Mobile Fix: are apps the CDs of mobile?

Mobile Fix: are apps the CDs of mobile?

CDs promised a better way to consume content but ended up becoming a stepping stone for the atomisation of music. Are apps going the same way? By Simon Andrews, founder of Addictive!

As big music fans we were late into CDs. For quite a while after the launch of this “revolutionary new format” we stuck with buying the vinyl albums. But eventually the convenience – and the difficulty getting a vinyl copy – saw us make the transition and now we’ve more CDs than vinyl.

Of course making the music digital led to a subtle change in how music was listened to; in the car a CD changer meant songs could be listened to randomly. Then along came the iPod and burning CDs to iTunes – there even used to be businesses offering this service – soon led to the Shuffle and Genius. More songs played randomly, which essentially laid the way for streaming, where the song is the hero and the album concept devalued.

Could we look at apps the same way? Is mobile web content the “analogue original” existing as destinations and do apps package that content in a more convenient way? Are home pages of apps the mobile equivalent of CD racks?

Now we see notifications and cards are starting to devalue the app experience by reducing the need to visit the app.

So the question is – what’s the mobile equivalent of streaming? Will apps no longer be needed as all the content and the functionality is distributed through the stream of notifications and cards? Do we see a near future where the home screen blends notifications with tweets and social updates, mediated by some all-powerful algorithm?

Given that Google Now gives us a glimpse of this future and the Apple home screen is evolving in a similar direction, will GAFA control these streams? Is the power law of the top 25 apps coming from a small number of big players going to consolidate further?

We continue to advise clients that they need to think through how they work with GAFA; partnerships and distribution across these big players – and Twitter – is going to be key. For example, having Uber feature as an option within Google Maps is a huge win for them – helped by a $250 million VC investment – and a disadvantage to their competitors.

There is lots happening with mobile content and services and just building an app doesn’t seem enough anymore. Having a card strategy feels like a smart next step so that, as more opportunities to distribute your content/service arise, you have some learning on what works and what doesn’t.

CDs promised a better way to consume content but ended up becoming a stepping stone for the atomisation of music. Are apps going the same way?

Lots more smart thinking on this topic in this piece – which ends with more good articles to read.


Cards are probably most mature in Twitter and we think their new rapprochement with developers is likely to see more uses of cards. How Fabric works with cards remains to be seen though.

One significant move from Twitter is to use the phone number as a way to sign in to apps, with Twitter handling the SMS authentication. This seems a win win as it makes it easier for the user and the app developer, and gives developers an alternative to the Faustian pact they must do with Facebook and Google over the data shared on social sign-ins. Fred Wilson sums up this sign-in issue well.

But whilst the industry sees the new tools as a step forward Wall Street still worries about user growth and it seems inevitable Twitter is going to make some changes so that new users can get more value from the service more quickly.

Twitter wants to create an “immersive experience” for users who do not log in and eventually generate revenue from promoted tweets “across the entire mobile app ecosystem”, Mr Costolo said.

We still think that curated lists could be a way to solve this problem; reading the tweets from a list of Leeds United players, fans and journalists, for example, would give people a quick easy way to follow the current Elland Road soap opera. Danny Sullivan makes a similar point when he argues that people should be able to follow interests rather than users.

Whatever Twitter decides to do, it has to hope it works for both new users and for existing ones. Whilst lots of people – including us – love Twitter and find it really valuable, these days it is easy to lose traction and relevance can be lost really quickly. If they are going to offer a ‘new Twitter’ they should make sure ‘classic Twitter’ remains available too.


The Facebook results didn’t disappoint many people, and it now has 456 million mobile-only users.

This scale is encouraging its efforts to woo publishers and they are suggesting that media companies use Facebook as their primary distribution means for mobile, rather than bother with a proprietary app.

As we discussed earlier this could be one future and there are lots of upsides for publishers being in the stream rather than a diversion from it, but there are quite a few downsides too. As Wired points out, do we want Facebook to control everything we read or watch online? News Corp has been quick to say no, not ever, but they largely exist outside of social as their firewall makes sharing their content pretty pointless.

Publishers need a smarter strategy around distribution. (The plan to sell the Guardian and Telegraph together is interesting too).


Apple Pay is up and running in the US and seems to be quickly getting traction – Tim Cook talked of 1 million users in the first few days and we hear that’s now around 3 million.

But there is some resistance. A consortium of retailers are developing their own mobile payments service called CurrentC. The only problems seems to be that it won’t be ready until next year, it uses QR codes and is quite complicated for both the user and the retailer. Oh, and it’s been hacked already.

These retailers are refusing to accept Apple Pay and some are even disabling their NFC terminals. Turning away people who want to use Apple Pay probably isn’t a huge issue right now but as the adoption grows it could be risky. Already other retailers are making a point that they do take Pay.

A primary point in CurrentC is that the retailers get data on what people are buying and that’s valuable – as the ShopKick acquisition showed – but given Apple is pushing privacy and not using any data from Pay, this could be a hard sell to consumers. But the other ambition is to reduce the fees paid to credit cards firms.

Techcrunch has a good look at CurrentC here.

This is an edited and abridged version of Mobile Fix – click here to read the full article on Addictive!’s website

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