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Open mobile platforms and Facebook developer refugees

New mobile blog from KP
This morning, my friends at KP launched the iFundVC blog to specifically cover the iPhone and the open mobile ecosystem that’s emerging. Their first blog post details a number of investments that they’ve made in the space, in particular Pelago, iControl, ng:moco, and GOGII. Anyway, I’d encourage you to read more about this legendary firm’s perspectives on the impending transformation of the mobile landscape.

One of the important comparisons for me is between the Facebook platform versus the iPhone platform. They are two of the biggest ideas of the past few years, one to open up the monster traffic enabled by social networks, and the other to crack open the walled gardens of mobile carriers. 

Is the mindshare of hobbyist developers going to the iPhone platform?
A key issue is where the developers are going to go – most of my technical friends have spent the last year and a half hacking away building apps on the Facebook platform. However, as time as passed, the platform has grown less attractive for a number of obvious reasons – to resummarize:

  • Lack of stability: Facebook may slap down your app and replace it with their own
  • Lack of monetization: Beyond remnant ad networks, there isn’t much you can do with the <$0.25 CPM inventory
  • Lack of investment: Many angel investors are no longer investing much into the space, as mature companies like Slide, Zynga, and others have established themselves
  • Lack of market excitement: Everyone wants to find the next new thing!

I want to also note that for the hobbyists, it’s not even the money that really concerns them. They just want to tinker around with stuff and build cool products, and there’s a set of sexy features like geo-location and SMS that allow them to experiment with the interactions.

As a result, I’d argue that a class of social network “refugees” are forming who are looking to build the next new thing, and the mobile platform (iPhone and otherwise) will start looking pretty attractive for them. I wonder how many of the lessons learned on the FB platform, like social gaming, viral distribution, etc. will port over to iPhone as well.

Comparing the Facebook platform and the iPhone platform
I also asked the audience to fill in a couple of the datapoints around comparing the two platforms, and what axes they would use. Here are some of the thoughts I got back:

  Facebook platform iPhone platform
Pricing Free Free or $0.99 to $999.99
Distribution Primarily viral
(invites, newsfeed, etc.)
Primarily app store
Audience 100M 8M
Coding language PHP/Ruby/etc Cocoa
Cost of service $0 >$150
Payment service? No Yes

I’m sure there is a much more comprehensive table out there. Noah also had a fantastic table here that was very funny. Anyway, in the comments there was a fun discussion of whether or not Facebook’s huge relative audience was more important, or if having more direct monetization was more important – quite a good exchange.

Ultimately, some of the >1M adoption rates of free iPhone apps like Tap Tap Revenge show that there may be enough audience there to generate some sizeable returns. So regardless of whether or not it’s a favorable or not platform, it’s attractive enough (especially with the stronger monetization channels) for developers to get excited about it. The after-effects of the open mobile platform, across all the carriers, is likely a strong enough trend to get VCs and entrepreneurs to decide that “it’s finally here.”

Are you doing cool stuff on the iPhone platform?
If you are, drop me a note at voodoo [at] gmail, I’d love to hear more about it.

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