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3 Tips for a Smarter Mobile Strategy

Chaotic Moon has developed apps for some of the world's biggest brands. Here's what it has learned in the process.
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No one can argue with the idea that mobile is one of the hottest areas of technology. The global market for consumer spending on mobile content, apps, games, and services is expected to grow to $138.2 billion this year.

But most companies large and small are struggling to grasp this technology as it changes seemingly overnight. Even businesses rife with resources and cash struggle to put a solid mobile strategy in place. Facebook is an excellent case in point, and its mobile issues have been well documented.

How well is your company responding to mobile? Read on for a brief look at the state of mobility--and how you can take better advantage of it.

The State of Mobility

When the iPhone hit the marketplace in 2007, the App Store didn't exist. Of course, that soon changed. Companies entered the first phase of the mobile revolution with rudderless strategies based on a follower strategy. (Read: My competitor has a mobile app, so I need one, too.)

This soon evolved into the second phase: Large companies developed bulky and overpriced mobile apps as expensive business cards. For their part, small, independent developers played the app lottery in the hopes of finding new streams of revenue in a quickly burgeoning marketplace.

Now we have entered the next phase of mobile, a more democratic phase. Just about every large company is attempting to leverage mobility across the entire enterprise. From the perspective of many, the marketplace seems just as lost and confused as ever. But out of this chaos, the co-founders at mobile studio Chaotic Moon have found a clarity that has propelled the company to the top of the mobile industry. (I profiled the company in my third book, The New Small: How a New Breed of Small Businesses Is Harnessing the Power of Emerging Technologies.)

Here are three lessons on mobility from one of the market leaders.

It's not about apps; it's about experiences.

Most companies playing in the mobile space aren't really mobile software companies at all. This has resulted in a sea of worthless applications flooding marketplaces worldwide. "Not a day goes by that we don't get a call from a panicked executive who's blown his budget on a mobile strategy or app that has produced zero results," says Ben Lamm, co-founder and CEO of Chaotic Moon. Lamm says it reminds him a bit of the Web boom during the dot-bomb days.

One of the things that has made Chaotic Moon so successful out of the gate is its focus on producing well-conceived, useful applications. "We take the focus off of the app," Lamm says. "We emphasize overall user experience. The technology is important, but the content and user experience are paramount. Are you giving users something useful? If not, then you don't need an app."

Get involved in the development process.

To date, the company remains hyperselective on its choice of clients and applications. Chaotic Moon often tells Fortune 500 companies with large budgets, thanks, but no thanks. This selectivity and commitment to excellence are what both Lamm and co-founder William Hurley agree drive the company's success. "I believe that one of the secrets to our success is not fearing being fired," Lamm says. "Our company is bold and opinionated. We are not afraid to tell customers and partners what is great and what is truly awful. We only work with clients that meet a very specific list of requirements. If we can't be passionate about a project and make it a success, it's a nonstarter. Every project is a true partnership, or we simply don't take it."

The flip side of this coin is that, for mobile apps to truly be successful, clients must be involved in the development process. An indifferent or recalcitrant client is probably not going to be happy with the result. Yes, trust your mobile- app development firm, but find a happy medium between trust and micromanagement.

Understand that the Next Big Thing in mobile isn't mobile at all.

In January, Chaotic Moon shocked the Consumer Electronics Show with its Board of Awesomeness, a Kinect-controlled skateboard with a top speed of 32 mph. The company followed this up with the mind-controlled Board of Imagination.

Many people have asked what this has to do with mobile. Some went so far as to claim it was simply a PR stunt. Chaotic Moon disagrees. "There's no such thing as mobile," Hurley says. "There's simply not a mobile industry. Computing has just become mobile, because that's where people are: out and about, living their lives." So Hurley and his cohorts at Chaotic Moon's new labs division spend their time thinking about what's next--currently, that includes predictive, perceptive, and pervasive computing technologies.

Businesses of all types would be well advised to do the same. Don't build an app for the sake of building one. Wherever mobile goes next, the same principle always applies: Start with a purpose, then worry about the technology.

IMAGE: Flickr/Mr. iMaax
Last updated: Sep 10, 2012

PHIL SIMON | Columnist | Author and tech consultant

Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of six management books, including The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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