The mobile app economy continued to power ahead last year, with 43.6 billion downloads worldwide in the 12 months ending September 2012. And while first-mover Apple may have today had a setback in its attempts to fight off competitors with trademark complaints over the very use of the phrase “app store”, it continues to lead the market in the category, according to figures out today from ABI Research.
But while some might argue that the most obvious marks of app store success are download numbers and sales figures, ABI has chosen two other parameters to measure how well app stores are performing at the moment: implementation and innovation, which it scores on an overall scale of 100. The idea here is that while, at the moment, a store like Apple’s might be leading on download numbers because of its sheer size compared to, say, Microsoft’s Windows Phone store, there is an argument to be made that even if a store is smaller, it’s got a shot at longer-term success for developers who choose to place apps there.
As it turns out, Apple leads the pack with 80.8 out of 100, with Android in a close second position at 72.2. Microsoft is at a more distant 63.9 out of 100, but ABI analyst Aapo Markkanen notes that it actually beat Apple where innovation is concerned, with a total point score of 77 points compared to 76 for Apple in innovation.
In some regards, this is not a big surprise: it’s the latest entrant into the app store world, and it has fewer apps — 200,000 compared to 700,000 for iOS or over 600,000 for the Google Play store.
Markkanen says this has propelled Microsoft, in an underdog position, to being more innovative in terms of how it markets apps and helps users discover them.
He highlights “Microsoft’s approach to app charting” — the listings of Top Free, Top Paid, and so on — as one of the main ways that the company has taken the lead, with algorithm factors being more nuanced with Windows Phone. “An app with a modest-but-loyal and highly-engaged user base gets a boost over an app that may see boatloads of downloads but fails to retain its users,” he tells me. “It’s important because this favors quality apps with modest post-launch budgets over mediocre apps that throw a lot of money at ad networks and other forms of marketing.”
In other words, the underdog app store is better at promoting underdog-but-possibly-great apps. If more developers started to buy into this concept, it could potentially also start to shift the paradigm for how people chart app success away from download numbers.
“I also like the way Microsoft has been transparent about what its chart algorithm has eaten, if compared to Apple and Google which officially never comment anything and leave everything for speculation,” he says. That’s for a reason: “If your algorithm is less holistic, i.e. focused heavily on downloads, it’s also more susceptible for manipulation.” Storefront charts can be real kingmakers in app discovery, he notes, so that makes transparent policies all the more important.
Microsoft has also done a “fairly good job” at app personalization, although this has mainly been just to keep up with what Apple and Google already do; and the ease of use of the Windows Phone Store navigation.
Ultimately, what this says is that while Apple and Google are still leading overall above Microsoft’s app storefront, there is room for improvement for the leaders. Getting complacent however is one way to eventually level the playing field for competition.
The enterprise. People give me a sideways glance when I tell them that’s what I cover. They want to know why I find it so compelling. They ask because, truly, they have no goddamn clue what the hell the enterprise is in the first place.
But who does? The enterprise is a Byzantine world that’s as easy to untangle as a ball of string that 10 cats have tied to their tails and left to roam free in a data center for a week. And many of our readers here at TechCrunch, for the most part, don’t love to read about virtualization and the passionate word of storage backup. Hardly. You just want to know what the enterprise is about – what makes it what it is. And why the hell it makes tech sound so boring.
Alexia Tsotsis says we need an enterprise guide for dummies. Of course we do. So here it is, and it’s pretty simple:
IT’S ABOUT GETTING THE WORK DONE!
It’s not about social this and social that. It is about working together, meeting goals, making new stuff, finding new customers and keeping existing ones happy.
But it gets quite complex when you step beyond this initial truth and look behind what it actually means. As David Byrne would say: “Well – how did I get here?”
