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If you're not agile, you're not mobile

Recently at Innovate in Sydney, one of the most fascinating presentations in the mobile sphere was Best practices for delivering mobile applications to market faster by Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester Research.

He produced a string of fascinating stats and examples about the uptake of mobile technology, like that of 320 million Android devices having been sold to date and around a million new devices going online every day. He also added the rather astonishing stat that more Android devices were sold in the last year than Macs have been sold in the last 20 years. More important than the type of device though, the clear message for developers was in the numbers: think of all those new endpoints. He was in no doubt that mobile is “the new face of engagement”.

From the mobile development point of view, he encouraged more thinking from a consumer perspective. The demand - the expectation - from consumers is for all apps to be “5 star” as soon as they hit the market, lest they flounder in the bowels of the internet with other poorly-rated releases. People are used to Angry Birds - people expect Angry Birds. “Don’t stress about the technology”, he said, “focus on the experience”. In other words, think about how mobile devices are being used.

To further emphasise the point, when he asked how many people checked their emails 25-30 times a day, the show of hands was almost unanimous. This illustrated how the volume and frequency of transactions has changed with the mobile shift. From this, he also took the opportunity to stress the importance of scalability, using the example of Instagram which grew by a million users in a 24 hour period. These days, he suggested, things happen instantly and globally so you must develop with the capacity for on-demand growth. Consumers are agile, businesses must be too.

Another important factor he spoke of was the requirement for multi-platform capability - applications must work on any device that consumers want them to work on, with whatever brand preferences they have. This brings into focus the methods of development and testing necessary to cope with a fast-changing environment.

He understood on a personal level that mobile technology is changing so quickly that it is effectively pointless for companies to be issuing equipment any more, admitting that he carries four devices to do business on but none of them are owned by his company. The equipment simply dates too quickly.

While he acknowledged that the mobile space is clearly still evolving, he also suggested that the Australian market is ahead of many parts of the world with a 54% mobile adoption rate. And, crucially, all the key demographics - all the people that need to be targeted - are already adopters. Trends like that led him to believe this to be one of the best times ever to be a developer, even going so far as to label it a “Golden Age”, where life in the cloud reduces the need for massive start-up expenditure and enables faster, easier innovation. Following the presentation, Leigh Williamson, an IBM Distinguished Engineer, backed up those comments by suggesting that the potential for mobile development is as exciting as the advent of the internet.

Developers are now using these conditions to create a larger number of software solutions, more quickly and easily, in the anticipation that just one of them will strike it big. As always though, the challenge for business is in knowing which project to back, which will be the mythical ‘7th wave’ (borrowed from a surfing term referring to the wave you can ride all the way to shore).

It was an interesting presentation, emphasising the need for those that develop the technology to meet the demands of the people that use it. To get there, it may require a shift in thinking and to challenge some traditional and fundamental methods to focus on speed and agility. Indeed, according to Jeffrey, “if you are not agile, you will not survive the mobile shift”.