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Mobile Marketing

Thoughts on “The Smartphone is the New Sun”

Ashley Sefferman  //  September 8, 2015  //  8 min read

Last month, Benedict Evans wrote a piece on the growth of the smartphone and the unique scaling advantage it has had in tech since its inception. The piece concluded with presenting a new way to think about the smartphone, “as the sun,” and to think about all other smart devices (such as tablets, watches, connected cars, etc.) as “planets” in orbit around it to better understand the relationship between device and connected technologies.

In this month’s App Marketing Conversation, Apptentive’s CEO Robi Ganguly sits down with Ian Sefferman, GM of TMC at TUNE, and Ryan Morel, GM at Gamehouse, to discuss what Evans’s analogy means for app developers and dig in to the potential “planets” around app categories.

Have you read Evans’s piece? What do you think about his “smartphone is the new sun” analogy? We’d love to hear your experiences and questions in the comments below!

If you’d rather read than watch, check out the complete video transcription:


Robi: Good morning, and welcome to another App Marketing Conversations. As always, I’m joined by Ian Sefferman of MobileDevHQ by TUNE.

Ian: Yeah, now we’re just TUNE.

Robi: Of TUNE. And Ryan Morel of GameHouse. And I’m Robi Ganguly from Apptentive. So, we’re again here at TUNE HQ, awesome view, thanks again for this. I think we’re going to do this more regularly. We’re going to dig into something that we thought was really interesting. Last week, Benedict Evans talks about the smart phone, the phone is the sun, and that there’s all this mass and gravity around it. And he talked about different segments and different planets, so we want to dig into that. So, what was most interesting? What do you think when you think of the planets around this sun that are most interesting for you?

Ian: Yeah, so, I think… When I think about it I think that there’s multiple planets somewhere around different app categories. There’s the software that’s running on the phone is really important, and that’s probably the one, I won’t go through all of them that we’ve discussed and let Ryan talk as well, but that’s the one that I think is really interesting to me. Is how do you break out app categories and think about the different planets in there? I’ve been surprised how massive retail has been. I’ve been surprised how massive transportation has been, the Ubers and Lifts of the world. There’s a whole bunch of segments in there, and then other planets as well.

Ryan: So I think the two most interesting things for me are-, Well, one is a really good analogy. It really makes it easy for us to talk about it like this, at the risk of taking it too far I think one of the interesting things, it’s unclear how old this sort of solar system is. And which parts of it are growing, still, and which parts of it are declining, and which parts we haven’t even seen yet. So that’s one thing.

Robi: Well, you know what I thought about when said that was the sun is in an expansion mode, so I don’t know if anything’s in decline right now. It’s like, well if that’s true and it’s growing at a really large rate and we still have all these billions of people to cover, does it matter? If you’re in the solar system, if you’re one of the planets that you’re actually attracting gravity yourself, then you’re already in a good place. Do you think there is stuff that’s in decline?

Ryan: Well, I mean I think we’ve all seen the number of tablet sales declining 10-15% year over year, so I think there’s a-, I don’t think necessarily think that means that there’s not a big market or a big planet for them, but that individual piece of hardware has been declining. So I think more generally, it was just like what’s going to be big? We just don’t know yet. Who’s going to be the Jupiter? Jupiter’s the big one.

Ian: How old’s your daughter?

Ryan: Yeah, I’ll figure that out.

Robi: I did not study for this correctly.

Ryan: Yeah, exactly. Like, how big is a watch going to be? What are the other components that are going to be massive within the ecosystem and the solar system? We just don’t know yet.

Robi: So if you’re a marketer and you’re thinking planets, app categories makes a ton of sense, right? Think about it that way. What about thinking about the planets in terms of hardware? We talk a lot, when we talk about app marketing, strategies. Which hardware you’re going to bet on when. Are there categories when you’re thinking about hardware so much, are there categories in hardware that the marketers should be like, “Yes, I’ve gotta pay attention to that.”

Ryan: Yeah, well I think yes and no at your own risk. Right? That’s a great non-answer. So there are certainly things like VR and AR that I think everybody believes are going to be part of this solar system, but it’s just totally unclear how big they’re going to be. I mean they can either be ginormous and everyone’s going to be like, “Fuck, I missed out.” Or they’re going to be just niche categories and everyone’s going to, “God, I spent a lot of money there.” It’s just unclear yet.

Ian: You’re still wearing your watch.

Ryan: I’m still wearing my watch.

Ian: [inaudible 00:04:10] wearables as a planet?

Ryan: I am long. I think wearables are going to be a big planet, yes.

Ian: Okay.

Ryan: But in a different way than they’re being thought of now. Right? So we can have another six month later conversation about the watch. So yeah.

