Multi-Device is the New Platform

  

This past week I had some great conversations with developers at WWDC in San Francsico while waiting in line for sessions, between sessions, and at the various events. I met a few developers focused solely on iOS, but the majority I spoke with were with companies that are working to deliver their product value across multiple devices and form factors including Macs and iOS mobile devices. I talked to developers working on document management, wearable fitness devices, event ticketing, and more. We discussed different approaches, frameworks, languages, and business models. But the common denominator boiled down to the need and challenge to deliver their business to as many users as possible.

For the Windows developer, multi-device is both a business opportunity and a business necessity. Just five years ago a Windows only business strategy was still viable, but it was in the last days of dominating the single device era. In 2007 a trend was already underway toward a more diversified desktop landscape. While still a small percentage of the desktop market compared to Windows, Macs were back and gaining in market share. Specifically, Macs for the first time were growing at a faster pace than Windows desktops. And importantly, Macs were becoming the device of choice with influencers, developers, and technical experts. This trend, along with the BYOD trend, started a significant shift toward allowing and supporting heterogeneous desktops in IT. This real world trend even led to Forrester reversing its long standing position against Macs in the enterprise and in late 2011 urged Enterprise IT organizations to start supporting Macs along with Windows PCs. But it was a flat glass multi-touch Internet device released by Apple in 2007 that cracked the single device world wide open – and it could make calls too.
For most developers up to 2007 supporting platforms other than Windows was a cost/benefit exercise that more than often didn’t add up and make business sense. For most developers it didn’t make sense to double upfront and ongoing R&D cost for a 10% growth in revenue. Fast forward to 2013 and it is a completely different world and model. Users are now typically using multiple hardware and software platforms during the course of a day. Users expect to get updates, alerts, and notifications from their applications where ever they are and on which ever device they are in front of or carrying (and soon, wearing). The question is no longer “Can I cost justify the R&D expense?”. It is now “How do we deliver our business value to the devices our customers are using and maintain budgets and schedules that make sense for the business?”.
Venture capital firm KPCB put out a chart late last year that visually, and dramatically, illustrates the shift from the single platform dominated landscape that started in the early 90’s to a rapidly re-emerging multi-device landscape that began in the last several years and continues to climb today.

While the desire to strengthen and grow an existing business with multi-device is attractive, some developers are still stalled by business risk. Some of the perceived risks include price dilution, cannibalization, and increased costs. R&D costs can be addressed with multi-device tools. Development tools from Embarcadero, for example, are designed to natively support multiple device platforms from a single development effort providing multi-device support for the similar cost as a single platform effort. Business changes, on the other hand, can be addressed by viewing multi-device as an additive component to a successful business rather than a replacement. There is no need to start over offering a 99 cent app in the App Store that dilutes your product value or cannibalizes your existing customer. Few successful app businesses today are truly based on 99 cent apps anyway. Instead, existing established software businesses, including Windows based businesses, have variety of business models to choose from when moving to multi-device that can be complimentary and enhance existing established businesses with new revenue and customers without dilution or cannibalization. Some of the more common multi-device business models for existing desktop software include Extension, Replication, Marketing, and Services models.
Extension model – Create mobile apps that extend the functionality of your desktop application, making the solution more versatile and adaptable. A dentist office solution for example, is typically a rich client Windows application with a display fixed near the patients chair to display patient records and X-rays. These are typically built in a client/server model often with a middleware server such as DataSnap. In the extension model, add an iPad app that connects to the data snap server enabling the staff to carry the patient information around the office. Tablets also tend to be less intimidating in stressful settings such as medical and dental offices. These apps do not have to have the full functionality of the main workstation. They give the staff flexibility and mobility in the office while creating a friendlier and more accessible environment for patients. The goal of extension is to build upon your existing success, creating a more compelling and competitive solution for your customers and market. The extension model is also one of the more cost effective to implement and can be rolled out quickly, particularly if you’ve built your existing solution with client/server middleware such as Embarcadero’s DataSnap. If your application is a pure two-tier client/server solution, then consider moving it to DataSnap and adding native mobile app clients and web clients with RADStudio XE4

Replication model – The goal of replication is to duplicate your Windows application feature set in a new form factor and device platform in order to a) reach new users and b) provide more convenience for your users by offering your apps features on devices they are using at anytime. Replication strengthens the user base and creates stickiness for your applications. Replication typically requires rewriting your application with new tools, languages, and APIs for each target platform and can be the most costly multi-device model to implement. However, Embarcadero’s RADStudio XE4 can mitigate the R&D cost enabling existing Windows VCL applications to be migrated to the FM framework on Windows (aka Firemonkey) and then natively to new platforms such as Mac, iOS, and soon Android – making replication fast and cost effective compared to other approaches. One of the benefits of replication is taking your existing business and leveraging the successful sales and marketing infrastructure of app stores such as the iOS AppStore and the Mac AppStore. I spoke to two different well known companies at WWDC this week who are now getting more traffic via their apps, than their website and many statistics demonstrate that users spend more time in apps than the web on mobile devices. Placing your application in app stores it searchable and available to completely new audiences, where they are looking and searching for solutions today.

Marketing model – Marketing models leverage the mobile app to upsell additional capability or applications. The most popular marketing model is aimed to attract new customers with free or low cost functionality, and reserving additional capabilities, often the most valuable for in app purchases. It is not uncommon for a $9.99 app to have a $49.99 in app add-on for example. The most successful model from a revenue perspective being consumable in-app purchases such as time, capacity, or usable items. App stores are also a tremendous marketing vehicle that can expose your application to completely new audiences. Since the iOS AppStore doesn’t allow for trial downloads developers have found success with free apps that upsell add’l capacity via the in-app purchase mechanism. In fact the highest grossing apps today are free apps with in-app purchases. The model works because the iOS AppStore is an incredible marketing machine with millions of views and searches every day and free apps are the most sought for and downloaded.
Another marketing model that is starting to become popular among businesses with existing desktop apps is the free mobile to desktop approach. By giving away a specific feature set of the desktop version in a mobile app, the mobile app can upsell to the more powerful and feature rich desktop version.

Services model – Existing applications can be reworked to push their data into the cloud, and then shared among different device versions of your app. Amazon and Google provide cloud services that are easy to implement. But consider emerging REST based BAAS (back end as a service) platforms that offer a wider variety of app oriented and value added hosted back end cloud services for your app such as push notifications, user management, data storage, file storage, geolocation services (ie search and users near me). These services can also help you to expand your business with new revenue models such as subscription and service capacity. Some BAAS platforms to look at are Kinvey, App42, Stackmob, and Parse. Programmable Web has a useful list of 50 BAAS platforms http://blog.programmableweb.com/2012/10/17/50-backend-apis-cloudmine-mydigitalstructure-and-quickblox/

Today’s device choices of desktops, tablets, and phones will soon be rapidly expanding to include televisions, automobile, HUDs, wearable devices, game consoles, and more. And regardless of the business model you choose, today’s multi-device landscape provides Windows and desktop application developers with a far larger audience, better marketing methods, and new ways to monetize your business.
As a software developer or development organization, if you haven’t begun to move your business to a multi-device model, now is the time. You can get started by picking up Embarcadero’s Delphi XE4 or RADStudio XE4 line of development tools which support rapidly building apps for Windows, Mac, and iOS with a single code base and add Android when it becomes available. If you have existing Windows or Windows VCL applications Embarcadero’s XE4 line of tools will help you migrate them to a native multi-device strategy. Another great place to start is the free CodeRage Mobile online conference this week June 18-19 where you can learn how to kick start your multi-device application strategy today.


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