The dog that didn’t bark


There is a famous Sherlock Holmes story where the fact a dog did not bark was the crucial piece of evidence which led the illustrious detective to determine who the murderer really was. I have just finished reading a document that struck me in a rather similar way. What was not said was at least as important and interesting as what was.

Getting right to it

How developers and brands are making money in the mobile app economy was published by Vision Mobile.  I like the title. No ambiguity.  The report is stuffed with interesting insights into the way bits of the high tech world are going. It’s a free download available from here:

Major piece of research

The data in the report was drawn from information supplied by over 900 developers in more than 75 countries. It was supplemented by insights provided by a range of other agencies involved in the space e.g. brand managers and media sellers. A substantial survey of the terrain.

To talk of many things

There is a great deal of talk about which mobile phone handset manufacturers are winning the phone wars. This is important because several devices have their own operating systems. If you are a developer you do not really want to be writing apps for a platform that is dying.  For this reason we can see, for example, that apps being developed for Symbian (Nokia’s proprietary system) are fading.

Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are rapidly gaining ground among the worldwide population of mobile phone users, with six month old Windows 7 coming up fast on the rails.

There is also a discussion about the certification processes that apps need to be put through before they can be officially sanctioned and let loose into the different communities of users. More about this anon.

In fact there is a great deal of chat about many things. What did not rate even a single mention was consumer or customer safety, children or young people. And this in a medium where youngsters are a substantial part of the overall user base for every mobile phone company, and also for several different parts of the mobile value chain.

Best Practice

On page 58 the authors publish a series of Best Practice tips. There is one section on Security. It reads as follows

Be wary of look-alike, non-official apps in Android Market or other app stores that don’t enforce quality control

Mobile payments are easier said than done. Leverage on an existing payment provider with a trusted security infrastructure

That’s it. All of it.

The silence is deafening

Now in no sense is this a criticism of the authors or their research. Having checked with a couple of industry insiders it is clear that the analysis and the data presented in the report are highly regarded.

What we are seeing in its pages are the things that are at the forefront of developers’ minds. Obviously they are feeling little or no heat or pressure to address the sort of security concerns which regularly feature in this blog. They seem not to be worrying about or even working on any of the issues linked to the use of mobiles where young people’s safety might arise. Location apps are mentioned in the report several times but still nada on the child safety side.

I find this both astonishing and disturbing. Why aren’t the handset manufacturers and other hardware producers e.g. of iPads, ramming home to the developer community that online safety for children and young people is a big deal?

Granted it will be a bigger deal for some apps rather than others, particularly any which incorporate a location component. But at the very least you would expect child safety and user safety generally to register somewhere, to rate a mention in any list of so called Best Practice. I get the thing about Android look-alikes and payment systems but there’s more to it than that.

EU processes

We have a process within the EU for developing harmonised standards and approvals for all radio and telecommunications equipment that connects to telecomms or internet networks.  In the EU the approvals are governed by the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive, 1999/5/EC.  This encompasses mobile phone handsets, iPads, laptops and other computers or computer like devices.

However, up to now the Directive covers only electrical and network safety, but not internet safety! That doesn’t seem right. Whoever is responsible for this needs to get cracking and look at making internet safety part of it too! Or, to return to my canine metaphor, am I barking up the wrong tree?

Did you notice that comment about Google?

Alert readers will have clocked that one of the safety tips I drew attention to from the report was

Be wary of look-alike, non-official apps in Android Market or other app stores that don’t enforce quality control

No quality control at Google? Surely not? It looks that way. A developer who lives in India is quoted in the following terms

Entry to Android is very, very easy. There will be a stampede of developers on Android.

Elsewhere in the report we are told that, if you were starting from scratch with no background in programming, Android is the easiest and fastest programming language to pick up. What effect has the absence of quality control and easy pick up had? I will let the report speak for itself

Android……(has) an automatic submission process with no QA or curation, resulting of course in an increase in ‘noise’ from low-quality and even copyright-infringing or malicious applications in the Android Market……. “Something needs to change in Android Market to get the quality of apps up to the same level as the Apple App Store” says Roger Nolan, CTO at Ambient Industries, producer of the Flook location browser.

They each do it differently

The report discusses how four of the major mobile platforms work with developers to scrutinise and approve the apps that can work on their systems.

We’ve just seen what some people have to say about Android. The other three looked at in the report are Apple, Blackberry and Nokia. Their approval processes each get criticised in varying degrees either for taking too long, being too expensive, too cumbersome, too unpredictable and what have you. Android cops none of this because it does almost nothing. This has a very familiar ring to it.

Three screens

Another interesting insight provided by the report, at least for me, was its almost casual reference to the next big thing. By that of course I mean the next next big thing. I think the current next big thing is still happening.

Here’s the quote

(There has been) a four-fold increase in the number of developers planning to develop apps for TV or set-top boxes, indicating that the market for living room apps is developing momentum. Nearly a quarter of Android, iOS, Java, mobile web and Qt respondents are planning to target TV and set-top boxes in the future.

TV is now being referred to as the third screen, the other two being the mobile and the computer or laptop. The point is that TV sets are now moving into the sights of the guys who make things happen on the internet: the apps developers, the software writers. 

Internet enabled TVs at High Street prices

Have you noticed recently how many new TV sets are starting to be advertised in mainstream media at mass market prices where a key selling point is that they are internet enabled? We all knew this time would arrive. Now it is upon us. Still too early to say how it is going to pan out. It might blow up and go nowhere. There’s that whole thing about TV being a sit back medium whereas computer screens are for leaning forward.

With touch screens, voice recognition and voice activated apps maybe that distinction will fade. This sort of configuration has been technically possible for some time but now it’s here in consumer land a new dynamic will begin. We could be at the beginning of an era when in very large numbers of family living rooms and children’s bedrooms regulated and unregulated regimes will co-exist on the same screen, separated only by a cough, a nudge or the click of a mouse.

Mickey Mouse and Hustler side by side. Someone really should be awarded a prize for pulling that off.

Light the blue touch paper. Stand back. Wait for the pyrotechnics. A Black Swan moment?

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