Mobile solutions are more than apps, Part 1: How apps can make or break retail products

By Jonathan Hassell

| Retail

Marc Andreessen, the famous venture capitalist and technologist, once said that software is eating the world. That is true, but a very good case can be made for apps and mobile solutions also eating the world now.

Apps are making or breaking products

To be sure, mobile apps still exist that run their own small worlds, performing a couple of dedicated functions and having entirely self-contained operations. Yet more and more, real-world products and services are extended by adding functionality through mobile apps. Devices that previously had only one or two functions can now be imbued with added features and services, and in some cases, retail products can interact with other products and with cloud services to bring a whole new level of features and functionality to a product.

Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in retail products, and in particular, in hard goods and durable goods that previously had remotes or control panels. In this day and age, manufacturers’ mobile strategies have produced a crop of consumer electronics, appliances and toys that have most of their smarts, controls, intelligence and guts wrapped up in apps and mobile solutions.

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The following are some examples of this phenomenon:

  • Many pieces of home stereo equipment, especially receivers, have been complex to set up and use, with tons of inputs, necessary cable connections, arcane key sequences to access features and more. Most of the top retail stereo products now include apps that pair with the equipment over Bluetooth or wifi to provide a friendly face and an accessible interface to configure the device and use it regularly. These stereos can now typically access cloud services such as Pandora and Spotify to stream music over the internet.
  • The Nest thermostat and fire alarms are simple consumer devices, but their magic comes from the associated app that controls setup, testing and even alerting in the event of an emergency. The secret sauce that makes the Nest product an attractive buy is essentially all in the app and not the smoke detector or thermostat itself — it is the interaction with internet services that really gooses the success of these products.
  • The Petzi is an automated pet camera and treat dispenser that is a great example of an entirely new retail product that is virtually worthless without a quality companion mobile app. With the app, you can use the camera to see your pet, use an onboard speaker and microphone to talk to your furry friend and dispense a treat. Without the app, there is no product.

Bad apps make good content and good value propositions bad bets

A bad mobile app could kill a product. Bad design is one of the biggest killers of otherwise good solutions. Obfuscating content, riddling the user experience with ads and making poor design choices can make it very difficult for a consumer to have a successful experience with a product. If an app makes it more difficult to use an associated product, or the app crashes all the time or otherwise makes it tough to set up or drive a product, the product itself will fail, all because of the app.

Apps and mobile solutions are everywhere, but they are not just luxuries or bolt-ons anymore. Mobile apps can create entirely new products or raise the value proposition of existing retail products. The market has spoken.

Check out Part 2 of this series, which will take a look at the healthcare field and how apps in this industry are just the beginning.

Source: iStock

Written By

Jonathan Hassell

President, 82 Ventures

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a technical writing and consulting firm based in Charlotte, NC. He centers his focus around network administrator, security, the cloud, and mobile technologies.

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