Apps, the mobile web and the battle between platform and content

Nathan Hegedus  2011-03-09

I was sitting in a meeting last week when someone said that “apps” were over. Done. Like as in so 2010. It’s all about the mobile web, they said.

This really shook me. I mean, I still have a “feature phone,” which means a relic, totally useless for data and not even with a nice pad for texting. I also do not own a tablet. So I haven’t even started with apps yet (though I was all excited to someday go to an app store and have my mind just totally blown, man).

And now they’re over?!?

Well, yes. According to VentureBeat and The Telegraph in the UK, apps are really over. From the Real Story Group:

But more importantly, mobile devices are a very volatile market. Even if you’d have the money to waste on building four different apps for the most important platforms, you may be hopelessly behind in a year’s time. If the new Windows Phone 7 or MeeGo make a surge, what will you do? Ask for the budget to create even more apps? And if existing platforms start coming out in new form factors, will you update each one to make use of tablet resolutions? Do you really want to tie your mobile presence to something this fickle?

And it makes sense too. Why develop an “app” for eight different smartphone or tablet operating systems when you can just have a good mobile website for all?

Yeah, I always thought apps were stupid. Really. I have been thrilled to have that feature phone so I didn’t have to deal with them.

But, really, what this highlighted to me was how muddled and shifting the balance between content, form and technology truly is right now.

I wrote a story late last year, in which Lucy Kueng, a media management expert, said that content dominates. The technology follows:

Very few people buy technology per se; they buy it because of what the technology can do for them. And they buy technology they don’t particularly like if it allows them to access certain content. Thus the most compelling content is becoming ever more strategic and expensive …

But – and here I get fuzzy and am just throwing ideas out here – isn’t the platform driving the content at least to some degree? Paul Carr at TechChrunch argues that the web is nothing but an effective advertising platform, and that content on it is destined – shaped by the platform – to be driven to the lowest common denominator.

The truth is that the grand idea of the web as a content platform has failed. To make money on a web it’s all about grabbing more and more eyeballs to compensate for plummeting CPMs. On that web there’s no place for quality, and in five years time we’ll see the medium for what it really is: a brilliant advertising platform, and very little else.

And then – and I had to go here, yes – we come to Charlie Sheen and the train wreck of his recent life and media appearances.

Well, Charlie got himself on the Ustream video streaming platform the other night for his own talk show – Sheen’s Korner. The host of the American version of Survivor tweeted that “the future of television is happening now,” according to PaidContent. And perhaps hosted streaming is the future, where celebrities and entertainers can communicate more directly with their audiences, cutting out the middlemen of networks and studios.

But it didn’t go so well for Charlie. The numbers were disappointing, he was rambling and incoherent and finally walked off the “set” on his second “show.”

But what if he had been good? Would you go to a new streaming service to watch Charlie Sheen live? Is the content that important? Or will his old show, Two and a Half Men, chug on without him because it is on the right platform at the right time, regardless of quality?

Nathan Hegedus

Nathan Hegedus is a strategic editor for JG Communication focused on thought leadership projects. Based in the Bay Area after years in Stockholm, he is looking to find synergies in content strategy between Scandinavia and Silicon Valley.

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