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Mobile Commerce Future Fragmented

2010 November 12

Mobile Device Fragmentation is a huge challenge for mobile commerceThere are two things I believe very strongly about the future of mobile commerce:

  • Mobile commerce is here to stay
  • Mobile platform fragmentation will remain a serious challenge throughout the foreseeable future

Since mid-2009 we’ve built a very successful business helping nearly twenty name-brand clients in banking, retail, insurance, fast food and other verticals wrestle with these issues.

We’ve seen the questions change from “WAP vs. App” to bewilderment at the challenge of managing an exploding number mobile product lines while simultaneously managing a flood of customer adoption and increased competition.

The mobile challenge is to develop a roadmap of continual product improvements without knowing the exact technology mix that will be in users’ hands.

Fragmentation persists because of creative destruction. The iPhone created the industry. Then, Google eclipsed the iPhone with Android devices from a variety of OEM manufacturers. Apple did it again with the iPad. Now tablet salvos from Dell, RIM, Samsung, and others are incoming. Arguably, we’ve also already seen the rise and fall of many technologies like WAP, Palm, J2ME, Blackberry, and Symbian, just to name a few.

Organizations must support the mobile devices their customers have. As customers flock to the next great innovation, companies must reach their customers on the device they have right now — and in the way that works best for them.

The days are long gone where IT picks the technologies they’ll allow their customers to use. So, the mobile challenge is to develop a roadmap of continual product improvements without knowing the exact technology mix in users’ hands at rollout, versions 1.2, 1.3, and beyond.

Companies are burning resources porting to new platforms instead of innovating and staying ahead of the competition

Most companies are rolling out their first mobile product and in some cases extending variations to other platforms. Few companies have had to manage complex product lifecycles for the mobile channel. As new platforms are emerging, companies are burning resources porting to new platforms instead of innovating and staying ahead of the competition.

Few companies have the resources to manually manage multiyear product lines across a number of platforms including product management, revision control and infrastructure, quality assurance, and development.

Organizations won’t be successful picking and choosing platforms either. It’s not enough to only support iPhone or Android (or SMS, mobile web, RIM, Windows Phone 7, iPad, etc.). The playing field is changing too dramatically and too often. Companies picking and choosing platforms may find themselves investing in a dead-end product with few customers after a release or two (or even at the first release). Two years ago RIM seemed to rule the world. Five years ago Palm ruled the smartphone world.

Browsers aren’t a panacea either. Major mobile innovation is happening with native and hybrid application technology. HTML5 solves some problems but will not make native applications obsolete. Exposing native resources through the browser create unacceptable security risks in many situations (along the lines of Java applets and Active X). Furthermore, variations in HTML5 implementations likely will continue the testing nightmare that exists with the mobile browser, where tens of thousands of browser permutations exist.

Every company interested in mobile commerce has to face the device fragmentation issue and I don’t see it going away any time soon. In fact, it usually just gets worse. We just have to deal with it.

I’m going to be spending a lot of my time addressing these issues in the future.

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  1. November 16, 2010

    Fragmentation is managable with the right tools. HTML5 is a good idea but as you state not the entire solution. At 5o9 we have created the solution that works today and can help you grow over time reguardless of the features that emerge or handsets your users choose. effective easy to use client server software that pushes useer and handset data. The metadata you need to deliver a user experience relevant to the user, thier location, thier device, thier personal prefernces and thier network!

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