Toyota’s Mobile App Strategy

If you’re small company (or a lone developer) it would be wise to follow in the footsteps of giants. Consider Toyota’s mobile strategy. First came the idea: the company wanted to build an app that would let consumers shop among its 16 types of vehicles. They would be able browse more than 130 color options, find nearby dealers, and even take pictures of a vehicle identification number.

Next up, they would need to figure out which platform they would develop (and test) their application on. This is where the story gets interesting. Here’s a few snippets from a recent piece:

What mobile device should Toyota design for? BlackBerry? That would not have been very kaizen. “If we had developed for RIM devices first and ported to the iPhone, you could have an argument that we were dumbing down our app,” says Michael K. Nelson, interactive communications manager at Toyota who handles “RIM is not a very sophisticated platform at all.”

Toyota eventually delivered a mobile shopping app tuned for the iPhone, but then followed up with an Android app two weeks later and a BlackBerry app two weeks after that. Then Toyota added the VIN-photo feature to all three platforms. Today, Toyota is working on a tablet app that takes advantage of the iPad 2’s camera.

Companies looking to tap into the power of mobile apps often think they either have to develop a native app for a single platform or a vanilla app for multiple platforms. A native app leverages all of a platforms strengths yet risks the future if the platform falters. A vanilla app can run on and add features across platforms yet usually doesn’t offer a compelling user experience.

In the early days of smartphones, there was only one clear choice for app developer: iPhones. But the emergence of Android devices and all of its OS flavors has cast a harsh light on the issue. A recent Nielsen survey found that Android is the most popular smartphone operating system in the United States, surpassing both iPhone and BlackBerry; mobile app developers can no longer ignore the Android platform.

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The iPad: You Know, For Business

Who says the iPad is all fun and games? Not Fortune 100 companies.

A recent story on highlighted the fact that 8 out of 10 Fortune 100 companies are currently testing and deploying the iPad for things like help desk automation, customer service and other legitimate business activities.

Here are the details:

Since its launch, the Apple iPad has defied criticism and claims that it is a mere consumer toy unsuited for legitimate business. Companies of all sizes are embracing–or at least considering embracing–the Apple tablet for a variety of roles. Now, the iPad can empower help desk personnel to be more efficient with the Zendesk for iPad app.

Apple claims that 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies are either testing or deploying the iPad right now, and Deloitte forecasts that a quarter of the tens of millions of tablets predicted to be sold in 2011 will be purchased by corporations. Companies that want more effective help desks now have one more reason to jump on the iPad bandwagon.

The iPad is the perfect platform for customer service. It’s portable, easy to use and fun,” said Zack Urlocker, chief operating officer at Zendesk. “We built the most beautifully simple help desk application ever, so it’s a perfect fit for iPad. Now support agents can work anywhere instead of being chained to a desk. They are going to love Zendesk for iPad, and that means better service for their customers.”

The iPad app joins the other Zendesk options available for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry, and compliments the Web-based help desk solution to enable help desk workers to stay connected and engaged with help desk traffic and workflow while roaming untethered to manage and respond to help desk inquiries.

I’ve said it before, this trend (of businesses increasingly using mobile apps and devices) has greater implications for mobile app testers than ANY other profession. That’s a fact. I can prove it with scratch paper and a pen.

Have Mobile Apps Peaked? Not By a Long Shot

You may be thinking that there is a mobile app for pretty much anything out there.  If you followed the #kickassapps competition over on the uTest blog, you would’ve seen demand for apps to help you swear in any language and recognize if your dinner date this weekend is a cheater. Heck, there was even a $1000 “I am Rich” app that was simply a glowing red gem to show onlookers that the user is loaded (and wasteful) – unfortunately for you, Apple removed this app from its store.

Believe it or not, the mobile app industry is just getting started. According to an independent study released by GetJar, the mobile app market will grow from $4.1 billion in 2009 to $17.5 billion by 2012. In 2009, a little more than seven billion apps were downloaded. Jump forward three years and 50 billion are expected – that’s a whopping 92% YoY growth.

Huge revenue opportunities can be found in Europe. While North America is expected to grow from $2.1 billion in 2009 to $6.7 million in 2012, Europe will climb from $1.5 billion to $8.5 billion in that same time period.

