What is the AppsWorld Conference?
I only had caught word of the conference about 2 months before the event actually took place, so the experience was quite new to me. The conference is meant to bring the business side (aka the money making) of mobile apps. So it was a combination of a wide variety of players in the mobile space. Everything from video games, to mobile payments, developer resources, and the enterprise. I think we often forget that the likes of Rovio (creators of Angry Birds) are real companies trying to compete in the mobile business lanscape. So, it was interesting to see how many different people are competing in the mobile space, all with very different value propositions and different business models. AppsWorld did a good job of separating these sections out so each topic had it’s own “mini-conference”. For example, the Enterprise Apps area was filled with businesses promoting enterprise mobile services and had a specific area laid out for roughly 100 people to listen to speakers and panel discussions.
You can find more about the conference itself by going to their website. I attended the conference in London on the 2nd and 3rd of October. I attended both days and the networking event on the night of the 2nd.
First Impressions of the Conference Itself
The conference itself was pretty impressive. Obviously not nearly as well established and large as something like SAPTechEd, but definitely a decent enough size to bring in roughly 4-5,000 people to the event. Many of the developer speeches were packed (and overcrowded at some points). Initially I did feel like the enterprise was fairly lacking (not by the fault of the event organizers). I would estimate that roughly 20-30% of the crowd mixed with small development shops, about 60% people trying to selling business services around mobile and the last 20% companies who were using mobile applications (i.e. externally facing customer apps or enterprise business apps).
Specifically in the enterprise apps area not all of the stands were filled by businesses. The speeches were only about 20-30% full capacity and it appeared many of the people attending (and speaking) were service providers who build mobile apps for businesses. I come from an SAP background, so I’m used to conferences where there are just droves of customers listening to speakers talk about specific areas of enterprise solutions. I would say I was slightly disheartened by this, by it also struck a chord to confirm some of the current sentiment about the mobile enterprise – the enterprise is still not adopting mobile…yet.
There were a couple of topics that I felt were most important about the conference and I’ll cover them here:
- User Experience
- HTML vs Native
- SAP Mobile Position
- Enterprise Adoption
- Strategy and BYOD
1. User Experience
One of the most surprising aspects of the enterprise panel discussions was how much they spoke about capturing the user experience. Mind you, these are people from massive companies like GSK, Aviva, Unilever, Thomson Reuters, Virgin Media, and Veolia Water, and they’re all talking about how important the user experience is when developing mobile apps. For the longest time, the enterprise has never valued user experience. It’s usually the last item on the list of requirements. Times are changing. The story of mobile adoption across many of these companies seemed to be fairly consistent – executives have iPads and want to do business on them. Things then trickle down from there.
My favorite talk was from Bob Schukai, Global Head of Mobility for Thomson Reuters. I don’t know if it was because he is a fellow yank living in London or the fact he was in t-shirt and jeans or that he had no powerpoint, but his talk was truly inspirational. His main message was basically: Enterprise apps can match the experience of consumer apps. He did something very interesting at the beginning of his speech; he asked 4 members of the audience what their favorite app was and why. There was a variety of answers like WhatsApp and Zite. Anyway, not important what apps they were. As Bob pointed out what made all of these apps alike was that as soon as someone mentioned what app was their favorite, they all smiled. The point being – there is an emotional attachment with our favorite apps. So, why can’t enterprise apps do this?
Interestingly, he also added that his company, Thomson Reuters, only provides and supports iPad for tablet distribution. Mainly because the security is absolutely abysmal on Android (note- I understand that the latest version of Android is addressing this). Not to mention, the tablet market is completely dominated by the iPad.
2. HTML vs Native
Arguably the hottest topic of the whole event. Do we develop in HTML5 or natively? This is not even just an enterprise topic. Just see how much HTML is mentioned in the developer talks. One of the developer talks in particular was completely misguided. He started his presentation about how 99% of the apps out there can be satisfied by HTML5, especially those for content consumption. Then later he used Mashable as example of how to guide your users into an app experience and “lock them into the brand”. You can see the example of this here. (the small add on the bottom of the iPhone) When he mentioned this, he said (almost verbatim) “And then users can download the native app to get a richer experience”. This boggles my mind. A whole presentation on how rich the experience is in HTML5/JS, to then say “but hey if you want a richer experience, download native!”
The enterprise discussions were no different. The fact is, many enterprise apps are CRUD apps, so the argument for native device functions (such as camera, NFC, etc) coming into the HTML spec isn’t particularly valid. The main problem I see with the HTML5 spec is – performance. I’ll save my thoughts on this subject for another post, but this is what I did learn – there is still no one good one way to do it.
The most interesting comment I heard in this discussion came from a mobile app services vendor: “We generally nudge our customers into native, even when it comes to costs. We’ve found that the costs of QA/Testing cross-platform apps end up outweighing the costs of re-developing for each device” Watch this space – it’s hot!
3. SAP Mobile Position
I’ve spoken to many people at SAP and customers about SAP’s mobile offerings. The sentiment is generally consistent – very few people know SAP offers mobile software. I think this largely has to do with the consumerization bias we all have when using mobile apps. We think that because every consumer app has a backend website that all businesses should operate the same way. I think SAP is doing the right thing in that they are investing in conferences, speakers, and marketing in order to get their name out there to developers and customers. I expect (hope!) this changes drastically in 2013 and 2014 when large enterprise customers start adopting the SUP platform. The customers who don’t will most likely be those who choose to gut out SAP completely and move to a SalesForce or Workday platform, where mobile apps come with the package.
4. Enterprise Adoption
Enterprise companies are only just beginning to adopt mobile apps. Even though it’s been 5 years since the iPhone was created and 2 years since Android became the dominate player in the smartphone market, the enterprise, as usual, is slow to adopt. So despite all of the statistics that are spewed out all over the blogosphere, enterprise as still at a halt. I expect more evangelists to start adopting in 2013 and 2014 to be the “hot” year (aka the gold rush) for mobile applications in the enterprise. One key takeaway from the discussions was around pricing. One of the issues that was discussed was upfront costs for a MEAP and who in the business is supposed to incur them. This will be interesting to see how SAP reacts in it’s SUP/Gateway pricing model. Today I see the customers hesitant to adopt SUP partly due to upfront costs (which can very realistically diminish as more apps are produced per person). I won’t go into the current pricing model in this post, but feel free to get in contact with me to discuss.
Also, it’s worth noting that I reckon Europe/UK is slightly behind the curve in comparison to the US. Some of our customers have noted that we are roughly 18 months behind.
5. Strategy and BYOD
Strategy is still at the core of the mobile app adoption in the enterprise. Many of the customers couldn’t really articulate their strategies properly (understandably) and there are still debates on best practices. But the fact is, you need one. From the panel discussions, I was able to confirm that BYOD is very real and it is very costly. Some of the enterprise companies mentioned a 10% (most likely fuzzy math) increase in costs, but noted that there could be less costs in training. This due to intuitiveness of a person’s personal device. I think there still is a large debate to be had here.
So, that’s it. Great conference, not as much activity as I would have hoped, but still a very good chance that things will look drastically different next year. In other words, I expect the activity to double. Get in touch with me @techdisruptive if you have any questions about the event or want to connect at it next year.