View Full Version : The Mobile Evolution

10th June 2012, 12:24 PM
The ongoing explosion in mobile applications is a phenomenon few would have predicted 3 or 4 years ago. A study by Berg Insights (2011) revealed that in 2010 ten billion applications were downloaded globally and though the final results have yet to be tallied for 2011, in November last year it was expected that this would be three times larger. Some of this growth has been predicted through the expansion of the smartphone market which has been driven by the lowering of price entry barriers and innovative market offerings. However, the largest motivator of the application market has been the development of the greater application ecosystem that has snowballed and become in itself the single most important market driver.


Although previous application stores existed - some created by mobile operators, handset manufacturer’s stores, or white label offerings provided by solution providers to vendors such as Ericsson - it was Apple’s App store that was the disruptive force catapulting the applications market forward. The marketing hype and success of the Apple App store resulted in a new interest in the application ecosystem by both operators and developers. Android and RIM (Blackberry) soon followed with greater focus in their own operating system stores and development communities. Soon handset purchasing decisions were being made in part on the associated application store and operating system, as well as camera resolution and music functionality.

The mobile application evolution has essentially matured through 4 phases of late, each expanding on the previous phase and yet continuing to develop itself. These maturing phases can be labeled:
1) Communication and entertainment
2) Enhanced mobile browsing experience
3) Productivity
4) Empowerment

Communication and entertainment:

The evolution of communication beyond voice and instant messaging to more advanced social environments such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ has been driven by improved user interaction. This has been led by larger screens, on board processing power as well as the growing access to broadband through 3G, and soon in sub-Saharan Africa, 4G access. Users have also shown a greater willingness to pay for applications and games leading to dramatically improved quality. In May 2011, games continued to lead in application downloads (22%) followed by entertainment (19%) across Apple App store, Android market, Ovi store and Blackberry app store. (Ericsson Consumer Labs, November 2011).

Enhanced mobile browsing experience:

The internet browser on a handset is a key enabler for a range of application services that are web-based. The development of the browser experience to replicate as closely as possible a desktop computer browsing experience has resulted in many users opting to undertake their basic browsing on a smartphone device. The always on, always available convenience of a mobile device overrides the improved user experience of a desktop or laptop, assuming access speeds are equivalent. For non smart phone users many vendors such as Ericsson provide platforms that enable web page rendering adjustments onto any make and model of handset..

In sub-Saharan Africa, the mobile device is the #1 access tool for internet, so the need for an acceptable user experience is high. The reasons for the mobile device being the internet access point of choice is a lack of adequate fixed line infrastructure throughout the continent and entry level phones with excellent web rendering functionality at very reasonable prices, although the sub $20 super-device still eludes us.


As a smart phone user for a number of years now, I cannot imagine the world without applications in my personal life. Applications to help in my financial management, tracking world and local news, gaming for when I am in what seems to be an endless queue, and common “to-do” lists that bring sanity and structure to my chaotic life. I have booked overseas holidays on my mobile and traded on the stock market, but the real explosion and game changer in the productivity space is occurring on the business front. Even among companies that are reducing technology spend due to a weak economic outlook, a quarter of them are increasing spend on mobile applications and technology (Yankee Group, November 2011). Apart from enabling a work force to be more productive while on the road or away from one’s desk, reports also point to improved staff retention. This can in part be attributed to work satisfaction and a growing trend for a more fulfilling work / life balance.

In a recent Frost and Sullivan report (November 2011) the perceived and measured benefits that are driving investment in mobile application enablement and development with US and European decision makers are first and foremost improving customer responsiveness. Secondly, it is providing mobile access to existing applications and thirdly, transforming business processes to improve operational efficiencies. In contrast, the barriers to adoption of business mobility applications and development by North American companies are cost of implementation, cost of required hardware, ongoing ownership, and a lack of knowledge regarding vendors and solutions. Finally, with the ever-increasing cloud application offerings that are being developed by large ICT companies, sales force companies and process engineering companies, there is a current hype and interest in mobile cloud based applications that cannot be ignored by any CTO or business leader.


What the applications ecosystem has really delivered is the ability to make quick and insightful decisions based on information access, whether that is via a news application, a social web posting or a customer order being placed or retracted. It has enabled careers to be made through job searches and the deployment of education based applications to rural schools throughout Africa. Additionally, lives are being saved through healthcare applications via remote monitoring, picture scanning or simple triggers to remind a patient to take their medication. And in the work place, there is a growing organizational culture change being driven by new job entrants who have an expectation of joining a mobile workforce that is supported by the basics of mobility with access to information through application interfaces that will empower them to make informed decisions.

The application revolution is well under way. It has matured from basic entertainment to changing lives. For the business user, access must be seamless and the applications need to work and provide true value. For the personal user the experience needs to delight, entertain and empower. Speed and quality matter. All this requires uninterrupted broadband which although being addressed by many mobile operators presently, still remains a challenge for much of Africa today.

About The Author:

Michael Stanley, Head: Consulting & Business Development
Michael is the Head of Consulting & Business Development at Ericsson in Sub-Saharan Africa, where he is responsible for the company’s corporate and market units. Prior to this, Michael was head of enterprise business at Ericsson where he was responsible for building and managing enterprise products across Africa. Before joining Ericsson, Michael served as a national marketing manager for Ricoth (Ge stether) South Africa. Michael is an alumnus of the University of the Witwatersrand, where he earned his master’s in arts and business.