While only 35% of Americans have apps, the average app user has 18. This is skewed upwards by teens and twenties who use more than their elder counterparts. This is only good news though for app developers, as adoption by the younger generation means a brighter future for the industry.

More and more apps means more and more testing. With apps being created at growth rates over 90%, it seems that testers will keep that coffee machine on all day and night to get through all the testing these new apps will need.

(This post comes from the writing team over at Blonde 2.0)

App Makes Texting and Driving Safer (but still illegal)

Not long ago, I suggested (partly in jest) that someone should create a mobile app that makes it easier to text while driving. With several states having made DWT an offense punishable by death (okay, a small fine), I thought it would be a marketable product. So you can imagine how excited I was to see that iSpeech has released 2.0 for Android. Here’s the story from TechCrunch:

A noble attempt to make driving a safer experience for those of us addicted to text based communication via our phones, 2.0 currently allows you to respond to your email and text messages via speech if you’re on a Blackberry and respond to texts with voice and have your emails read to you out loud (see demo video, above) if you’re on an Android phone.

While the speech to text feature is currently only available for text messages on an Android, a build with full email, text and Twitter functionality should be available in the next week on both platforms.

To set up, you download the app in the Android or Blackberry app store or here, turn it on, click on settings and fill in your app preferences for communication while you’re driving. It may take some getting used to (the jarring speech response product has a tendency to mess up) before you’re driving and emailing in “safe” mode full force., which also recently opened its API to mobile developers, currently has over six million users and has read over 250 million text messages in its three year life span.

Anyway, here’s a video of how the application works:

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The Case For Mobile Apps

Back to that whole objectivity thing. Here’s a good piece from NetworkWorld on why mobile apps are surging in the enterprise:

Research released Friday confirms what most of us anecdotally know but maybe haven’t done much about from a management perspective: Smartphone usage is skyrocketing in the enterprise, and the average number of apps on the devices has been showing 50% year-over-year growth since 2008.

According toAOTMP, which surveyed 1,100 enterprise professionals familiar with their employers’ TEM and WMM programs, in 2008 the average number of smart phone apps in use in enterprises was 2.8, and the usual suspects accounted for most of them: e-mail, Web browsing and some type of security program.

But what are organizations doing to manage the shift from primarily a single PC operating system to multiple smartphone operating systems? AOTMP’s Colwell says that the good news is that more enterprises have a wireless policy today — 78% in 2010 — versus 66% in 2008.

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The Case Against Mobile Apps

Let it not be said that we lack objectivity here at Despite our enthusiasm for all things mobile, we’re always willing to hear the other side of the argument – and with that we give the latest piece from InformationWeek. Craig Mathias recently posted an article titled, “Why Mobile Apps Are Bad” in which he pleads with IT executives not to fall into the “mobile trap.”

Here’s his beef:

So, no surprise that apps are showing up big time on handsets, and that folks just love them. But, from an IT perspective, are they a good idea? Well, I’d argue, no, they’re not. In fact, apps can become the obvious trap that’s nailed both IT organizations and users in the past.

Why, you ask? Because of the very nature of the apps themselves. Underlying vendor development tools are designed fundamentally to bind a given app to a particular operating system and, often, particular hardware as well. Apple leverages apps to sell iPhones – and makes a pretty penny as the sole distribution channel for these apps as well. Don’t get me started on that now, but apps are a big win for Apple in more ways than one.

And that’s what makes apps bad for IT — apps are a lock-in. Once we adopt an app, whether proprietary or purchased, we’re stuck with a particular handset and perhaps even a particular wireless carrier. Flexibility in both the platform and services domains is vital if we’re to hold down costs, a core, essential objective in every IT shop today. Sure, some apps like games really do require local execution, but most IT managers don’t cater to the entertainment needs of their user base. Rather, it’s all about data (and apps!) in the cloud.

Perhaps even more important, the vast majority of enterprise-class apps today are really front-ends to web and cloud services regardless. OK, it can be argued that a local app is at least desirable here, as information display and user interaction needs to be modified to address the constraints of the mobile device, But there’s a better way — almost.

I think we’re all in agreement that mobile apps have a bright future – but is that future in the enterprise?

