Lowenstein: A more personalized app store, page 2

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We can learn from some other corners of the digital universe--Pandora, Amazon and Netflix to name a few. This can start with the little things--launch a typical weather app, and rather than having to enter a particular city or zip code, you are asked: "I see you are in Chicago. Would you like the local forecast?" If in the last three visits you asked for the ten-day forecast, present it as the default next time, thus saving a step.

Another part of this more personalized experience is to more closely align with a customer's interests, borrowing from a combination of existing and learned information. Most wireless customers have already gone to great effort to personalize and configure content in other parts of their digital universe--from bookmarks to play lists to RSS readers to favorite sites listed on Facebook. Is there a way to more effectively personalize what is presented to the user? If a user already has XYZ widgets on their PC, why not ask if they want similar content delivered to their device?

There's also a significant opportunity to offer more relevant content based on what a user has been doing on their device, using opt-in and without wading too deeply into privacy waters. Examples include: mobile sites recently visited; apps downloaded; PC or phone bookmarks; location/presence; and device calendar/address book. This is an area where operators, especially, can offer a differentiated experience. Learning and recommendation engines will start to be a more integral part of application platforms going forward. And since so many users now have one device that mixes their personal and professional lives, perhaps there are some intelligent ways to configure profiles. For example, present productivity-centric apps during the day or and leisure apps at night. Think LinkedIn vs. Facebook.

Another contextual aspect is adjusting what is delivered based on type of device and connectivity. Multimedia capabilities, WiFi enablement and keyboard are important device differentiators. Also, realize that users are going through multiple connectivity scenarios in a given day. Adjust, for example, the multimedia features of the CNN app, depending if the user is on a 2G, 3G or WiFi connection.

Along the same lines, we need to be thinking more about offline content. There are going to be a lot more devices like the iPod Touch, which are only connected some of the time. Plus, if smartphones are becoming the default data device for some users, there will be a greater need to view some content offline, in order to save money, power and have a zippier experience on the device. Compare, for example, the experience of reading the New York Times on the Kindle and a BlackBerry.

With app stores boasting tens of thousands of applications, improved search/discovery tools are going to become essential. Search for on-deck content (such as songs) and for mobile websites has made great strides, but app store search has not received enough attention, particularly on the device. Improvements will come from numerous approaches, from smarter category/keyword search, to leveraging some of the context elements cited earlier. Better learning and recommendations, a la Amazon and iTunes Genius, are another opportunity. There's also a lot happening with voice search, as either apps or through on-device solutions provided by industry leaders such as Nuance and Vlingo. Search speed and accuracy will get better, and we also see progress in multi-modal search, better integration with text search on the device, and improved contextual search.

Finally, with the explosion in applications and storefronts, marketing is going to become critical. We can all thank Apple for the tens of millions being spent on TV and print ads, but at some point a greater cross-section of ecosystem participants must ante up. Brands that have apps across numerous devices might see that they are reaching a large enough segment of the mobile population to justify more marketing spend. In-application purchasing and advertising capabilities, which will become more widespread over the next year, will also allow brands, publishers and content developers to think more strategically about how to effectively promote themselves and their applications.

Tying this discussion back to April's discussion of investment opportunities, new and evolved platforms will be required to deliver some of this richer application functionality. Service delivery, content management, personalization engines and financial brokerage and settlement are a few areas of intensifying activity being spawned by this next wave of wireless data services. This is a topic I am going to take on in greater depth in a future column.

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Mark Lowenstein, a leading industry analyst, consultant, and commentator, is Managing Director of Mobile Ecosystem. Click here to subscribe to his free Lens on Wireless monthly newsletter.