Will Killer Apps Affect Which Handsets Consumers Buy?


The recent update of Facebook’s iPhone application offers a first insight to a potential new trend. With one major revision of the software from v2.5 to v3.0, the iPhone version of Facebook has become the de-facto standard Facebook client to use while mobile. Aside from my own use, I’ve read various reviews of the new client, and Dave Winer sums it up succinctly and accurately: “I wish the desktop version of Facebook was this simple, fast and elegant.” The software is so well designed and useful that Facebook addicts who don’t have an iPhone will want one. Wait a second — did I just unofficially deem Apple’s handset “the Facebook phone?” And if so, how does that reflect the effect the growing mobile app space has on the handsets consumer choose to buy?

With the rise of mobile application stores of late, it’s no surprise that people are buying more software for their phones. But the fact that the Facebook experience is superb on the Apple iPhone — and only the iPhone — makes me wonder if there’s something underneath the larger mobile application trends. Yes, people are spending more on mobile software as a whole, but what apps are they buying? More importantly, are there popular or more useful apps only available on certain handsets? Or if a hot software title is available on multiple handset platforms, does it offer a measurably better experience on one handset over the others? In effect — are we witnessing an emerging trend where “killer apps” will start to affect mobile handset choices?

Now, there’s no empirical analysis that tells me such a thing. We’re not yet at the point where we can track purchase decisions of the aggregate consumer at this low level of detail. So I did my own little research project by talking to a small sampling of friends and peers — both in the online world and in my own neighborhood. Every single person I reached out to that uses Facebook on a regular basis now has an affinity for an iPhone, simply because of the Facebook client. Some of them already have iPhones, but those that don’t are now interested in Apple’s handset more than ever because of one single application. Would those who use something other than an iPhone be willing to switch carriers or end their current phone contract early? Nobody was apt to do that for a single piece of software, but if there were two or three more “killer apps” they might.

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  1. Stephanie Rieger Sunday, September 13, 2009

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that “each device excels at different software functions” and this is what will complicate matters. Simply porting a popular iPhone app to the Pre or Blackberry will not guarantee that this app will do as well on other platforms or devices.

    The handset’s chosen manipulation model, flexibility of the OS, level of handset integration (maps, compass, gestures etc.), overall platform fragmentation, even the ease of use of WIFI and the keyboard may all conspire to affect the success of an application.

    And that is of course, if the developers can afford to properly port the application’s UE in the first place (i.e. optimize and adapt it to the device and its capabilities).

    This is, I think where the platforms and OEMs who are able to offer the ‘whole package’ will, in the end, end up with the best selection of apps (read quality…not necessarily quantity…although in the end, this may amount to the same thing).

    The really interesting bit will be to see how long it will take for consumers and developers to sort out where the value truly lies.

  2. I believe that we have it reversed… Consumers will more likely choose against a phone that does not have an app rather than choosing a phone because it has a specific application. Google Voice is a good example. Apple/AT&T looses because they have (so far) blocked GV, while other platforms that don’t offer GV yet won’t be hurt as the promise that it is “coming soon,” should be enough.

  3. While the iPhone is the obvious choice for an app debut, why wouldn’t Android or Palm be right behind the iPhone for any killer app? Apple gets the head start, which is valuable, but that shouldn’t lock out other platforms. Pray we don’t get into a era of “exclusive” apps which would make all phones less valuable.

    1. I don’t disagree at all. Although I used Facebook for the iPhone as a key example, I also said that Google Voice is the “killer app” for Android handsets. At the moment, Palm doesn’t have an application of equal merit, although I’d consider the Synergy function of webOS to be very compelling. I do know people that purchased a Palm Pre partially because of Synergy.

      This is actually one case where I hope I’m wrong and that I haven’t spotted an early, dangerous trend that’s bad for consumers.

    2. Oh and I just remembered the “killer app” I *should* have mentioned for Windows Mobile: Exchange ActiveSync. Granted, that advantage has been licensed away but in the early stages of the smartphone game, but back in the day it was a huge reason folk would purchase a Windows Mobile phone.

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