MWC Day 4 – Is there one device with one app at the end of the rainbow?

MWC Day 4 – Is there one device with one app at the end of the rainbow?
Cerillion’s CTO, Simon Matthews, reports back from Wednesday’s keynote session at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The HTC stand in Hall 1

There should be no doubt that the use of the term ecosystem is almost mandatory here at MWC12. In Wednesday morning’s keynote, with HTC, Nokia and Foursquare on the bill, it was mentioned 29 times. I know. I counted.

Having the CEOs of Nokia and HTC together on the same panel was a joy. The amicable banter between the two was entertaining, and though Nokia maintain a strong Microsoft-esque patter, the view points coming from Peter Chou at HTC were massively refreshing. Yes, HTC competes with Nokia, but they see the competition as a rewarding experience for the whole sector. And as the first adopter with Microsoft some 15 years ago, they continue that association despite their massive strengths in what are, in my opinion, exceptional Android phones.

Underneath the strapline of the session ‘Mobile OS and Applications’ lay two important questions that could dramatically affect the handset operating system and application market:
  •   Will Windows Phone be the 3rd OS ecosystem?
  •   Will Facebook become the #1 application ecosystem?
Let me throw some thoughts and my own questions on the OS subject first. There is a huge perception war about the openness of the current two OS ecosystem giants. Most people have an opinion that will, perhaps with different terminology, state that Android is open (free marketplace) and Apple is closed (walled garden), and most of the time this is where it ends. But how many of you believe that Android will stay as it is now forever? Apple make beautiful media products dripping in desirability, and if you want one, you get their OS. Android doesn’t have this channel. Unsustainable weakness I might argue.
So with an open OS ecosystem and a closed OS ecosystem, what does that make Nokia’s Windows Phone platform? Half and half? Seemingly that is their plan. You will get the normal invasive Microsoft world of ‘Office’ type mobilisation to frustrate you and give you runtime errors, but at the same time they intend to have a complementary horizontal ecosystem harnessing a vibrant application community with the freedom to add value to the OS’s abilities. Very Android, and by all accounts they have done a good job. I’ve seen some really exciting demonstrations and they had masses of developer interest this MWC.

Next, the question of Facebook as the #1 application ecosystem. Who has made that ridiculous boast in the first place? Erm Facebook. They have 450 million daily users; they have their own unique revenue and advertising chain; and they also have their own applications environment in which many developers have dropped in apps and, perhaps highest in popularity, games. There is no way Facebook won’t have eyed Foursquare with a combination of admiration and predation. Foursquare’s location-based features added to their incredibly clever analytics capabilities are everything I would like Facebook to be (if I wasn’t sick to death of Facebook and its continued invasion of my life).

I think Facebook as an application development ecosystem is technically viable but fundamentally still a mistake. A product with such immense reach is a wonderful thing, but when it becomes momma bear to the entire community the whole shape of their business will change and let’s not forget you are still talking about “whatever the app” sitting within a Facebook ecosystem. Yes, that’s right within. Horrifying. So then, how to avoid the Facebook invasion?

Applications-wise I would love to see API unification and standards to a level that all you care about is the OS (unique characteristics rather than any other reason)…we could call it the Open Application Ecosystem perhaps. Then you can keep your Facebook app ecosystem and we won’t be tied to a business with an advertising only revenue stream, and as already ranted a kind of odd battle with the ethical use our data.

In summary, I would love to see the Nokia phoenix rise from the ashes of years of poor smartphone production, but I for one won’t buy a Windows Phone for now, no matter how many awards they’re winning. For a start, I don’t need a 41 megapixel camera. Though attacked for poor sales (1 million Lumia shipped versus the 20 million enjoyed by Samsung for the Galaxy 2s in the same post launch profile) it’s a brand new OS, so on that basis I think a million units is pretty good. But I don’t believe you can be both an open and closed OS, and they’ll have to work harder to drag me away from the Android freedom I currently enjoy. As for Facebook as the #1 application ecosystem – I have renewed my legislative action for Facebook to deliver an ‘unlike’ button with extra vigour.