Mobile App Testing Criteria for the Enterprise writer P.J. Connolly takes a look at testing criteria for mobile apps in the systems management space. Here are 7 of his 11 pieces of advice:

1. Security, Part 1: There’s no way to overstate this concern. The tools you use have to provide an acceptable level of protection both of credentials and of communications. Encryption is a must, but take a good look at key lengths and encryption algorithms as well, both for data stored on the device or data in flight.

2. Platform support: In the majority of situations, a tool that can work with 80 percent of your installed base is more useful than a tool that’s able to get very granular with only half your systems.

3. Eschew needless bling: Flashy apps may impress your friends when you’re standing around a bar, but make sure that alerts and event triggers are configured to an appropriate level. There’s nothing worse than having to pull out your mobile every 10 minutes, on what’s supposed to be a day off, for what turns out to be a series of “never-mind” messages.

4. Only carry what you need: It might be cool to have the entire IT equipment inventory in a database on your phone, but do you really need it to follow you home?

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Mobile App World, London: October 19-21

Apps! Apps! And more apps! As the summer starts winding down here at uTest, we’ve been able to take a step back and a closer look at the big trends emerging all around us. What has been most apparent is the tremendous spike in mobile app testing needs. From top marketing agencies to retail giants to social gaming startups, our customers are developing more mobile apps to grow (or define) their businesses than ever before.

According to Game Developer Research, 25% of game developers are now making mobile games – that’s up from a mere 12% in 2009!

In addition, a survey conducted by iGR found that more than half (53%) of US mobile developers are building apps for Apple’s iPhone OS. BlackBerry was the next most popular, followed by Android and Windows Mobile.

In response to this incredible momentum, this year marks the launch of Mobile App World 2010, where global leaders in mobile tech and app development and entrepreneurs will gather to network and learn about the latest developments and innovations.

uTest will be among the outstanding line-up of more than 40 speakers, which includes Google, Microsoft, Ericsson, Orange Global and the BBC, who will be discussing the future of mobile apps. Shoot us a note if you’ll be around!

Note: If you’re looking for some cool, new mobile apps, check out Mobile App World’s August Apps Of The Month.

The Mobile App Meritocracy

TechRepublic recently posted an insightful interview with Jake Gostylo, author of The Great Land Grab (or TGLG) game for Android phones, in which they discussed the future of mobile applications. The theme of the interview dealt with the meritocracy of the mobile app world. In other words, regardless of how much money you have, if you produce a quality mobile app that users want, you will be successful.

Gostylo also talks extensively about common problems encountered in the development process (something mobile app testers would be wise to take notice of) but his most interesting response came here:

What is the future of mobile app development? Will it remain accessible with a low cost of entry for the small developer or shop, or will the big publishing houses come in and drive the little guys out?

I don’t think big publishing houses will be able to drive out the little guys. The market is in a strange state where you have millions of ready user platforms and a culture where people expect free or cheap apps.

Big publishers are probably banging their heads trying to figure out a stable way to get people to pay the money required to justify a high budget title. At the same time, the hardware and, especially the screen real estate, don’t really lend themselves to need big budgets for apps.

I think that if you are backed by money to make a slick, sexy app, then it will be received well. I also think that if you are one guy, and you have a crazy idea, then this is a good place to try it out and I think that you can do well in the mobile world.

Read the rest of the interview.

Mobile Web: “I Ain’t Dead Yet #*%$#@!!”

Rumors of the mobile web’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Despite some compelling arguments in Wired’s latest series – where experts assert that native apps have (or will soon) totally displace the web as a medium of choice – we’re not quite ready to pull the plug. Apparently, neither is the general public. Not just yet.

More on that in a second, but first, let’s examine why some are making this claim. It’s true that there’s been a meaningful shift towards native apps over the last few years, thanks mostly to the iPhone and its offspring (i.e. smartphones). What was once the Great Wide Open, the Internet has been parceled into what Wired calls “semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display.”

In other words:

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service….

You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone…

Quite true. But you are also NOT alone if you’re still using the mobile web. As part of our weekly “What Do uThink” poll question, we asked our community whether they prefer to get information via native apps or the mobile web. Here were the results:

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