What the CTIA gets wrong with KnowMyApp.org

Shane Schick

As CES 2014 continues in Las Vegas this week, you know what consumers will be thinking about? They're going to drool over the latest mobile devices and dream about what they can do with them. They're going to be intrigued by apps that let them have fun, save them time, help them learn. Here's what they won't be thinking: how much data the next generation of technology will consume. 

That's why there is something incredibly sad and out of touch about KnowMyApp.org, a site created by the CTIA. KnowMyApp.org offers test results on the top 50 iOS and Android apps and attempts to estimate what kind of impact consumers could expect in terms of data use if they download it. What's branded as an educational tool becomes, in effect, a form of public shaming for developers and a tool to discourage app discovery in favor of conserving wireless spectrum. And it will do absolutely nothing. 

KnowMyApp.org reflects a fundamental misunderstanding, if not an outright disconnect, between the carrier community and developers/consumers, who are driven not by resource allocation but by innovation and utility. It reminds me of press conferences with BlackBerry I once sat through, where executives there tried to suggest that consumers shouldn't really want a device as powerful as an iPhone because they wouldn't want to see the bite on their monthly phone bill. Of course, BlackBerry soon learned that consumers felt otherwise: if the experience is worth it, they will pay. 

There's also a basic lack of execution in KnowMyApp.org. What's the expectation here--that consumers will visit an app store, find something that interests them, then leave the app store to check its ratings on KnowMyApp.org? Good luck with that. Even from a design standpoint, it took me more than 10 seconds (which is too long) to figure out the only way to look at the tests was under a tiny link called "browse the ratings," rather than featuring some on the front page with a "more" link. 

Focusing on the top apps is also a questionable strategy, because many of these--Snapchat, SwiftKey and Bitstrips--have already reached such a critical mass that data consumption stats are unlikely to sway many people. Based on KnowMyApp, for example, it's okay to download Candy Crush Saga, which apparently has zero impact on a 2 GB data plan, but it's not okay to download Netflix, which has an impact of 206 percent. But you know what? As popular as casual gaming is, I think there's a lot of people who will still want to watch mobile video, too. Even the most data-hungry apps aren't considered "wasteful" if they provide real value.

Then again, if KnowMyApp.org were to look at emerging apps, what might that mean for a developer's prospects? You could argue they might strive to make more efficient use of data, or you could argue that it's up to consumers to minimize apps running in the background or make better use of Wi-Fi. Who ultimately is responsible for addressing this problem is not really spelled out on KnowMyApp.org. All we know for sure is that the CTIA's members see it as a problem, and they want to make it everyone else's. --Shane