Friday, June 16, 2006

<Insert Controversial Symbian Title Here>

Following on from raddedas’s post of yesterday I’ve been giving some further thought to the available Symbian apps from an end-user perspective and looking at why the sales are flat. It’s easy enough to harp on about the lack of market penetration of the OS but that’s only half the story, with something like 11.5 Million phones shipped in the past year and with the bulk of these being Series 60, it’s still a decently sized market to shoot at. Some in the Symbian developer community has been pointing the finger of blame at Nokia/Symbian for failing to promote to the end consumer however this is only half the answer. So to the developers out there here are my thoughts on why your app sales are flat:

They are too niche – As out of touch with youth culture as I know I am, I’m pretty certain that even the nerdy kids in the playground haven’t been downloading SSH clients, file managers or secure data storage apps. Whilst all of these apps are very useful to some people, they could not in any shape of form be described as mass-market and I’ll wager that 90% of the folks who’ve bought them are in some way linked to the Symbian ‘ecosystem’ (that’s £10 in the marketing bullshit swear-jar for me). There are some really neat things which can be done in Symbian, and the potential exists for apps which could go really mass market.

They are Sudoku – There are 50 different versions of Sudoku for Symbian phones available on Handango, some by pretty decently sized developers! Don’t waste time doing an application which can (and will) be also being written by every 1st year computer science undergrad from Cambridge to Shanghai.

The apps are too expensive – The average price of a Symbian application on Handango? $19.99 and they range all the way up to 70-80 bucks! Even the various Sudoku versions have an average price of $6! I know that you’re often getting a fair amount of code for cashola, and I do understand the costs involved in software development, but the average consumer sees prices like these and runs in the other direction very fast. If you tell them they’ve gotta use a credit card to purchase it they’ll run even faster. Try it.

PC Synching – Leading on from the point above, app delivery HAS to be OTA. This whole monkey business about downloading a SIS file to your PC and then bluetoothing it across is too much for your average Joe. Hell it’s too much for most of the software developers I know – hands up if you’ve experienced problems sending software to your phone from your PC. I think I’ve made my point.

Operators don’t sell them – Are there any operators selling native applications? I did a quick check on a couple of UK operator portals using a Symbian handset lying around on my desk and couldn’t find any. I know the operators take half the cash for what seems to be little of the work, but something in the region of 90% of Java apps are currently sold via the operator decks. The operators hold all the cards here, not just because of product discovery but also as they have the simplest billing method – you click on it, you’ve bought it, they text you the download link. Imagine Vodafone offering to send you a link to download a ZIP file…

If you're an organically grown Symbian developer who's successfully developing targeted applications for a specific sector congratulations. I fully admit that there are a number of verticals in which Symbian app development can be very lucrative, the enterprise market being a case in point especially with Nokia's agressive push into this area. However if you're a VC funded developer who's drunk the Nokia/Symbian Kool Aid (another £10 in the jar) and is burning cash waiting for the mass market to appear, perhaps its time to think about other approaches.


Anonymous Rafe said...

Interesting post.

I think a lot of the problem is still that the market is not mature. At the moment people using software on S60 are early adopters. To chnage that does require smart thinking from developers / better branding. However I think its worth thinking that there's a necessary strategy shift that is required to go mass market. Current patterns serve niche OK, and will remain.

I reckon you get a lot of the important points required for this shift.

I don't think OTA is a mgaic cure. I do think browsing / apps download will continue via the PC outside the highly popular apps. However I think we might see more browsing on the phone itself. I think its a bit like early shareware on the PC (software came on disks, only later did the internet change things).

Symbian apps on UK operators. I know Orange do, and I'm fairly sure Vodaphone do too. Syngenix is a good example, but there are others.

Agree about Sudoku and generically there isn't that much imagination (ther are exceptions). However such casual games are best sellers in the mass market for Java. An open OS platform gives the advantages that you could do more things. Its the trade off between java and native that is always there. I think part of the issue is native development should be as cost effective as Java - needs goo tools and a decent customer base.

Niche apps have their place, but yes if we are talking mass market its true. Though part of this is that Symbian is still a niche market (oops repeating myself).

Not sure I agree about price completely - it depends on the program. Some are price inelastic some are pirce elastic - like any product depends who is buying.

I think once you have 100+ millions handsets S60 is going to be attractive as a platform to target be it in native or optimised JME using JSRs.

Just a note on your figure the 11 million figures was for Q1 2006 suggesting 2006 may reach around 50 million in total.

And yes you're right the succes stories ahve mainly been small dev houses. Looks like Cognima might be about to do very well though.

11:10 pm


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