Dusting Off the Crystal Ball

cball1s.jpgBefore January gets completely away from me, I thought I’d put out some predictions for the mobile software world in 2008. Here’s the obligatory disclaimers – these are my opinions only, and do not (as the movies say) reflect the views or opinions of Ilium Software. Or anyone else. They’re just about mobile software and content, not anything useful like the stock market or lottery numbers. And I’ll freely admit I’m not the best predictor, despite our nice crystal ball with Jeff Hawkins’ signature.

1 – The iPhone SDK will make less of a difference to our businesses (and by “our”, I mean the mobile software companies) than we hope. My guess is that Apple will exercise a lot more control over how apps are installed, made available, and priced than we (again, we being the software makers) would like. Like they did with the iPod apps, I believe that Apple will choose which third-party programs they want to deliver through iTunes, and control the pricing. iPhone apps – especially games – will be popular, but developers dreaming of huge profits and revenues will end up disappointed.

2 – The big mobile software portals (Motricity and Handango) will significantly change, and be less of a presence in software distribution. It’s been clear to me for a while that software isn’t what Motricity (owner of PocketGear, PalmGear and Smartphone.net) is very interested in. For a while, I thought they’d drop software completely, but after thinking more about it, I guess I don’t really believe that. But I do think we’ll see less and less energy and activity on Motricity’s software sites. And while I hope Handango doesn’t follow their example, I’m afraid they will. The smaller software distribution sites like MobiHand and Handmark will try to fill the space that the two bigger companies are leaving, but I doubt that they’ll be able to without getting a lot more backing and resources.

3 – Palm OS will continue to lose market share, to the point where it’s a non-presence. Even its biggest fans among the mobile community seem to have written them off by now, and the company as a whole just keeps making decisions no one understands. I know that there are a few people who think Palm will stage a big comeback like Apple did, but I think that Palm will focus more and more on their Windows Mobile devices and phase out Palm OS entirely. Or just go under. I hope they prove me wrong.

4 – A lot of new mobile software and content sites will launch and then fail. This happens every year, but I think it’s going to be even more common in 2008. Too many people think that mobile software and content is going to be a big new market, and then jump in as a distributor or developer and finding out that being successful is nowhere near as easy as they thought. We’ve seen a number of sites crash and burn, or just fizzle away, and I’m pretty sure we’ll see a lot more. You need knowledge, background and experience to be successful in mobile software. A good idea, even with funding behind it, just isn’t enough.

5 – More partnerships and mergers. I’m guessing there will be more partnerships and mergers among the established mobile software companies. We’ve seen a little of it already – Handmark buying Astraware, our working with WebIS to combine eWallet and FlexWallet – and I think that 2008 will see much more.

6 – Customer support will get worse. I hate this one, but I believe it. More and more of the distributors and resellers are no longer giving the developers any information about the purchasers of their software. So while we (specifically Ilium Software, but I know other companies as well) pride ourselves on providing really excellent support, if you call us and say you bought eWallet through a third-party store and lost your installation file, we may not have a record of your purchase. We’ll do everything we can to try to find it, or help you find your something that proves your purchase, but we won’t always be able to validate a purchase using an email or a name like we used to. The good news is that we do still have the info from any purchase made from through our site (using either our direct or HCE carts), and that will not change, this or any other year.

7 – Web-based apps will become more and more prevalent, for mobile as well as desktop use. This one’s pretty much a no-brainer, but it seems worth a mention.

Looking back over this, it sounds like I’m pessimistic about the future. I’m really not. Mobile software has always been a hard market to be successful in, but we’ve managed it for over 10 years now, and so have several other companies. The mobile area changes quickly, and while it probably has more challenges than desktop or web development, it’s also a lot more interesting and more fun. I’m really looking forward to what 2008 brings.

13 thoughts on “Dusting Off the Crystal Ball

  1. Peter

    I think some of those are dead on. However, I don’t think Web Apps for Windows Mobile devices will really grow because PocketIE is just so bad. I’d love it if we could use Web apps, but that’s just not realistic right now. Now the iPhone is a different story – they’ve got a pretty decent browser.

    I would hope that there’d be someone out there who would give Mobile Developers a fair shake. Handango gets some pretty poor reviews because of the amount of a developers’ profits they seem to eat up as well as their product placement strategy.

    What I’d really like to see is more companies who develop maintaining blogs about what’s going on in their company and having some interaction back and forth. I know that you, WebIS, and SPB are all pretty good about customer interaction and I really appreciate it. Sometimes it seems that there’s a response almost before we post. :-) Not all developers seem as responsive. At least one gaming site seems to keep quiet when bugs are mentioned rather than even just indicating that it’s being tested or added to the list or anything.

    (Kudos to companies who monitor their forums for bugs and submit those to their helpdesk as well – excellent customer service!)

