The Mobile Commerce Community Must Stop Its Search For The Killer App
Whenever I read an article about the mobile Internet, mobile commerce, 2.5G or 3G rollout, or any other mobile topic, chances are high that the writer blames the lack of a killer app on the current sorry state of the industry.
But let's start with simple questions: What is a killer app? Is it the same for you and me? Is it the same for mobile operators and mobile handset companies? Is it the same for business and personal apps? And if not, can there be a universal killer app?
Let's take a closer look at killer apps. What is the killer app of radio? Is it the news, the ads, the top 40 countdowns? I guess in the end it boils down to radio shows in general, no matter what the specific program. The same can be said for TV. The Super Bowl and the World Cup could be said to be TV's killer apps, but they happen once a year and every four years, respectively -- not exactly sustainable killer apps with those time frames. And the hundreds of specialty TV programs show that there is no one particular show that is the killer app; it is programming itself.
Let's take a look at the PC on its own -- without a network connection. Some main apps come to mind, data crunching and gaming, and besides that word processing and databases (although they are only really interesting in a networked environment). Again, we don't have one single killer app. Although if we look a bit closer the operating system might be it -- without it, nothing is possible, meaning everybody needs one.
Once we add a network to the PC -- either a proprietary one or the Internet -- the OS is still important, but we begin a new search for a killer app. The single most important app is probably the email one. That has been the case since the early days of the Internet and is still the case with the Web. No eBay or Amazon, instant messaging or networked calendar has surpassed email in popularity, and it doesn't look like that will be the case any time soon -- if ever.
Now let's take a look at the mobile space. Will email be the killer app for the mobile Internet? Or will it be IM? So far, SMS has the best chance of taking the No. 1 spot. But if we take a step back and look at consumers and how they use their mobile phones, regular phone calls are still No. 1. Sending a birthday note to a friend or changing a flight will not drive herds of users to the mobile Internet, only a few cases. Most of the time, the phone call will be key -- will be the killer app. This doesn't mean that email, IM, news, m-commerce or news services won't be big, but they won't equal the phone call as the mobile killer app.
Is this bad news? Not at all. PC games aren't the killer app of the PC, but they still form a billion-dollar industry. The important thing is to have a killer product and find the right audience -- whether we are talking about the mobile Internet, the PC, radio or TV. Mobile gaming, for example, will be huge; so will mobile betting and business apps like database access or email -- and each application has the potential to create a multi million-dollar industry.
So here's a plea to analysts, journalists, business developers, venture capitalists and mobile companies: Please stop your search for the mobile killer app. There is only one and that has already been found -- the mobile phone call. Instead, move on with developing great new apps that are easy to use, take advantage of the mobile platform and offer me something that my PDA, my laptop or any other device can't.