Step back to 1997 and Larry Ellison is starting to say to people: “Do you know who I am? I am going to crush you with my sailboat.” Well, I’ll say one thing about Larry. He is one dude who figured it out pretty fast. All those industrial barons, big-box sultans, and the rest started to realize that, yes, they needed a solid database. Bill Gates from the mother ship in Redmond sold Windows licenses by the score so the office world could start really showing us how PowerPoint really does kill your soul. And then there was SAP, with co-founder Hasso Plattner, orchestrating installations that would make a CEO nonchalantly say: “Well, we are in year six of our SAP integration and we are making progress, real progress.”
Guide Post: Today, that’s all changed. Andreessen Horowitz Partner John O’Farrell said in an interview that in the old enterprise, it would cost $1 million to $2 million for Accenture to do a six-month custom integration project. In today’s world, small and mid-sized companies have an advantage. They are not constrained by massive, on-premise, resource-heavy projects. We are reversing how things get done. Mid-market and small companies can take advantage of SaaS. Small companies are adopting all types of apps and big companies are the followers. The order of the market is being turned on its head. The big companies are scrambling to catch up.
Hail To The $100 Steak
Back in the day, big business was in heaven. It could use the enterprise software to get the work done, make more money and create new ways to entice parents into buying soda for the five-year-old. Enterprise software gave all those sugar-water makers, drug peddlers and oil tycoons new ways to produce more, develop new brands and so on. They could use software to figure out just how much of a bonus they could make if the company exceeded some target revenue goal. Salespeople had an incentive to use software that helped them get seven-figure country club deals. They could get the important stuff done.
All these titans had software that ran on mainframes in their own data centers. IT got a hard on, set up networks and basically became autocrats – managing software, rationing projects and essentially making business groups beg for their custom projects.
Then came the web, and the software kings decided they still needed those fat margins. So, they bolted on what they called “web services.” Make this stuff work together and you actually had a rock-solid set up. It only cost you a small fortune but the consultants had your back. Their customers still could get their work done pretty fast. But by this time, there were a few signs the enterprise custom solution game might not be an endless road of riches.
Guide Post: The rise of web services signaled a shift in how developers integrated different applications. Enterprise vendors chose heavyweight web services based on XML. Later, open-source RESTful APIs became the standard for integrating applications. The technical shift reflected how accustomed the Internet had become to find things, buy and sell — you name it. It marked what HelloFax C0-Founder Joseph Walla said to me in an interview just before the holidays: Once you start using Internet services, the tools become indispensable. He continued:
There are moments when you use a consumer app, such as a calendar, and it is useful but not critical. But when you get into a business, the calendar is indispensable.
Server sprawl hell arrived with a vengeance as the software bloat from the vendors left companies with little choice but to manage not one but two, three or more data centers. It became a Charlie Chaplain exercise to manage it all. Soon a few geniuses figured it out. That server can hold more than one software installation. All that we need to do is magically create a virtual one on top of the physical one and, Eureka! Now that server sprawl can be squeezed into one nameless warehouse across the highway from the Denny’s somewhere in the suburbs. That meant more fortunes for companies like VMware. EMC encased hard disk drives in big metal boxes. Customers needed lots of those big boxes because the IT manager required lots of storage to keep the virtual machines humming. Cisco was the natural third leg. And they arrived with more big boxes to install networking gear by a group of wizards who waved their wands and talked of switches, routers and controllers.
Guide Post: Here marks the turn to the cloud — a key moment to understand where we are now. Essentially, virtualization abstracts the hardware. With consolidation came the question of why a company needs the servers at all when they can be leased and operated by people who specialized in this new type of factory designed to make digital goods.
Willy Wonka And The Digital Candy Factory
But of course by the time virtualization became a thing there were the wise asses who basically told Larry Ellison to go to hell. Licenses, maintenance? Are you fucking kidding me? We’ll rent that software to you. You don’t need the software. We’ll give it to you as a service! Enter Marc Benioff and the SaaS circus. In the meantime, the geeks were gathering in their caves, whispering of speed and feeds. They talked again of reading the web and writing to it. They made cute web sites that they called blogs. Reverse chronological rantings, each post with its own permanent link. Google had emerged as a growing power. There came the realization that pretty much anything can be categorized and algorithms really could change the world.