Robi: It seems interesting to me. Like if you were to think about how to categorize and size the planets, you’re talking about Jupiter, do you think about-, So if the phone is the sun, it’s the thing that everybody’s going to have. Right? That’s the premise. Every human being will have a phone. Then you think about what other attach rates there are. So if it’s an app category, you’re thinking about is there a category that’s universal? Seems like messaging’s probably a universal app category. Is there a hardware category that’s going to be universal, like the phone? Or is it going to be the watch and it’s like 10% of the overall population has a watch and a phone? Do you think about hardware that everybody’s going to have? Do you think everybody will have a watch/

Ryan: No.

Robi: Okay.

Ryan: So, I think it probably breaks down into some people will have watches or other wearables, some people will have tablets, and some people will have an actual desktop machine whatever, TV, and some people will have all of them but they will all revolve, like you said, around the phone itself. But I don’t know that there’s any must-have device now.

Ian: I think that’s true. I agree.

Robi: So it seems to me that if you think about it that way, from an impact perspective, as a marketer you’re probably more focused on the app categories than you are thinking of the hardware, first and foremost.

Ryan: Yup.

Robi: Right now you’re thinking about the software and the app categories to build for? Is that right?

Ryan: Yup.

Ian: Yeah. Well, I think that’s probably right. I think the interesting piece of that to me is that if you’re a marketer, the most important aspect is don’t mess with the pull of the solar system. You’re never going to be the sun, the sun is already defined, so you can’t necessarily have massive people build around you. You can have moons, right? So you can get some flow going there, but you’re never going to be the sun and don’t try to flip the orientation of how the rotations work of all these planets. That’s a big piece of when we talk about startups, oftentimes people talk about how to ride the wave that’s currently going. And I think there’s a similar analogy going on here, which is don’t mess with the solar system. Keep going on what’s happening there.

Ryan: Yup. Well, and I think, so what popped into my head was just any marketplace business that was truly enabled because of mobile. So like Uber, Lift, etc, those could not have existed without the smartphone. And we’ve seen a bunch of additional companies launch over the last couple years that were really also launched in 1998, but people didn’t have the full blown PCs in their pockets. So, I’m just agreeing with you.

Robi: You guys do that a lot. So, what part of this are app marketers not thinking about? In the context of the solar system, are they still betting this concept of the desktop and the web, are they betting too much on something that is actually going the reverse option? Or like you said the reverse direction. It’s trying to pull against. Is that where people are still spending too much time and money? Is that what we’re seeing, if you think about this analogy further for a marketer?

Ian: Good question. I’m not sure. I think there are pockets of it, right? Where, we’ve said Uber and Lift twice already, let’s add on again. They’re clearly not, really. They’re clearly doing the right thing here and working within the constraints of the solar system. But there are definitely pockets of people trying to shoe horn into this world, and I think any time you see that that’s probably an indication that you’re just going the wrong direction here. And then I think for the marketer one important aspect is you’re probably looking at things like analytics and stuff like that as moons, perhaps, right? And you want to make sure that the ones you’re choosing are moons that operate around your planet and operate well around your planet and are pulled in, and are not, if I’m out there trying to figure out who I’m going to work with, I don’t want to work with somebody who’s a moon on another planet. I want to work with the person who’s the moon on my planet and really gets my world, and I think that’s an important piece that gets missed today a lot. What do you think about that?

Robi: So this is where the analogy for me gets a little too complex for me to make sense of it. I don’t know for the moon, the planet.

Ian: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Robi: But what I think the relationship between the players definitely matters a lot, and the more that you are able to say, “Okay, well this is my part of the system. This is where my orbit works and the things that are most important to me are this, this, and this,” and you figure that out in the right direction, in the right orbit around the sun, then you’re doing pretty well. But the analogy gets a little belabored there. I think what we should really think about is everything centers around the phone. There’s all these app categories that are growing, some that are universal, there’s hardware that’s going to have really high attach rates and some that’s going to be extremely valuable. If you’re a marketer, what do you think the number one takeaway is that you have to spend most of your time thinking about around this?

Ryan: So, this is going to sound really stupid but I think it’s just the realization that the smart phone is the sun.

Robi: Okay.

Ryan: Okay? And despite the fact that you might have other acquisition channels outside of this four, four and a half inch screen, the one that you need to be focused on is mobile. Not only from a user acquisition perspective, but also from a how are we going to continue to engage people, how are we going to reengage people, and then how are we going to move them, to further the solar system analogy, the app constellation if they happen to exist for your set. My view is that people generally try to make it more difficult on themselves than they have to by coming up, “Let’s do web desktop marketing because we need to…” Wait a second. All of your user interaction is on the phone. So, we still see, at least from my perspective, a lot of people thinking about the PC and though that’s fine, you can’t say it strongly enough that mobile first really means mobile first. I don’t know.

Robi: I think you summarized it. Awesome. Well, I think that’s enough time about the solar system and the sun. Be sure to check out the post from Benedict Evans, we will link to it, and share this with friends. Thanks.

About Ashley Sefferman

Ashley Sefferman is Head of Content at Apptentive. A digital communication and content strategy enthusiast, she writes about multichannel engagement strategies, customer communication, and making the digital world a better place for people. Follow Ashley on Twitter at @ashseff.
View all posts by Ashley Sefferman >

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