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August 26, 2011

ITEXPO West Interview: The Potential in Mobile Apps

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor
Market evolution within the tech space is always exciting to watch as it changes quickly and can have dramatic results. To get a better idea of current changes, TMC CEO, Rich Tehrani recently spoke with Jonathan Stark, VP of Application Architecture with Mobiquity. Their conversation took place in anticipation of the upcoming ITEXPO (News - Alert) West event. When asked about market segment evolution, Stark pointed to the epiphany among business execs that mobile is a distinct medium that is dramatically changing how they operate and interact with customers. As for the next disruptive force in technology, Stark highlighted mobile payments.

The acceptance and adoption of the cloud model has influenced Mobiquity in that enterprise-class mobile apps couldn’t exist without the cloud approach. The most common request from customers is that they want to get their mobile apps to market quickly, without writing any throwaway code. Stark believes there will be a push towards universal solutions and customized mobile devices. As for the mix of traffic in the future, Stark points to video as the majority bandwidth consumer. When asked if Google (News - Alert)+ will be bigger, Stark didn’t want to say, yet did highlight that Google can capitalize on Facebook weaknesses and that Google is much stronger in mobile.

As for helping clients to increase mobility, Stark noted that the barrier to this mobility is legacy systems. When asked about the mobile operating systems war, Stark highlighted it is not a winner takes all proposition and in the near term, iOS and Android (News - Alert) should dominate. HTML5 does offer promise for the enterprise and Stark is looking forward to Margaritas at Red’s Porch during ITEXPO West. Attendees will learn from Stark about the challenges to consider with enterprise-class mobile apps.

Their entire conversation follows:

How has your market evolved over the past year and what trends have fueled those changes?

Our market at Mobiquity is enterprise mobile, so the big change for us has been the epiphany among business execs that mobile is a distinct medium that is dramatically changing how they operate and interact with customers. Some of this has been fueled by the “shiny object” syndrome of millions of execs getting iPads as holiday gifts and beginning to get a feel for the art of the possible with mobile. This is wreaking havoc on IT groups who are saddled with legacy architectures that are not optimized for mobile and don’t have the expertise to adapt quickly to new requirements from the business.

What do you see as the next disruptive force in technology and how will it impact your market or business?

Mobile payments. Paying for things with mobile devices is going to fundamentally alter our relationship with money, and perhaps redefine the meaning of currency. Businesses that embrace this change early will gain a competitive advantage by decreasing friction, mitigating risk, and increasing convenience and satisfaction for their customers.

Longer term, we see many interesting opportunities in the “participatory sensing” realm. There’s no telling what penetrating insights society will gain from the massive amount of data that will become available as more people share their environmental sensor data and more devices become interactive (e.g. health devices, electric meters, pet collars, appliances, parking meters, vehicles, etc…).

How has the acceptance and adoption of the cloud model influenced your development cycle and process?

Enterprise-class mobile apps couldn’t exist without a cloud-based approach. The code that is installed on a user’s device is what people generally think of when they think of a “mobile app”, but this code is typically just a light front-end client that accesses complex enterprise-wide application systems through a unified web services API.

The obvious benefit to IT of a cloud-based approach is that data, business logic, access control, and more can be maintained centrally. Furthermore, centralizing the bulk of the application allows IT to respond quickly when faced with changes in the marketplace, new business requirements, or support of new types of devices.

The benefit to end users of a cloud-based approach is that they can be productive wherever they want, whenever they want, and on whatever device they want without having to worry latency or data sync between devices.

What is the most common request you are seeing from your customers? How is your company addressing these demands?

Enterprise customers want to get their mobile apps to market quickly, but without writing any throwaway code. They don’t want yet another data silo to be created by releasing a standalone app, so new offerings need to be integrated with existing systems.

To address these needs, we start by defining the long-range roadmap and then mapping out a reference architecture that will bridge the gap between existing legacy systems and future requirements. This allows the enterprise to be flexible and pivot as new technologies evolve (OSs, HTML5, devices, gesture interfaces, Augmented Reality, etc…), and allows us to be very surgical with our development – i.e., we can build only what is required for the next app without painting ourselves into a corner.

