Ask any platform, you know, if it could talk, and it would tell you that ecosystem is key to survival. Having the apps that people need in order to function is vital to the ability of a platform to sustain itself. After all, if a phone, tablet, or even a computer can’t do what people need it to do, people will go elsewhere. This is a bit of a no-brainer – not new information at all. Which led to the question – what vital apps are actually required for an ecosystem to be viable? What apps are needed in order for a customer to plant her flag and claim it as her own?
We asked our editors here at Pocketnow and as our responses below will show you, this is not an easy question to answer – far from it. The needs of the users vary and nobody wants the same thing. This is what makes it so incredibly hard to break into the industry with a new platform. Every platform is doing its own thing to try and generate more developer interest in the app culture, and we’ll talk more about that in a different article.
But for now, let’s ask our Pocketnow peeps – what apps are necessary for an ecosystem to thrive?
“It’s not so much a list, as it is a philosophy.”
I’m kinda a Google guy these days – Gmail, Maps, Search, Google Now and both iOS and (of course) Android handle those pretty well. Google is good-but-not-great on iOS, so there’s that, but overall both do a passable job. Beyond that, I don’t really have a solid list of apps that are needed, in order to make a platform viable. What I look for is more of an overall sense of comfort that if I happen to need anything, from an app standpoint, I can get it. Whether it’s an alternate way of getting transportation in a strange city, or an app from my local convenience store to get a free Slurpee, I need to know that I can have it.
So it’s not really a hard-and-fast list, so much as it’s an overall philosophy of what apps I can have should I need them. Which really, really sucks for would-be interlopers into this space, because that is basically impossible to achieve out of the gate. But what isn’t impossible to achieve is the velocity that can lead to that kind of comfort. If app developers can get excited about a platform and if it can be inviting enough, then it’s possible that a new platform could start on-boarding new services almost daily. If that happens, people will follow.
“Exchange is critical for more than just consumers.”
Exchange ActiveSync. While it’s not usually a single app per se, it’s more of a protocol that a smartphone ecosystem needs to support in order to be successful. Exchange mail servers have been the backbone of large business electronics communications for decades. To this day it’s the most robust way of managing personal information and communications across many devices. Blackberry grew to success by extending Exchange servers with push capabilities and making all of your PIM stuff completely mobile. Microsoft added their own push capabilities to Exchange around 2005 so that client software could connect directly. Apple’s iPhone didn’t really take off until it started supporting Exchange with the iPhone 3G… nor did Android find success until Exchange ActiveSync became a part of that ecosystem. Today, it’s a necessity, yet what’s strange and kind of sad is that Microsoft’s own Windows 10 Mobile platform is probably the worst at syncing with Exchange. They actually removed Task sync leaving only contacts, calendar, and email. Notes and Journal sync were removed in 2010. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems actually offer much better Exchange ActiveSync support these days than Microsoft does in Windows Mobile even though Microsoft is the company that makes Exchange.
Anton D. Nagy
“It needs basically everything.”
An “ecosystem” is a big place, as we’re learned in the past years. Even the smallest one is big enough to have thousands and thousands of apps. But, for one to survive, it has to address two needs, fill in two major gaps.
1. It has to have all the indispensable apps and services that just have to be there from the get-go; we’re talking about those that allow you to get basic things done. No, not phone calls and texts. I’m talking about decent Email, Calendar and Contacts solutions (compatible with most service providers), social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), and the multimedia “suite” (YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, etc.). Most of the times (and in most ecosystems) these are there, and the exceptions are simply because company A doesn’t play nice with company B (that’s where third party solutions become important, until they’re banned/blocked).
2. The apps for the individual user, and these vary from person to person. The more apps present that individual users, in their diversity, need, the better the ecosystem, whether that’s you bank’s application, your fitness and health app, and so on.
If you put one and two together, and you can find everything that you need for your own needs, you can call that said “ecosystem” a successful one, as far as you’re concerned. That might not be the case for someone else.
…and then there would be a point 3. Where it really matters how several products from the same manufacturer play nice among themselves. Whether that’s Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and Macs, Microsoft’s PCs, Surfaces, Lumias, Xboxes, or Google’s Android powered smartphones, tablets, wearables, Chromebooks, they at least have to play nice and seamlessly integrate with one another. It would be awesome if they were intercompatible, but that’s a different story.
“Communications, maps, multimedia. All critical.”
What do you call a smartphone without a robust app ecosystem? A paperweight. That may sound a little harsh, but it’s the truth.
To start with, I’m in the process of shift my communications from what has been email-centric in the past to something a bit more “modern”. Rather than turning to a stand alone chat client, I wanted to leverage the existing SMS system that all our phones use. To that end, Signal Private Messenger fits in perfectly. (I’ll cover this app in more detail in the coming days.)
Next, since I’m now driving 150 miles round-trip to my day job (and there’s no mass-transit option for me), Waze has become an invaluable tool. In addition to helping me get from Point A to Point B, Waze gathers information from its users to help optimize your route. From passive identification of traffic slow-downs to user-submitted reports of objects on the road, crashes, and even police traps, Waze minimizes unexpected road hazards for your.
Three hours a day in a car can get pretty monotonous – especially when the radio stations all play the same 40 songs over and over and over again. To solve that issue, I “read” a book on the way home using Audible, and I listen to the podcasts in my playlist on the way into the office using Pocket Casts (the new podcast feature in Google’s Play Music isn’t quite up to the same level yet).
For browsing I use Chrome. For email I use Gmail (still looking for a PGP/GPG solution, if you’ve got any recommendations send them my way on Twitter: @joelevi). For weather I’m still using Beautiful Widgets. The watch face on my 1st Gen Moto 360 is Weather Watch Face. For home automation I use the Nest app, and Securifi’s Almond app.
“Games make a platform move.”
Ah, depends what it means to survive, then. If we’re talking plain dollars and cents, all you really need is social media, A/V media and, most importantly, gaming. All the gaming. And that’s it — if your appsville faces a general audience, you should be safe to go. You’ve got two of the largest groups in terms of services revenue in mobile and you have the necessary lifeline that enables people to yap, whine and brag all about music, movies and button-mashing.
What? BlackBerry, Windows 10 Mobile, Sailfish, get out of the room. We’re not talking about you.
“Variation of the title, enticing user input”
So you see, not an easy question to answer. The key problem is that users today expect their phones to do just about anything. Any phone that can’t is therefore “inferior” in the eyes of the consumer. So we wanted to take it to you. What apps do you need for a platform to be “complete”. Moreover, what apps in general are necessary for any platform to be considered viable. If you’re an up and comer, what firms are you contacting for official apps before you go live? Sound off below and let us know what you think.