Developer ecosystems build mobile brands

iphone apps

Apple’s iPhone has raised the bar for mobile brands in many ways, but perhaps Apple’s biggest iPhone brand advance is its ecosystem of developers to keep new mobile apps coming at a furious rate. To compete with the iPhone you now have to have your own app store and a powerful developer ecosystem crafting waves of irresistible apps. That’s a fairly high hurdle. Palm, Nokia, Research in Motion (BlackBerry) and Google (Android) are all chasing Apple in the brand ecosystem race.

Brands are moving from the showcase to the commons

I would argue that what is happening in mobile brands today presages what will happen to brands in general as mobile apps become the currency of culture. Going forward, the true measure of a brand will be how it transitions from the showcase to the commons, as brands use mobile platforms to enrich and extend social networks. As I’ve noted previously, brands will be recast as applications, as unique ways for customers to get things done. Brand creativity, imagination, moral sense and powers of expression will be embedded in the apps, not imprisoned in a package or an ad. The more these apps surge forth from the ecosystem, the more universal the brand.

Your brand ecosystem is a big part of your identity

In the mobile universe, your brand ecosystem now makes up a large part of your identity. Customers know you, experience you, and view you through your ecosystem. It tells the world how alive you are, and where you’re going. You can’t really be a “smartphone” without one.

Palm: a slow launch for the brand ecosystem

Palm still faces major brand ecosystem challenges for its new Palm Pre smartphone. It is paying the price in reduced sales. Eric Savitz at Barron’s reports on market research that says Pre sales will likely fall below estimates, raising questions about Palm’s ability to compete with Apple and RIM (BlackBerry). A key factor is Palm’s slow development of competitive apps for the Pre, and the slow roll-out of  the Palm Pre Application Catalog. These are critical ecosystem issues.

The Palm Pre software development kit (SDK) was released to developers a month after the Pre was launched.

Your brand ecosystem keeps your brand fresh

As the flood of iPhone apps demonstrates, your brand ecosystem helps you innovate, too, keeping your brand fresh. There’s something new every day.

For Palm, this is another critical issue, as noted by the Globe and Mail:

“[Lack of apps] is going to be a huge Achilles heal for Palm,” said Carmi Levy senior vice-president, strategic consulting with AR Communications. “What it’s done is compromised the company’s ability to capitalize on the bump that you usually get when you launch a new device. So there’s huge amount of publicity surrounding the launch and then a couple months later things settle down because you’re not getting headlines like you used to get. It’s during that critical phase that application availability drives attention.”

Apple has changed the brand game in mobile

Apple, of course, has changed the brand game in mobile. Customers now expect handsets to be slick mini-computers, with the ease of use and applications of advanced computer technology. Handsets are now exemplars of innovation, not ham-fisted compromises. That places the mobile game clearly on Apple’s turf. It makes the brand ecosystem element all the more critical for Palm and other mobile players. To out-brand Apple you have to out-app Apple—somehow.

Image: Apple iPhone

2 Responses to “Developer ecosystems build mobile brands”

  1. steve Says:

    For any smartphone (and the definition has changed since the entry of the iPhone) to survive, it is going to have to show best in class applications in several areas – not just email as the Blackberry currently does. This means great developers and an excellent development environment that can deliver, with the right developer, excellent UX.

    I just don’t see the others having the tools at this point. Perhaps MS does, but they have an image problem.

  2. Brian Phipps Says:

    When writing this post I never considered MS as an active competitor to Apple in the mobile market. Technically they are, but they are so far out of the picture. And they are terribly brand constrained. They have a poor brand image, as you note, and they also can’t get their act together in a way that connects with customers. MS had the “Pocket PC” since 2001 and Windows Mobile a few years later, but just couldn’t execute on a vision beyond mediocrity.