Understanding the Mobile Killer App

Clearly, with the success of iPhone and Blackberry and the buzz around Android and Pre, mobile already has its killer apps. But for someone new like me to this arena, I find it important that I try to understand what that app is and simplify the category so I can know where to focus what little time I have to play here. So this is what I’ve come up with, and I hope you have an opinion you can share in the comments to help guide me.

Here we go. I actually think there are two killer apps happening in the smartphone market today. (I’ll leave out the *book platforms for another post as that’s starting to gel in my mind as well). Start by looking at the iPhone, including the iPod Touch. It’s really Entertainment apps that have made the iPhone one of the most popular mobile platforms of our time. My son has a Touch. He has his mp3’s there, he watches YouTube videos there, he plays games on it. It’s probably what the PSP should have been if it had downloadable content. The platform pretty much comes with good multimedia apps, so if you want to make a hit, writing a good game is the place to start. And looking at most of the other platforms, especially the ones with 3D hardware acceleration, this is true across the board. Actually, you look at the real big picture, good games are popular on all computing platforms, even Spacewar! on the PDP-1.

The other killer app is something a we talk lot about in the Eclipse community, especially my enterprise brethren. And that is thin web client apps. This is most obvious on the Blackberries that almost all business managers have today. Accessing e-mail from an exchange server on a small screen requires specialized software to ensure a good user experience. But I really think it goes beyond just e-mail. There are a lot of web services available in web browsers today. But web browsing on the small screen still sucks and likely will always suck. Writing a thin client that can present information from the web in a format suitable for the form factor is a real winner. The top Android apps I use are clients for gmail, twitter, and RSS. I’d love a good app that lets me write this blog, but I haven’t found one yet. But I know the Google provides the API to do it and Twitter has a good API. Wrap those together and you got a customer. Or maybe I should be the developer ;).

Of course, now I’m torn. I’ve always dreamed of making games, but never had the opportunity to do it. I know it’s a lot of work and probably something I couldn’t do well in my spare time. I’m also pumped by the “mash-up” possibilities writing thin clients for internet apps. And that’s probably something I can do more quickly. Lots of fun. And a reason why I think the industry is going through a reinvigoration. Where the killer app for the desktop has come and the shine has gone (that killer app was office apps, browsers, IDEs, and games by the way). There’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the new generation.