Interviewed by Roger Zedi, Tages-Anzeiger, Jan 7 2013

Robin Wirz advises companies on the development of smartphone and tablet apps.


Mr Wirz, which apps could you not do without?
Next to e-mail, news apps are very important, as are Google Maps and the SBB app, followed by social media apps.

What do you miss from the time when there were no apps for mobile phones?
Nothing. However, apps have certainly changed our lives. Whereas we used to discuss a topic for hours, we only take a quick look at Wikipedia today.

It is hard to remember a time without apps, and yet the Apple App Store is only four years old. What was Apple’s big trick?
It has never been so easy to find and install apps before. And this has worked. The app ecosystem is more important than the device itself.

At present, it looks as if everyone wants to offer an app all of a sudden. Just like in the 90’s, when everyone had to have a website – and the useful concepts only followed later. How good are apps today?
We are still at the beginning of a significant development. It is not possible to say how good the concepts are in general.

Have there been any dead-ends already?
There are constantly apps that are here today and gone tomorrow, that’s how it is. Apps that only show the image brochure of a company are useless. However, if I can use the app to scan the barcode of a product I want to order, or hereby can view its operating instructions, then this is far more useful.

What makes a good app?
It must be tailored to the specific behavior of mobile users: short loading times, easy to use. The corresponding concept is called “one eye, one thumb”, as users on-the-go often use the apps with only one free hand and only partial attention.

What is the next big step in the area of smartphone hardware?
The emphasis is currently on NFC, which stands for Near Field Communication. It establishes a wireless connection by simply holding two devices next to each other. This turns smartphones into credit cards or train tickets. The big question is whether Apple will use NFC or not, whether Android manufacturers will stick with it, and whether NFC readers, such as in the shops, will be available quickly enough.

Or whether simpler solutions such as the display of QR codes will prove more popular. SBB tickets on smartphones work in this way, for example, as do Swiss boarding cards.
Yes, this is possible. These readers are more widely installed today than NFC readers.

There has been much deliberation about the use of mobile phones as a means of payment. What precisely is the major advantage compared to a conventional card?
Fewer cards need to be carried around. If you think about loyalty cards – most of us probably carry a dozen – this is already worthwhile.

Otherwise, there will be hardly any revolutionary changes to smartphone hardware.
Before the iPhone, people also thought that all innovation for mobile phones had been done already. Input methods will certainly improve. And the first integrated projector is now available – although this is probably not something everyone needs.

We can also not expect miracles regarding battery life.
The batteries are improving, but at the same the devices get more powerful, which levels out the advantages.

I would find it practical if tablets could be set up for several users.
This would be desirable. Some Android devices already offer this, however, iOS is not yet a multi-user-system. We should not forget that the platforms are only a few years old.

A few years ago, the major platforms were Symbian, Blackberry, Palm – today, they no longer exist or are on the verge of disappearing. What have they missed?
In addition to the app ecosystem, also the change from miniature keypads to touchscreens.

The market is currently dominated by Android and iOS. Will Windows Phone 8, known as WP8 for short, become the third player?
This is the question everyone is wondering about. The signs are promising, the user interface and devices are attractive, the App Store is at an acceptable level.

What do developers say about WP8?
Most of them are still waiting – but with greater interest than at previous times.

What must happen for them to get moving?
The WP8 market share would have to be higher. Optimistically calculated, it is currently about 5 per cent. It will become more interesting from 10 per cent, and from 20 per cent the dam would break.

Hasn’t this already been the expectation with WP7?
Yes, but customers waited. It now all depends on how well the strategy of Windows 8 – offering a uniform interface from PC’s to tablets to smartphones – is accepted.

What chance does this idea have?
The feedback is mixed. It does not appear to be fully mature yet.

You also advise large companies that develop internal apps. Which platform is most popular for these?
In-house apps are often developed for tablets and since the iPad still dominates this market, the emphasis of development is mostly on iOS. For smartphones, Android is slowly also becoming a “must”.

How high is the additional cost for developing an app for several platforms?

It is estimated that 40 to 70 per cent of the initial cost will be needed for a second platform.

And for a third, for example WP8?
The cost would be even higher, because WP8 is built differently and is less mature.

This presents a double obstacle for WP8: small market share and higher additional cost.
Yes, this is currently the case. However, this usually applies to most new technologies.

And the browser applications? These would have to be developed only once in HTML5.
The reality with regard to browsers is not so homogeneous, we already know this from the desktop. Developing “once for all” is also an illusion with smartphone browsers. HTML is just not conclusively defined.

Has HTML5 failed?
No. Mobile websites are still useful, such as for the initial customer contact via smartphone. And then there are the hybrid apps, where an HTML5 application runs within a specific app.

Instead of running in a browser, it runs in a container app, which is available for iOS, Android or WP8.
Precisely. Although this concept is more difficult than originally thought, it can still be a solution for some apps like news apps. As far as performance is concerned, such as for games, a native app is still the best solution.

When do you actually switch off your smartphone?
I never really switch it off. I set it to mute when I sleep.

Original article (in German):

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