Wednesday, September 17, 2008
A Widget by Any Other Name Is... An Application
By Cory Treffiletti During the early part of this year, the buzz in online advertising was all about widgets. Widgets were everywhere; they had their own conferences, they were being talked about in almost every major client meeting and they were the cover stories on magazines and blogs alike! Widgets were almost as popular in the press as Britney Spears. Of course, all good things must come to an end -- and widget-mania was fated to fall by the wayside.
Well, maybe not completely fall away -- as much as become a point of re-evaluation.
The buzz has certainly died down a bit. I haven't seen very many headlines using the word widget, but the focus has shifted to the term "application" again. It used to be that an application was a dirty word because of all the issues surrounding desktop applications and the bundling of adware and spyware that ruined the computing experience of so many people, but with one fell swoop Apple has us thinking about applications again -- and in a very positive way!
The App Store on iTunes is really what has us changing our tune (no pun intended), because of two simple reasons. First, the App Store makes it easy; and secondly, the App Store makes it safe.
The App Store makes it simple to browse, buy and upload applications to your phone, immediately making the experience of mobile a much more dynamic medium. I already loved my iPhone (with the exception of the battery life), but now I spend inordinate amounts of time with the little device resting so squarely in my pocket. From real estate (Trulia) to guitar practice (PocketGuitar) and fantasy football (Sportacular) to reading my feeds (Feeds), these applications have changed the way I interact with my phone; in the process, they've given the mobile platform a true way to monetize itself and use "widgets" in the right manner. The issue with widgets on the desktop is that they exist solely to aggregate similar information to what I could already get online -- and widgets on a MySpace or Facebook page were all about aggregating content into a more social environment. They don't create or change behavior. The applications on the mobile side actually change the use of the device, making it easier to become more integrated into a consumer's daily life! This application of applications actually affects my consumer behavior -- not just to save time.
They also make it safe. Apple vets all of the applications before they are made available on iTunes, which provides me confidence that I won't be getting something I don't want, like adware and spyware. I know that my device won't become suspect because of this third-party implied endorsement. Regardless, however, even if you know the ins and outs and can dispute that claim, the fact of the matter is that the consumer sees it as truth. Once again perception is reality --and perception is all that matters.
The App Store is easily going to become emulated by other players in the coming months. There are already rumors that Verizon and T-Mobile will have them within six months. I have to believe these rumors to be true because these companies see the revenue opportunity that lies in this portion of the business.
This shift in buzz also means that people have identified a true business model for the application space and are keeping it to themselves. When the buzz was high, everyone was trying to find out how to make money with widgets, but now they see that the applications are a revenue opportunity unto themselves, if you're able to do more than provide a mere convenience -- and actually change consumer behavior.
I have to hand it to Apple. They company may have missed the mark on its recent iPod updates, but it's done a great job of updating online marketing with its apparent maturation of the widget space to the application space.
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Cory is president and managing partner for Catalyst SF.
Online Spin for Wednesday, September 17, 2008: