There’s really two sets of major players on mobile. The first is historically desktop-focused companies where their pageviews started on the desktop and are now shifting rapidly to mobile as the share of time spent by users switches from the desktop to smartphones and tablets. This includes services like Groupon, Google Maps, Yelp, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Fab, Digg, Huffington Post, Gmail, Linkedin, Amazon, Skype, Salesforce, Kayak, TripAdvisor, and a whole host of others. The second group is companies who started on mobile and don’t make sense without it. Evernote, Uber, Prezi, WhatsApp, most mobile games, Roambi in the enterprise, and others are in this category.
What’s interesting is that in terms of pure reach, the traditional desktop companies are really dominating. The first wave of adoption of mobile apps has benefited strong desktop brands whose services make as much sense or are stronger even on mobile. Check any smartphone n the US and you’re likely to see some mix of Facebook, Yelp, Google Maps, and Twitter apps to name a few. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising since these are some of the most popular services globally. And as mobile increases as a percentage of online time spent and as total hours spent online increases because of mobile, you’d expect these services to benefit.
The next wave of adoption is of mobile-first services. For some companies like Evernote and Whatsapp, the boat has already sailed in this regard. For others, there’s huge headroom for adoption. I’d also argue that there should be a whole slew of services built from the ground up for mobile that we haven’t seen yet. This is the “third wave opportunity” for mobile apps.
Gaming and Messaging have been the two killer apps on the smartphone, the former in terms of total time spent and the latter in terms of frequency. After these, your traditional desktop services like Gmail and Facebook consume a ton of time. And then you have your set of mobile-first services like Uber that aren’t in the Gaming or Messaging categories. That last category is growing rapidly and should see many new players emerge.
There are new ways of re-imagining everything we do on the Web, but for mobile. For instance, Prezi is re-imagining how you create and view PowerPoint-like presentations on the iPad, and Roambi is reimagining Business Intelligence for mobile.
In particular, I think there’s a whole host of enterprise applications that can be rebuilt from the ground up for smartphones and/or tablets. CRM, corporate chat clients, time sheeting, meeting management, conference dial in, and Excel/spreadsheeting are a few examples of generalized apps that need to be rebuilt for smartphones and tablets.
I also think there’s a whole slew of vertical-specific apps that are ripe for the taking. Hospital management, big law firms, personal financial advising, hotel management, auto dealers, financial traders, and many other areas have a need for specialized mobile apps.
In some cases, the incumbent, traditional desktop players will get their act together when it comes to mobile and continue to dominate. In other areas, these players will either be too late to the opportunity or might lack the ability to, whether because of organization issues, a lack of talent, or something else.
If I was investing in or looking to start a company, I’d be looking for these third wave opportunities, especially in areas where the incumbents aren’t equipped to capitalize on the opportunity.