Mobile Applications vs. Facebook

Noticing the ever increasing number of new Google based applications being developed, and browsing through the immense catalogue of new Facebook ‘applications’, has made me consider why we don’t have anything even remotely close to this type of development happening for mobile devices around the globe. Both the Google and Facebook API’s have been open to the public at large for only a fraction of the time that these data capable mobile devices have been on the market, yet these API’s have stormed through the internet while mobile application development has progressed at a snail’s pace.

It makes you wonder, where are the mobile social networking applications? Why has no one tried to adapt some of the Facebook content to a mobile application? Why are there no decent tools to blog from a Blackberry? How come we can’t do internet banking from our mobile device? and the list goes on and on.

The carriers haven’t exactly encouraged this type of mobile innovation – barriers such as demanding digital signing of applications, blocking certain types of traffic (e.g. SIP), and high data tariffs that impede significant mobile data device adoption by the consumer market, all hold a portion of the responsibility for the lack of a flurry of mobile application development.

Looking at the application production on Facebook vs any of the mobile platforms over time outlines the discrepancy clearly:

Facebook Applications:
– The applications section of Facebook lists no less than 2431 available applications. On a platform that has only been fully opened up as of May 2007.

Blackberry applications: 1,808
– This number includes applications for all devices going back 8 years to the RIM850.

Palm applications: 10,606
– This number includes applications for all devices going back 9 years to the Palm III

Windows Mobile Smartphone: 2,836
– Includes applications for all devices going back approximately 4 or 5 years to Smartphone 2002

Windows Mobile Pocket PC: 13,455
– Includes applications for all devices going back 7 years to the Compaq IPAQ 3600 Series

* Data from Handango.com:

From these numbers it is easy to see that the only devices that actually have a significant number of available applications are those that have been around since the veritable days of the caveman. The Blackberry numbers are particularly obscene in that only a total of 1,808 applications (based on Handango data) have been generated in 8 years, on what is probably one of the most powerful wireless platforms on the market today – I will cover this in a separate post in a few days. In contrast to these numbers, the Facebook development community has come up with over 2000 applications in just over 3 months!

Currently, I am not convinced that there exists an open enough mobile development platform (right from the network up to the application layer) that could spark such immense growth in mobile applications to rival what we have seen with things like the Facebook platform. Perhaps this is what Google has in mind to be the catalyst of next?

It is likely that at this stage of mobile data device adoption it could in fact be better to look at Facebook and Google as examples of what could be if an equally open development platform were created for mobile devices, and a network operator were to emerge with the willingness to let the users at large experiment and tinker however they wish. The amazing thing about this is that the number of mobile users around the globe will pale the number of PC users, so the impending opportunity for mobile applications should go far beyond anything we have ever seen in the PC space.