Challenge: Mobile isn’t a portal to the internet we know today, but a gateway to build world-changing companies that will upend entrenched incumbents and exponentially recast even the most bullish of mobile expectations.
That’s the closing line of a piece written by entrepreneur Edward Aten for Gigaom. Edward contends that 2013 will be the year mobile breaks free and becomes more than just portable internet access. 2013 will be the year people start turning to their mobile devices to solve real world problems as they happen – problems the traditional internet, tethered to computers, cannot solve.
Edward points out that we’ve already seen the beginning of this movement in apps like Uber, HotelTonight, Highlights and others. These apps aren’t mobile versions of online entities and they’re more than “mobile first” companies. They’re companies that meet a real world need and can only exist mobilely.
The key is to identify a common problem people have when they’re out and about. For example, in the case of Uber, Hailo and other car service/cab hailing apps the pain point is getting a ride. Standing outside and hailing a cab can be difficult and downright uncomfortable if it’s cold, raining or your feet hurt. You can try calling a cab company, but good luck getting through on a Friday or Saturday night. If only you could open an app, order a ride and wait inside until it arrives, knowing that it most definitely will arrive. Now you can! This isn’t a problem that can be solved with a traditional website. It isn’t an issue the entrenched cab and car service industry seemed too keen to address either. So the door was left wide open for entrepreneurial companies if they’re willing to put in the work and take the risk.
While some problems are easy to identify they may be difficult to solve. Unlike many of the first internet companies, the real world has legacy industries with entrenched lobbies, distribution providers or regulations. Many require real infrastructure that needs to be acquired, integrated with or leased. In the offline world, scale is often much harder than simply spinning up additional servers.
On the other hand, many of these new companies will become natural monopolies – difficult to overthrow once they achieve scale, lock up resources within their systems and start generating significant cash. Many are adaptations or improvements of current businesses, but given the inability of incumbents to design, develop and deploy revolutionary software, we can expect many to be upset by startups. …
Unlike any technology we have ever seen, mobile has the opportunity to improve our minute-by-minute lives, wherever we are. (Gigaom)
The challenges faced by these new companies are two fold. They are surging past the concepts of “mobile-first,” “mobile, too” and even “mobile-only.” It’s not mobile-anything, it’s just mobile. It’s not the active exclusion of another medium or a company’s choice of mobile over web; these apps and businesses can only possibly be mobile – it just doesn’t work any other way. This is a new understanding of what mobile can be that we users are just beginning to recognize – something occasionally similar to the traditional internet, but capable of being its entirely own thing.
Think about the apps you use. How many of them are portable versions of what you can do on a computer. Weather apps, news apps, sports scores, app versions of our favorite websites. Even games are really just an extension of the old online world – yes, some may only be available as mobile versions, but almost all of them are reminiscent of something you can play online. So the first challenge faced by those wanting to take mobile to the next level is developing apps without that old internet familiarity. With the apps mentioned above, it’s clear this trend is already underway.
The bigger challenge will be testing these apps. Mobile app testing is still a relatively young field compared to web testing and software testing in general.
“The mobile environment was the biggest technology change I’d experienced in awhile. It is not mobile per se that captured my interest but the change, the chance to work on something new and to solve new problems.” – Karen N. Johnson, mobile testing expert
Mobile technology is still advancing rapidly and we’re just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mobile app security – what can go wrong, how hackers can compromise mobile devices and how we can make mobile more secure. Beyond those somewhat traditional challenges, mobile apps – especially the ones we’re talking about in this post, the ones that are in a vibrant, active, everyday-life mobile world of their own – cannot be tested solely in a lab.
If an app is meant to be used on-the-go and help “improve our minute-by-minute lives, wherever we are,” the testing scope needs to be widened considerably. I don’t know about you, but I’m not often in a lab. Heck, half the time I’m in a place where I have a shoddy network connection. Testing needs to reflect that. Mobile apps hoping to capitalize on this “mobile revolution” will need to move testing out of the lab and into-the-wild.
Take this example from the Gigaom article (emphasis mine):
Uber instantly pairs available drivers and cars with demand for rides. Crucially, Uber needs a critical mass of both supply and demand on its platform in the same geographical area, down to the same neighborhoods and streets, and needs to be able to update and match them in real time based on their current locations.
How can you ensure your app works on the micro level of neighborhoods and individual streets? By working with testers spread across locations and networks, using different mobile devices running different OS versions. In short, by working with a group of testers that mimics the real life use case of your app.
Mobile is growing up. It’s letting go of the internet’s hand and venturing off into new territory to see what it can accomplish, by itself, on its own two feet. And if the apps mentioned above are a hint of what’s to come, people are eager to see what mobile can do and are more than willing to give it a chance.