Mobile applications and application stores are all the rage in mobile chattering classes at the moment, but it's worthwhile stepping back and looking at mobile through the eyes of a pragmatic, mass market consumer.
Sure, they have a mobile phone indeed surveys show that if forced to pick only one of TV, Computer or mobile phone 58% would pick the mobile phone.
So there should be a great market for mobile application producers, shouldn't there?
If you talk to mobile application developers there is one word that you'll hear again and again - fragmentation. The wide variety of different platforms, operating systems, programming runtimes, screen sizes, keyboard layouts and phone features, stores, certification programs and other differences make it expensive to produce even the simplest application on mobile. There are ways around these fragmentation problems, provided that developers are prepared to spend some time and money on solutions, so it's possible to overcome the problems.
Which leaves one problem remaining - how do you tell consumers about your mobile application, and what happens when they hear about it?
If we take a group of just 10 people in the UK market, discussing the latest and greatest mobile application we'll find:
Two of them have iPhones, two have Blackberries, four have Nokia smartphones, one has a Windows Mobile phone and one has an Android phone. Pretty tech savvy lot - especially as the other half of the room have non smart phones.
They are swapping stories about the latest application that they have discovered, and recommending it to their friends - great viral marketing. The problem is - how do they each get the application? Is it listed in the application stores on the devices? Which store? How about they search for it? Will Google find it? How does it then link to the application?
Even for an application that is available on all the platforms the chances that these consumers will quickly succeed in finding the application is small - there is no clear way to get applications for mobile phones that doesn't first require answering questions like "what phone model? what operator?"
This problem repeats itself when you look at any form of mass consumer advertising or marketing - the probability that you'll successfully convert customers for a mobile application is very low.
So what is likely to be the best way of marketing a mobile application?
How about marketing a mobile web site? If you can educate people to go to a mobile site first - then the application provider can provide the logic to navigate to the appropriate application store for a device. Thus, marketing your mobile application becomes a question of how would you market your website - mobile, or desktop.