HP started acting very odd but still sold servers by the tens of thousands. Intel made a bet on making chips for the big giants, not seeing that something quite disruptive was starting to happen. The hippie from Cupertino, the Willy Wonka of the Silicon Valley, kept showing up dressed in black showing off tiny little machines that were more than phones. They were goddamn candy machines that pumped out apps that might as well have been sugar-coated digital snacks. But they were more than that. Some of the apps actually had business applications. And those business groups, for years beaten back by IT, now realized that something had changed in cubicle land. They could bring their candy machines to work. And there were all these new services to enjoy that they did not need permission from IT to use. They could expense it! Hail to the expense account! Email, task management, and the cloud, the lovely cloud, had changed everything.
Scott Sandell is a General Partner at NEA. He said this to me in an email:
The incumbents who dominated the earlier shift from mainframe to client-server computing (Microsoft/PC, Oracle/DB, IBM/computing, EMC/storage, Cisco and Juniper/networking) have struggled to hold their positions in the SaaS revolution, with most of their innovation coming by way of acquisition (think Oracle’s acquisition of Eloqua). All too often, these promising technologies are ultimately stifled within a monolithic sales organization. Agility and efficiency are no longer nice-to-haves within the enterprises, but doing this at scale presents mighty challenges and inconvenient changes to the incumbents’ business models. This has created big opportunities for startups to disrupt.
Guide Post: Here’s where confusion starts to surface. What is the enterprise, anyways, if the consumer apps can get the work done as well as the clunky old software? It becomes a point where you have to really focus on what makes the business a success. Too many companies go to the cloud without a business strategy. You need to know what you want to do before you do it.
The New Kingmakers
By 2009, Amazon Web Services (AWS) became the denizen of every geeky developer in app land. They had become kingmakers. They built apps fast and pushed them to the cloud. Enterprise startups by the crap load showed up thinking through every arcane process imaginable and turning it into an app.
AWS had cracked the enterprise. New celebrity CEOs like Box’s Aaron Levie started lucidly explaining why the old enterprise could not move as fast as the new startups. His message boils down to what I will say for the next year. There is a new way to get the work done faster than that time when the software ran on a server, tuned by armies of IT people. Now the game is about closing down that data center, moving to the cloud and using it to help you build a business that runs on data. Data is the special sauce.
Guide Post: AWS marks the end of the traditional enterprise. It’s now possible to get your work done in the cloud almost as easy it is to do behind a corporate firewall. Processing power, storage and networking are getting as reliable on the cloud as a data center.
Faster, Faster, Faster
So let’s boil this all down to how work will get done faster in the year ahead:
Data is the secret sauce: Watch how companies like SAP adapt by taking a startup pose and rebuilding their business on what meta understanding they can give their customers.
Hardware – I don’t need no stinking hardware: Want to understand the enterprise in 2013? See how the big vendors talk about the hardware they sell. Customers really want to get rid of hardware. It’s better off in the hands of a company like Dell or Rackspace that can use it to prop up OpenStack, do-it-yourself clouds.
Lighter and Leaner Mobile Devices: A PC looks like a phonograph sitting on a desk. Hell, even a desk seems odd. I take notes on my smartphone these days. Interesting trend to watch: What is the ratio of PCs to mobile in your work?
Life and work existing as one. This is a good thing and a bad thing. But the tools we use in our personal lives define how we get our work done. We are not tweeting about kitty cats but a notification does get sent when the package gets sent from the distribution center.
The enterprise is for dummies. In other words, it’s for all of us.
On Saturday, Microsoft published a security advisory warning users of Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8 that they could be vulnerable to remote code execution hacks. The company said that users of IE 9 and 10 were not susceptible to similar attacks and recommended that anyone using the older browsers upgrade. Still, customers who still run Windows XP can not upgrade to IE 9 and 10 without upgrading their OS.
