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Packaging & Distribution in the Digital Age: Or, Why Even Grandma Loves Apps

There's long been a raging debate going over HTML vs. Native Apps. Just Googling the debate returns over 3.7 million results.

I'm here to tell you, that's the wrong way of thinking of things.

It's like debating whether oil or water will win when mixed. You can't get the right answer if you're asking the wrong question. While oil and water don't mix well, they can co-exist in the same bottle, and there are valid times you might want to use each.

Let's dive into the right way to think about mobile, and specifically about the role native apps will play. A better analogy of the mobile landscape is from the point of view of a car manufacturer like Honda. Honda makes a lot of Honda Accords -- they're its bread & butter. But for years, Honda had a Formula One team. A Honda Accord will never compete at the Formula One level, nor was it meant to. And conversely, if Honda only had a Formula One team, it wouldn't have the massive market share in the auto market that the Accord and other bread & butter models provide it, but Honda did learn a lot about how to make really great engines from its Formula One program.

In the same way, mobile apps are the "Formula One" of mobile, and HTML is the Honda Accord. You can get wide distribution across many phones by having a mobile HTML presence, but you can't do the sexy, progressive types of things that you can do with apps, because an app is typically compiled software which can leverage the specific hardware functionality of the phone (the camera, the address book, geolocation, the microphone, and many other things).

I'll Show You Mine, If You Show Me Yours... Apps, that is

The Wall Street Journal has run a series of articles about the app economy this week, identifying the app ecosystem as a $25 billion business.  They write:

If you're interested in mobile, and apps in particular, I highly recommend searching this series of articles out.

When my co-founders and I started PointAbout, a mobile app dev shop in 2008, we had a really hard time convincing businesses that apps were more than just a fad.  Then in the 4th quarter of 2009 something significant happened:  I started to see budgets for app creation move from the "experimental" bucket to a dedicated budget.  That's when the most forward-thinking businesses started to build mobile apps and we were able to build a strong business making apps for Disney, The Washington Post, Cars.com and many others.

But still, many businesses don't get it.  I recently wrote a warning to Fortune 1000 CEOs because I'm convinced many of them will be fired for underestimating the impact of mobile on their businesses.

For businesses that are trying to figure out how to really double down on mobile, I'd like to highlight a startup that recently launched called Automatic.  It combines a $70 accessory that plugs into a car's ODBII port with a mobile app, allowing the car to communicate with the phone.  This is a beautiful example of how a company took something that's always been available -- diagnostic information from your car -- and turned it into something humans actually care about, with features like "Never forget where you parked," "Automatic calls for help in a crash," "Save hundreds on gas every year" and "Keep your engine healthy."  The way Automatic is unleashing data that's always been available in a new and very innovative (and valuable) way via the mobile device is a great example of how mobile is changing everything.

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