There has been talk of Facebook (News - Alert) coming into the mobile marketplace with its own devices, and LinkedIn just rolled out a new HTML5 mobile app.  Do you expect we will see a push towards universal solutions or customized mobile devices as we move forward in social media?

Both. Wireless computing is exploding in every direction. I think we’ll see everything from dedicated single-use devices, to “write once, deploy everywhere” approaches. There will be doorways into the network of all shapes and sizes. The market is so huge and hardware is getting so cheap that there’s no reason not to offer massive variety.

That said, Facebook should be like lighter fluid for HTML5. They reportedly have 80 development partners signed up, which means we’re likely to see a flood of gorgeous HTML5 apps. End users will finally see what is actually possible with HTML5.

Besides phone calls, mobile is now sharing bandwidth with video and machines.  What do you predict will be the mix of traffic in the future?

If you look at the Cisco traffic projections, Video is the majority of future traffic which is somewhat expect as the devices get better (HD, 3D) for streaming/playback and 2-way video adoption takes off.  M2M is a lot of connections, but still relatively small portion of traffic in the next few years since the data rate requirements are low (telemetry, status, wake-ups, etc).  This could change is we move to interactive appliances and vending machines, etc. with rich media displays.

Will Google+ become bigger than Facebook and Twitter? Why or why not?

Tough to say who will be bigger (or even how to measure bigness), but Google has two big advantages – they can capitalize on Facebook's weaknesses (like ability to control distribution among different groups of users) and they are much stronger in mobile and can optimize for this out of the gate.

As businesses continue their move toward virtual workforces, how are you meeting the need for increased mobility?  What barriers are keeping others from adopting mobile strategies?

For our enterprise clients, the barrier is legacy systems. Data, business logic, and UI are trapped in systems designed for desktop + mouse + keyboard use. Mobile users need highly focused, lightweight, and intuitive touch-based interfaces that can securely access data in real time, all the time. The majority of enterprise systems are not capable of supporting this, so our first step in getting them from “Point A” to “Point B” is to break down silos and expose a unified web service API.

Depending on the industry, rolling out deeper access and mobile apps for employees can add security and regulatory/compliance as major impediments.  They need to be sure they can protect/control data wherever it resides, especially in heavily regulated industries like healthcare or financial services.

How do you see the mobile operating system war (iPhone vs. Android vs. RIM vs. WM7 vs. HTML5) playing out?

This isn’t a zero sum game. It’s not winner take all. There will be a shakeout, but there the pie is enormous and growing. I think there’s plenty of room for 2-3 big players (probably iOS, Android, and WP7) and 1-2 more large niche players (RIM, webOS). HTML & Native code will coexist for the near term. Eventually the line between them will blur to the point of irrelevance.

In the near term, iOS and Android should dominate. Android will grow the most - fueled by cheap devices in emerging markets - but Apple (News - Alert) still owns the best device experience, battery life, and app store which will keep them as a strong player. HTML5 will rattle this a bit and Microsoft will also work its way back into the game with strong integration between WinMo and Office365.  RIM will continue to lose share as Bring your own Device (BYOD) policies spread (although Blackberry will still grow as a brand overseas).

Is HTML5 the game changer many predict it will be?

If apps were cutting boards, HTML5 is bamboo and Obj-C is marble. Both have pros and cons – the right one for you depends on what kind of cutting board you’re trying to make, who you’re marketing to, and how much you are planning to spend. One major advantage of HTML5 that’s worth pointing out is that allows enterprises to control more of their content and be less dependent on Apple.

What are you most looking forward to at ITEXPO West in Austin? What do you see as being the biggest trends at the show?

In terms of trends, I think HTML5 apps will be the biggest, but I expect to hear a lot about M2M as well. M2M continues to chug along, mostly as a niche market. I think NFC could really change this and get consumers comfortable interacting with “things”.

What issues will you be addressing during your ITEXPO session and why should attendees be sure to attend?

Attendees will learn what challenges need to be considered when getting started with enterprise-class mobile apps, and what tools, strategies, and guidelines can be used to help bridge the most common gaps.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.

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Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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