The Native-App economy and its future

Since the launch of iPhone, everyone has been trying to replicate the App Store model that Apple created. Every operator, OEM and even independent companies are trying to create their own app stores and native app platforms.

The app store/native app model is inherently a walled garden model. This is analogous to AOL in the early days of the internet. AOL was the first one to truly bring internet to the 'masses'. Internet was very young at the time, and was difficult to use. AOL, by controlling the ecosystem and adding restrictions so that everything works well within it, was able to drive adoption for the internet.

In 1999, DoCoMo launched iMode in Japan and did what AOL did - but to mobile devices. All of a sudden, people could open emails, look up stock prices, check the weather and even read magazines all from their phone. iMode was extremely popular and put Japan way ahead of the world in mobile use. Following DoCoMo, other Japanese operators also created their own 'private ecosystems' and achieved considerable success.

The common theme between all of them is that they created a very strong value proposition by productizing  new, difficult to use technology.

However, as time went on, these walled gardens became barriers and hampered innovation in the space.
The technology matured and people wanted 'more' out of it. They started to created services that ran independently, and the 'walls' started to crumble.

It also got difficult for publishers to time to build services and innovate on business models that weren't a part of this 'walled garden'. Slowly but surely, things started moving to the 'open internet' and even though the initial experience was not as good as the walled garden, both consumers and publishers embraced it.

I believe that the Native Apps fall under the same category. With the launch of iPhone, smartphones finally became powerful enough to be able to do things that 'common people' would want. However, because the technology was still developing, the only way to create a great experience was to go 'native' and build a proprietary app. Apple was able to use this to their advantage and create the app store.

With HTML5 developing at an amazing speed, more and more people will start to see the clear advantages of building on an open platform. Its a massive waste of effort having to write native apps on different mobile operating systems that run on hardware of pretty much the same capability.

There are already companies that have started to work in this space, allowing users to get the best of both worlds. The technology is still young, but extremely promising, and a couple of years down the line, the notion of 'you must build your app for 5 different platforms' will be a thing of the past, just like AOL. There will still be some native apps, like we have them on desktop/laptop but they will be extremely specialized.

App stores - as a way to discover 'apps' might always stay on but 'native' as a platform should start counting its days. Until then, its the age of the 'native app'.

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