My Day at Apps World North America

Lots of Apps need lots of back end capability

First Take

Apps World North America is taking place at Moscone Center in San Francisco on May 12 and May 13. What I noticed right away after entering the floor at Apps World North America was the noise. There were four presentation areas going on at the same time in different corners of the venue. And the area was not that big. It was a bit tough to concentrate but in the end I had no trouble talking to people in their booths.

Most of the exhibitors at Apps World North America were offering services and software development kits (SDK’s) to application and content providers. In other words if I were building an app, I would mostly likely be an attendee. If I were providing an ad platform to app developers, I would most likely be an exhibitor. And most of the exhibitors were, in fact, offering some form of ad delivery or engagement capability.

What Was Exciting

Earlier in my career when I was working on providing infrastructure for the fixed and mobile Internet for companies like Tellabs, Cisco and Ericsson I was constantly trying to answer this question: “How do we provide a personalized experience for the end user when we can’t see what they’re doing in real time? And how do we do that at scale using the mostly centralized strategies employed by our customers, the major fixed and wireless service providers?”

We had to use very high powered routing capability with specialized network processors to provide packet inspection that could detect what was going on in the network from an applications perspective. And then there were intelligent algorithms at play to figure out what to do with the information. Mostly, the problem being addressed was network optimization. Sending video streaming packets down a particular route with a particular priority while sending email and chat down another in the hopes that would provide a better experience for the end user. Easy stuff. (And don’t even mention using this information to throttle back competitive data paths, which caused quite a stir in the industry.) But none of it was capable of personalizing the user experience at an applications level. That was “too hard” at the scale involved.

I was very excited to learn that the ecosystem of apps is trying to solve the problem of impersonal ad and content delivery. If I am a heavy user of sports apps, and I don’t have any kids games on my phone, please don’t send me diaper ads even when I’m not in the MLB app. Also, please don’t send me ads for stuff I just bought.

With companies like Personagraph and Moblico it looks like solutions are here today. They just need to be integrated broadly into the mobile ecosystem, and enough time needs to pass to increase the sample sizes of the data being collected by the apps themselves. And there were many more than those two companies focused on this issue. I just happened to talk to those two in some detail.

What Was Disappointing

The App. The App for Apps World North America sucked. There was no agenda, no map, no list of exhibitors and no useful information in the app. Only news and the other events from Informa. And the app kept pushing all of the news announcements to my phone. I deleted it 20 minutes after I installed it. The app was developed in the mode of “buy my stuff” and had little to do with what the users might need from it. Bummer.

What Was Missing

Unless I missed it, no one was addressing the problem of video streaming over mobile networks. With more and more video and more bandwidth needed by HD and UHD (coming with the approval of H.265, the new high efficiency video coding standard), it would seem that someone would be working on this. Infrastructure companies and service providers know there are bottlenecks in the last mile of the fixed network and with mobile backhaul. And we as users want streaming — not download. We want to watch English Premier League and Cricket right now. We want to access all that cool “How To…” stuff on the web when the patio heater breaks and not have to wait to get back to the house to figure it out (yeah — that really happened).

If the apps ecosystem can solve many of the problems at the applications layer that the service providers can’t, can they also solve the bandwidth bottlenecks for streaming video? H.265 shows some promise to address this “over the top,” but it may not be enough. Video is the most effective way to sell goods and services on the Internet, and it is a very prominent advertising tool. It’s only going to grow.

Conclusion

Apps World North America was fun, exciting and buzzing with energy. Most of the action was around how to maximize ad revenue and how to personalize the user experience (so I can maximize ad revenue ☺).

The app for Apps World sucked.

Video streaming is still a problem, which means we haven’t solved all of the world’s problems, yet. There’s still room for innovation.

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