August 17, 2010

Some ideas from Google on mobile developments

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Roy Amara.

It was a long time ago in tech terms, but last year I sat down with Robert Swerling who looks after mobile startups for Google UK. We're now in an age where Google App Creator (above video) will encourage ever younger developers (i.e. schoolkids) to make mobile applications, as well as an inevitable tipping point coming soon in those buying Android phones that run Google products and those kids' apps.

Here's some of Rob's stats that give me this confidence in believing we need children to be aware of how to create, as well as consume, the apps around them:

  • 91% of Americans keep a mobile phone within 1 metre for 365 days a year
  • 63% will not share their phone with anyone else
  • Mobile is the 7th mass medium
  • The prevalence of iPhone apps as an alternative medium to consume and share now generates 50x more search queries than pre-iPhone.
  • 60% of time on the mobile phone is now spent on non-calls activity
  • The average person downloads 40 applications, or apps
  • The Japanese spend 2 hours per day on the mobile web
  • There are 9m new subscribers each month in India
  • In Kenya paying by text message is fast superceding credit cards as a means of payment
  • Mobile video fingerprinting will soon create a translation magnifying glass when you're abroad
  • 5 of the top 10 novels in Japan were written on the mobile phone

These might be read in conjunction with the last stat dump I did in 2008 on the state of Mobile in Asia.

So, if you're going to get students making mobile apps, what would Robert advise the pros,  and how might these affect some higher order planning and thinking in your students?

  1. Velocity
    Give customers what they want as fast as possible. Stop putting up so many barriers such as checkout: experience is the same in Prada, fish and chip shop...
    If you give people what they want and get them away from your site as quickly as possible, then they'll come back.

    This is about students learning how to make less mean more. What is the core of what you're trying to say, write or achieve with a project? What elements can you do without? What elements will you save for later when you're upgrading the app for users? What will you leave out to keep the jar half full?
  2. Visibility
    Don't surprise customers. In a good bar the price is on the beer, you know whether it's available, you know how quickly you can get it. This affects choice.

    This got me thinking about how visible (or not) learning is when the learner is not driving its direction, its content, its timing and its pace. Teacher-driven planning of learning leaves too much invisibility. If it doesn't work in the marketplace, how on earth can it work for learning in the classroom?
  3. Value
    Understand the medium and deliver. Online is cheaper, offers depth, reviews, suggestions, interacting with others.

    A basic learning in doing your research - too many student-driven projects are let loose before the students have done their research. The result is painful for everyone involved. Building apps like this forces you to research in depth and from the perspective of a potential customer, so empathy is trained and honed here.
  4. Variation
    Never come out of beta. You can constantly experiment using your feedback and stats.

    Lifelong learning anyone? This is the core skill of the app builder, and the core skill of any successful learner. It's just that this has a context some learners might grasp a little more.

I like Robert. He works for a company known for its constant agenda of change, change in itself and making change in the world. But I like Robert for the realism that he betrays now and then. As he put it:

"A great wind is blowing and that gives you either imagination or a headache."

Quite. Which one have you got?


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91% of Americans keep a mobile phone within 1 metre for 365 days a year
That's in incredible number...
I'd like to know whether there are comparable data available for Europe.
Point 1 makes me think immediately of the KISS principle so nothing new here.
I think most important of the 4 points (if one was to establish any priority here) is value. If there's no value, simple access, low pricing etc does not matter. Or said with the words of Guy Kawasaki: Don't try to make money. Try to make meaning thus providing real value to people."


Every development program always come with beta first. I’m going to try my little project with feedbacks ways.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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