Microsoft’s confirmation comes after reports from several security groups that the attack sprung from the Council of Foreign Relations website, creating a “watering hole attack” that left people who visited the site through older versions of the browser open to further attack.
The company has released a workaround for the problem, and said that it is working on a patch for IE 6, 7, and 8, but did not give a time period as to when those patches would be released. The Council of Foreign Relations told The Washington Free Beacon that it was investigating the situation and working to prevent security breaches like this down the line.
There can be no doubt that 2012 was a very important year for Microsoft, though it probably wasn’t the successful year the company had envisioned during the planning stages. With the launch of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, Microsoft’s biggest challenge beyond just getting people to buy them was getting developers to write apps for them.
According to Todd Brix, Microsoft’s Senior Director for Windows Marketplace, there are now more apps available for Windows Phone users “than at any time since we first launched Windows Phone 7 two years ago” (it would, of course, be pretty embarrassing if that weren’t the case). Microsoft certified and published over 75,000 new apps and games in 2012, roughly doubling the number of available apps over the year. Developers also published over 300,000 updates.
The average Windows Phone user, Microsoft says, has downloaded 54 apps, but today’s update doesn’t say how many of these were paid and how many were free. Brix also notes that Microsoft has improved app discoverability by bringing some of Bing’s search features to its store.
Brix writes that the last year was about establishing “a new, scalable platform on the phone and in the cloud upon which we can better achieve our mission: to provide a confident, convenient and customized app experience for our customers across the world, and enable developers to rapidly innovate and realize opportunity.” He also acknowledges that “transitions can be frustrating,” but reassures developers that “it is now complete.”
He also notes that even though most developers are still working on their Windows Phone 8 apps (the platform only shipped a few weeks ago, after all), but developer revenue is already up 40% in the last 30 days since the Windows Phone 8 SDK release and he expects “that to grow with new hardware sales and as apps with the new capabilities like in-app purchase begin to reach customers.”
There have been a few encouraging signs for Windows Phone over the last year, but the platform is still hovering somewhere around a paltry 2.6 percent of the smartphone OS market. Despite Microsoft’s relatively generous payout scheme, most developers will continue to target the most popular platforms first – and that’s where consumers tend to go, too. Brix writes that “there has never been a better time to develop for Windows Phone,” and that’s probably true, but the same can likely be said for the more popular platforms, too.
On Friday, the High Court in London issued a ruling that said that one of Motorola’s patents covering technology to synchronize messages across several devices should be invalidated. Originally, the patent covered the synching of messages across multiple pagers, but recently Motorola has used the patent in lawsuits against Apple and Microsoft for using similar message-syncing services in iCloud and on the Xbox, respectively.
The presiding Judge Richard Arnold declared Motorola’s patent invalid and said it should be revoked because the patent (which has a priority date from 1995, but was issued in 2002) contained technology that “was obvious to experts in the field at the time.” The case against Motorola was brought by Microsoft Corp., which “filed the lawsuit against Motorola Mobility in London a year ago in a pre-emptive bid to invalidate the patent before it could be sued for infringement,” as Bloomberg reported.
Microsoft and Motorola have locked horns over intellectual property in courts in the US and Germany over the past year, and Motorola is currently in the process of suing Microsoft over this very patent in Germany. If Motorola prevails in Germany, Microsoft could face damages for infringement by way of its Live Messenger and ActiveSync protocol.
Apple, Microsoft and Google may all be vying for the attention of a single startup, according to a new report yesterday from The Wall Street Journal. That startup is id8 Group R2 Studios Inc., a company with a rather obtuse name that flies primarily under the radar, tackling home automation software for mobile devices. So why are the biggest sharks in the tech industry circling R2 Studios right now? Because after building location, social and intelligent assistant features into gadgets powered by mobile operating systems like Android and iOS, home automation is the next big opportunity to add yet another layer of use value to portable devices.
