Sep 13 2011

Does This Application Need To Be Mobile?

Categories: 2011 SAP TechEd, Rants Dave Rathbun @ 6:30 pm

As mentioned earlier, one of the key themes mentioned in the morning keynote was (once again) mobile applications. Later on I saw a brief marketing video from SAP that showed off some of their mobile apps, and I started to wonder: were some of those apps mobile because they needed to be? Or because they were simply re-positioned from a desktop? And if so, where is the value? For example, one of the sample apps shown appeared to be an HR app used to approve expense reports. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard a request from our HR department saying they needed to do that via a mobile device. The same could be said for many of the other applications shown (however briefly) in the video.

Years ago I had a friend who started a company that was going to be based on the Internet. His idea would have been a very early front-runner in the social media space, although we didn’t know that at the time. Like many, his company disappeared during the “dot bomb” collapse. What really intrigued me about his idea, though, was that it was not a company that could be built on the Internet, it was a company that required the Internet in order to function. (The same could be said about most social media companies today which is why I said he was a front-runner in the space.) During the same time he was launching his idea, many other companies were trying to simply re-platform their brick-and-mortar offerings on the web, with various degrees of success. They didn’t require the Internet to function, they were just using it as a delivery device.

Today I’m starting to feel like I am seeing the same thing with mobile. Everybody seems to want to show off their mobile apps, but what they’re showing (at least a large percentage of the time) is a desktop app or common function that has been repositioned as a mobile app. It’s something that could be done equally well on either type of hardware. I don’t think anyone with a smart phone is going to be interested in giving up mobile access to their email, and that’s clearly a desktop app that has been re-platformed very successfully. Blackberry probably would not exist as a company today if not for the success of their mobile email devices. When I go out shopping, I frequently use Amazon or eBay as a price guide to see if a locally available item is priced competitively. That’s not a mobile app, though, that’s simply mobile access to data. I could do my comparison shopping at home, but it’s certainly convenient to have it on a mobile device.

I can get sports scores on my phone. I can get the same thing at home. Again, it’s convenient to have mobile access but it’s not mandatory.

Today I can deliver Web Intelligence documents over the Internet with the mobile platform in BI 4.0. That’s not really a mobile application, it’s an alternate delivery path for desktop content. The same thing could be said for the mobile version of Explorer.

In fact, I personally can’t think of a single thing that I currently do with my Blackberry that requires mobility. I just have a bunch of desktop applications in my pocket. There is value in that, but it’s not a very compelling (at least to me) mobility story.

How about you? Do you have any true mobile apps? Something that would not be possible any other way? Or are they simply desktop apps on a different device? Spreadsheets were the “killer app” for desktop computers. Email may have been an early force behind the growth of smart phones, but what’s the true mobile killer app that we can’t live without?

2 Responses to “Does This Application Need To Be Mobile?”

  1. Comment by Yoav

    Hi Dave,

    I see your point and agree with it.

    An added value to your mobile it that your are not conditioned to use your home PC or laptop in order to “make things done” whether it is a bank transaction you need to pull fast or compare prices according to your location.

    Mobility,dynamics and GPS services itself have big advatages over “home ” apps ,that sometimes can make a differance to the whole organiztion.

    Example:

    Field engineers and salesman can maka a huge adavantage by accessing data from where they are located: to examine hardware,to make a better customer visit route taht saves time and increases the selling efficiency

    An idea for Avis:

    Using an application that manages all the data of a rented car (rent date,car status and ctr.) and upload this form to the server from the field can save alot of paper work ,time,money ,improve service and make the data much more accessible.

    The accessibility itslf is the differance becuase it breaks the condidtionning of the place (that equal time that equal money).

    If i can give another example for a real application:

    Last time i was in Paris i went to a restruant that didn’t have an english menu.
    I used a application that covers all the restrunts in Paris with translated menues(How about Word Lens…) and recommendation and.. walla… i knew exactly what to order and there was some BI sense in the air… :-)

    Thanks

    Yoav

  2. Comment by Dave Rathbun

    AVIS is already mobile at most of their airport locations. They have mobile “rovers” that meet me when I am dropping off a car. They scan the VIN for the car, do a quick visual scan to make sure I haven’t been in any accidents, and print out my receipt. I can’t comment on what they do behind the scenes, but I’m sure they leverage that information. Their device is a custom-built device since it has to print a receipt. If they didn’t need to print, they could use an iPhone or tablet instead. :)

    One of the other concerns I have about mobile is the ruggedization of the device. Can you imagine an AVIS rep dropping their iPad while they’re checking in my car?

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