Mobile: Still waiting to see what sticks

As businesses try to capitalize on the growing mobile software market, open source can offer a way to encourage adoption and build products in the image of the prospective buyer.

Together we can figure this out

Despite Apple's tremendous success with the iPhone, we're still in the early innings of mobile adoption. As such, a strategy of "throwing-lots-of-things-against-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks" makes a lot of sense.

It's true of platforms like Google Android, but it's also true of applications.

Even on the iPhone, which reportedly drives $2.4 billion worth of applications in annual sales, very few application developers appear to be making much money. Zynga, creator of Farmville, is an exception, as BusinessWeek notes, doing more than $100 million in annual sales.

This isn't to suggest that developers should stop trying. Quite the opposite. Now is the time to try a range of applications to see what sells.

Google is following the same strategy with its Android platform. The company is happily promiscuous with its code, allowing and even encouraging fragmentation to see where the industry will take Android. Fragmentation enables handset manufacturers and others to find the best fit for Android in the market, rather than going the Apple route. ("If we build it, they will come.")

It's very possible, as Bill Weinberg notes, that such fragmentation and experimentation will result in Android getting greater play beyond mobile than it does in the smartphone market.

I suspect Google won't mind. As in other areas, it's using the broad-based, open-source approach to increase adoption of its services like Search, services which generate more than $22 billion each year.

It's an approach that works particularly well for a fast-follower: someone tracking the progress of an early market leader. An open-source strategy basically enables the industry to determine, by itself and for itself, what the market leader is missing and how to resolve the voids.

However, it's also a good way to generate developer interest and, hence, modifications and add-ons. Application developers might be well-served by open-sourcing their applications to encourage adoption and make their road maps a community affair.

There are over 4 billion mobile phones on the planet, with virtually no one outside of the wireless carriers and handset manufacturers making money from this extensive device reach. The market is ripe for software businesses, but first we need to experiment to discover what sells. Open source just might be able to help with that.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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