    I think that a lot of your predictions are dead-on, though. iPhone SDK will probably be restrictive. Mergers – always a given. Palm – probably on the way out.

    I may disagree a little on Customer Service, though. I think that the advent of blogs and forums tied to the software sites helps customer service, if only by giving us an outlet for expressing satisfaction/dissatisfaction. Get a team with good people/communication skills monitoring those and you’ve got a great way to improve customer satisfaction as long as your product warrants it. Of course, if you have that outlet and then ignore the customers – well, you deserve what happens.

    -Pete

  2. Gary Furash

    You’re right about the Palm. They had the lead but they’re DOA as of this year.

    My prediction is that Illium will continue to invest heavily in the maintenance of ReqPro since I’m completely dependent on that software. They may also let me beta test a version. I’m not sure yet.

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  4. Eugene G

    Well, let me make my own predictions – being completely ignorant about software development, I intend to make up for it with arrogance !

    In a few (well, maybe several) years, the Windows Mobile and “Regular” Windows will merge enough to allow all but the most-demanding Windows applications to be ran on a PDA. This, effectively, would spell an end to most mobile titles. Some developers will thrive by adapting to what we today call “desktop” environment. I think ListPro is well positioned here. Not sure about many others.

    I don’t see any chance for Palm comeback, save for a miracle. It’s just too limited and has been since about 2002. Apple offers more refinement and better hardware for a bit more money. Palm offers just the opposite for basically the same amount of cash (if you’re looking for higher-end devices).

    Here’s a big one: the little annoyning interface quirks in ListPro are going to be removed in the next release, around end of February, and iLium will take over the world !

  5. Brandon

    Great post and a wonderful read. Can’t say I agee with all of it – but most of it I think is pretty accurate.

    For the iPhone SDK … I think you’re dead on about Apple being restrictive and most likely very controlling. I for one don’t necessarily welcome that – but I look forward to a slightly better quality control process than what Windows Mobile has at the moment. I can imagine Apple certifying the applications for stability and such in hopes of not affecting the overall stability of the iPhone. Something WinMobile has desparately needed for a long time (Ilium and a few others not included obviously).

    I also think though that if you can bring out that “gotta have” application you’ve got a good chance to make some decent money even with those restrictions. I just hope Apple doesn’t make too much of a pain to make it worth your while. I love eWallet and I’d love to see an iPhone version.

    Web Based Apps. I love them. But I can’t stand them. I love Google. I use gmail, google calendar, google reader, google docs and a couple others quite heavily. But I’ve mentioned it on this blog before – there’s nothing worse than need that web app and not having it there. The WWW is all around us for the most part – but there’s still a lot of time where it isn’t, or the speed is just not practical. The back of a big store, my daughter’s doctor’s office, the basement of my buddy’s house … the web isn’t everywhere yet. So it’s (for me anyway) important that developers don’t lose sight of that. While a good web app is important – the ability to access that information sans webapp is just as important. So, my hope is that as people start to focus on web apps, they also focus on sync.

    Also – I have a big fear with web based apps. What happens to all my data, my important passwords, my 2+GB of email, my web feeds, and al that stuff when the developers close up show and take the servers offline? Without sync/offline storage, I’m screwed.

    Customer support – you’re known for it. Try to be a leader rather than a follower in this area. Just because everyone else sucks, doesn’t mean you should too! :)

  6. Ellen Post author

    Thanks for all the comments! To clarify a little – we have no intention of letting our support degrade. We’ll always have buyer info for any purchases made from our own site. But we may not have it from purchases made from some (not all) third-party sites. And Handango wrote me that they’re not moving away from their core business. I’m happy I was wrong about that.

  7. Adriano Chiaretta

    A really great collection of thoughts about the mobile software industry. I must say I share most of the concerns & hopes above. Particularly the ones about the iPhone SDK and Customer Support blues.

    In regards to Customer Support and users showing up with titles of ours of which we have no record it’s something happening to us on a daily basis since a while now.

    As far as Palm OS heading towards extinction, not sure — perhaps in 2008 might instead sharply evolve and adapt to live on Linux based platform. Although this for us developers would likely mean major rehauls of our titles.

  8. AKA John Doe

    I believe that you are correct regarding the software web stores folding up shop. And I applaud your decision to open your own store. I attempted to download some free software this evening from PocketGear.com and discovered that I needed to sign in and then enter credit card information in order to complete the download. I DON’T THINK SO!

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  10. cyprus web design

    paris is dusting off his crystal ball
    ….

    illium software releases ewallet working on the iphone with ability to store the passwords on the iphone working on the iphone.
    …..

    paris runs to a shop and buys an iphone. throws his wm phone on the bin
    ….

    installs ewallet in iphone and lives happily ever after :)

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