When I first started Breaktap, I wanted to focus my writing on mobile startups. I had amassed an enormous collection of feeds after laying the groundwork for a mobile gaming startup I wanted to launch that I simply didn’t have the resources to pursue, both in domain expertise and in cash. I had feeds from “mobile” sections of the major tech blogs as well as those from independent developers like Marco Arment, Ray Wenderlich and others.
So the most obvious thing to write about at the time was the app ecosystem: stand-alone apps that were using the web to deliver some type of service in place of the traditional web browser. Even up until a few years ago, it was mostly uncharted waters and was at least somewhat equitable in terms of distribution.
But things have changed drastically over the last few years. Fewer and fewer apps are making it and the ones that do make it are, with very rare exception, offerings put out by the already dominant players in the field. Most of the time, these companies have at least one successful app in the marketplace. Sometimes several. The independent app developer has become, by and large, an endangered species. Both the closed ecosystem as well as the relative nonchalance on the part of Apple and Google to invest in new models of app discovery help drive this vicious circle and accompanying feedback loop. The result is a marketplace filled with a tiny number of apps making enormous sums of money and a sea of apps that are downloaded once (if even) and then largely ignored. The indie apps that do explode out of nowhere are almost always games and almost always have a short shelf life after their initial push. (see Flappy Bird)
Basically, I wonder if the stand-alone app landscape has hit a dead end. Startups have always been a zero-sum game, yes. But at this point, it’s almost gotten depressively bad. As in aspiring musicians that try out for American Idol may have a better chance to become the next Katy Perry than an app developer has of building an app that can even produce a livable salary, let alone a fortune.
What might help bring the buzz back to mobile? Context. Namely, mobile apps as an enabler for other connected devices. Chetan Sharma referred to it in one of his most recent papers as “connected intelligence.” It’s been called the “Internet of Things” or “M2M” by some. Whatever nomenclature you decide to use, smart devices are coming. The questions revolve around standards. First, what will be the underlying language linking them together and allowing them to talk to one another. Secondly, from where will all of these new, internet-connected objects be managed? While the former is still yet to be determined, the most likely place from which to control all of these things is going to be the smartphone. Will there be multiple hubs? Different apps for different groups of use cases (e.g. a smart home app that controls lighting, appliances, heating/cooling etc.) The apps are interesting but so are the objects that are going to be enabled with this technology.
To be clear, I’ll absolutely continue writing about new startups that leverage mobile as their primary business model. I’ll continue covering new apps, particularly from those startups who are able to find their way past the traffic jam of the App Store market.
But I’m also thinking I may spend more time on IoT-specific topics: not just potential hub solutions in the forms of apps but the connected objects that are really mobile computing devices in their own right. After all, it remains true to our underlying thesis of a “post-PC” vision. So how about it?