R2′s first project is an Android app that allows users to control their heating and lighting systems via their smartphone devices. The company, founded by Blake Krikorian who previously founded the Slingbox, also holds some patents related to control of electronic devices and control interfaces. Apple, Google and Microsoft are all very much interested in making connections between mobile tech and the traditional household entertainment hub, the living room, and have all introduced technology to prove it. Apple’s AirPlay and Apple TV, for instance; Google’s TV efforts, Nexus Q (which, while shelved, showed its interest in this at least) and media streaming in Android 4.2; and Microsoft’s Xbox/Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 home media integration services all reflect this trend.
The talks between R2 and these coompanies are still in very early stages, WSJ reports, but all of the big three are already thinking about ways to tap into the living room, and the next logical step goes beyond just the confines of media and entertainment. Already, both Google and Apple at least are also taking steps to make their mobile devices more full-featured personal assistants: Apple with Siri and Google with Google Now. But why limit these to just finding good restaurants nearby or serving local movie show times or box scores from the baseball game? Why not have the phone use all of its contextual information to also help with home automation, but in a way that makes those features tied to the OS as a service layer, rather than something people need dedicated apps to handle?
The paradigm here is the same as it was for streaming media: it makes much more sense for Apple to build AirPlay and have it work across its lineup of devices, independent of individual media app settings, than to let each content source try to table their own solution. Likewise, a home automation control system that you can then make available to hardware makers (as Apple has done with AirPlay) to make sure they work with iOS (or Android, or whoever ends up going forward with this first) devices out of the box makes more sense, and will engender greater general adoption, than relying on manufacturer-specific solutions.
We’ve got Nest, Philips Hue and the new Lumawake as jus a few recent high-profile examples of how home automation is getting smarter and better than the basic, smartphone-connected remotes of the past. Devices like these would all benefit from having access to a user’s smartphone that goes beyond communicating with a specific app, and gets into mining contextual information about a user to truly inform their automation patterns. Google, Apple and Microsoft could just continue to let home automation remain the province of third parties, but they’d be leaving a lot on the table in terms of added value for their users, especially now that we seem to be approaching a turning point for broader mass adoption of this kind of tech.
Vector graphics drawing tool Expression Design 4 has been end-of-lifed. No new versions will be developed, and it’s no longer for sale. You can now download it for free, and it will continue to receive security patches as necessary until at least 2015. Microsoft is offering no replacement or alternative to users of the product.
The end is near! No, we’re not talking about the Mayan apocalypse, but rather the federal government’s nearly two-year antitrust investigation of Internet search giant Google. The Federal Trade Commission and the Web titan are nearing a deal that would end the government’s probe into allegations that Google has used its search market power to harm rival companies unfairly, according to multiple reports. Google is poised to offer a set of voluntary concessions addressing complaints about its search practices, according to a D.C. source familiar with the matter. The agreement, which would mean that the FTC will not file a lawsuit against Google, would represent a huge victory for Google, and a major defeat for those rivals that have accused it of acting unfairly. A resolution to the FTC’s probe could come as early as this week. Google will reportedly announce voluntary changes to the way it uses so-called “snippets” of user reviews in a number of consumer areas including travel and restaurants, in order to address complaints from rivals like Yelp and TripAdvisor, according to Politico. The search giant will also make it easier for its advertisers to use certain data on rival search engines like Microsoft Bing, Politico said. Google and the FTC have been in talks for several weeks about avoiding full-on federal litigation. Google had been facing the prospect of an FTC lawsuit, in what would have been the most dramatic antitrust action taken by the U.S. government against a major technology company since the Department of Justice sued Microsoft in the 1990s. In recent weeks, federal officials have reportedly begun to waver about the strength of a possible antitrust lawsuit against Google. (For more details on the potential weaknesses of the FTC’s case, please see here.) (MORE: Google CEO Meets with Feds as U.S. Senator Blasts FTC Over Antitrust Probe) As Google has come to dominate the Internet search space — with about 70% market share — several of its competitors have urged federal action against the tech giant. The anti-Google coalition includes the FairSearch consortium, which includes several of Google’s