preferred OS and drawing them to competing offerings with bigger installed base and better app distribution
Android has the biggest problem
App discovery matters to everyone in the smartphone ecosystem – but it’s a particularly acute problem in the Android community. So many powerful players – handset makers, carriers, digital content providers, etc. – have bet their future on Android that they can’t afford to see it fail. But Google has failed to deliver the seamless, low-friction app discovery environment the ecosystem needs to compete.
These big Android players also still need to compete with and differentiate from each other – which is hard to do when they’re all hawking the same basic (Android-powered) consumer experience. How can they differentiate? By trying to deliver better apps, in a more fluid and better-merchandised app discovery experience.
Who helps incumbents innovate? Entrepreneurs!
The bloody mess that is Android app discovery is a serious strategic issue for a long list of big companies: Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, LG, Amazon, Best Buy, Yahoo!, AOL etc. This high-stakes, multi-party battle is an absolutely fantastic place for nimble software entrepreneurs to be messing around: lots of pain, high stakes, and hard technology problems are a startup CEO’s dream. The smartest bigcos know they can’t innovate and are always on the lookout for technology partners and/or acquisition candidates that can quickly add strategic capabilities they’d have a hard time creating internally.
DiscoveryBeat 2010 serves this opportunity up on a platter
If you haven’t noticed, I’m super-hot about the app discovery opportunity, which is why I signed on as a DiscoveryBeat panelist (“App King-Makers“) for the show next Monday. I know the problem well – Founders Co-op portfolio company AppStoreHQ is an acknowledged leader in the cross-platform app discovery space, and also operates iPhoneDevSDK, the largest independent community of smartphone developers on the web.
If you’re a participant in the new mobile ecosystem – whether an entrepreneur, a mobile developer, an OS owner, handset maker or mobile network operator – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more strategically relevant event on the calendar. Do yourself a favor and come to the show, and while you’re there please track me down so we can talk about working together to crack the app discovery nut.
See you there!