Location, simplicity vital for future of apps: CEOs

Location and greater simplicity will drive the next big evolution in the mobile apps saga, executives said Wednesday.
At the morning keynote session on Day 3 of the Mobile World Congress, Dennis Crowley, CEO of social networking site Foursquare, illustrated the importance of location by describing his company’s aspirations to make its app easier to use by making it location-aware.
“What we want to do is a smart version of [old Microsoft personal assistant] Clippy. This is where Foursquare is going,” he said
The basic idea, Crowley said, is to evolve from users asking Foursquare to make recommendations and locate friends to a push model where the app proactively pings users based on their location.
“If we combine all these lists and information and user data we’ve compiled with walking around and all that data comes to life, it’s a powerful thing,” Crowley said. “If you’ve seen the Harry Potter films, it’s like the Marauder’s Map – you open your phone and you can see where everyone is and get recommendations.”
Crowley said it was the difference between asking an app to find a good sushi restaurant and asking it to find a good sushi restaurant that friends have visited and reviewed.
“Or think of a navigation system where when you’re in an area and you get a list of five things you could do as long as you’re in the neighborhood,” he said. “It can tell you, ‘Hey, as long as you’re in the area, that CD you liked and wanted to buy is available at this store nearby’.”
The elephant in the room that Crowley didn’t address was privacy, which is a crucial aspect for both social networking sites and location-based services. In the case of Foursquare in particular, the sheer depth of its customer data collection means the company has to be careful to get it right the first time, says Ovum principal analyst Eden Zoller. “Any mistakes here will hit Foursquare hard.”
Zoller also pointed out the potential risk of any push service making recommendations – with the “Clippy” app Crowley referenced as a prime example.
What Foursquare needs to remember is that the Clippy prompts often got suggestions wrong, which was annoying and unwelcome,” she said. “Foursquare will have to ensure its vision of push services is genuinely useful.”
During the same keynote session, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop also talked up the importance of LBS, reiterating the handset maker’s plans to make location-based services a key component of its strategy and a horizontal platform for apps developers who will also be armed with operator billing capabilities.
Elop also said that apps will be increasingly local, especially in developing markets where new players are emerging in the apps developer space.
Meanwhile, HTC CEO Peter Chou said in the same session that the next key step for mobile OSs was simplicity.
“Users don’t care about OSs or apps, they care about doing something easily,” he said. “They don’t want to spend time figuring out how to use it.”
To that end, Chou talked up HTC’s work in integrating apps with the OS, a central selling point for its HTC Sense interface.
It’s all about design, Chou said. “Integrating apps into the phone requires a design approach that makes it simple, intuitive and crafted to the point that designers pay attention to the little details.”