Now what? Maybe this.

In his article last week, Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic hit a nerve. He summed up the (okay, my) ennui with the local/social/mobile AppScape thusly:

For at least five years, we’ve been working with the same operating logic in the consumer technology game. This is what it looks like:

There will be ratings and photos and a network of friends imported, borrowed, or stolen from one of the big social networks. There will be an emphasis on connections between people, things, and places. That is to say, the software you run on your phone will try to get you to help it understand what and who you care about out there in the world. Because all that stuff can be transmuted into valuable information for advertisers.

That paradigm has run its course. It’s not quite over yet, but I think we’re into the mobile social fin de siècle.

He’s right – the obvious stuff has been built. I can distinctly remember drawing a Newton-like hand-held device on the back of my notebooks when I was in middle school (in the late 80s.) You could play games on it (SOS, Crossword and Hangman), and it had features like an accurate battery life meter, and the ability to connect to a phone line without a dongle. (Needless to say, I wasn’t that popular in middle school).

But yes, Apple and Google have pretty much have answered the question of “here’s how you get a PC into your hand.” The touch screen works the way it should have all along, and although data entry leaves much to be desired. I still can’t believe that we’re forced to type long-form text into these devices on a touch screen, rather than dictate, but whatever.

That said, despite a renewed focus on user experience and the so-called “consumerization” of technology most mobile Apps are basically portable versions of PC media properties. Instagram and Path may have been conceived in a post-PC world but they’re still basically PC media apps.

Outsized returns will be earned by developers that find ways to use the distinctive characteristics of mobile devices – omnipresence, location and context awareness, embedded identity and payment, ambient communication – to create high-value solutions to mostly unsolved problems.

Three apps I love that do this:

  • Waze: Turn by turn navigation with realtime traffic and other, useful ambient information for drivers. Big telemetry and up-sell opportunities for auto manufacturers. At some point, every car on the road will have Waze – or some clone of it – as an option. It’ll be the OnStar of this decade.
  • Rumgr: For people who are too lazy to sell their stuff on craigslist – and for people who browse garage sales. Swiping through photos makes for a great tablet shopping App. Location and availability are as important as price to these buyers. Add in a payment platform, and the ability for buyers to “reserve” things before they actually see them and you’ve got a business model that will scale up nicely. Good job guys. Stick the landing. 
  • Uber: Okay, so I’m nearly two years late to this party. Order a Town Car with your phone and pay with it, too. Combines location, immediacy and identity (for payment and reputation). See! useful!

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