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Mobile app stores: Enterprise software is where the money will be made

At a recent panel discussion on the future of mobile applications, Google's Rich Miner said enterprise applications are where the real money is to be made.

Enterprise applications is a hot topic among mobile software developers who are looking to make money off the expanding market of mobile application stores offered by vendors such as Apple, Research In Motion, and Nokia. These stores and the mobile platforms they serve are better known for their appeal to consumers, but that could change, according to a recent panel on the future of mobile applications.

"The whole handset could become the workflow for an entire company. The real opportunity is the enterprise," said Rich Miner, co-founder of Google's Android operating system and current partner at Google Ventures Miner was participating in a panel discussion entitled Opportunities in Mobile Applications, which was hosted by the Boston chapter of Mobile Monday and MIT's Mobile Club.

Mike Baker (CEO of DataXu and formerly VP of Nokia Interactive) moderated the panel, which also featured Chuck Goldman (CEO of Apperian), Walt Doyle (CEO of uLocate), Ted Morgan (CEO of Skyhook Wireless) and Jeremy Wright (Global Director of Brand Solutions, Nokia).

In addition to Android, the iPhone and Research In Motion's new BlackBerry App Store were dominant themes among the panelists and the 400 students and mobile entrepreneurs who attended the event.

More than 50 hands went up in the audience when the question of who had coded a mobile app was posed. The discussion was dominated by the iPhone and the iTunes App Store, a reality each of the panelists acknowledged stemmed from the current edge for mobile application distribution that Apple's platform holds. Hello, iPhone gold rush.

In the Twitterstream, the first line from the panel that generated buzz at the #MoMoBoston hashtag: "There is no history of mobile apps before the iPhone." That quote emphasized the dominance of the iPhone in mobile application discussions and the absence of some high-profile mobile players at the discussion table. One Twitterer, ChuckBaakel, noted: "There is irony that at a mobile app meeting sponsored by Microsoft Research, the panel has no Windows Mobile representation."

Panelists focused for quite some time on the concept of monetization of mobile application distribution, with specific references to RIM's BlackBerry App Store launch. Monetization, incidentally, was only one of many tech buzzwords that were bandied about. At times, attendees could have played a sizzling game of buzzword bingo, especially with tired lines like, "There's a long tail of opportunity in this mobile ecosystem." Beyond the industry jargon, however, there was clearly an intense interest in how developers could gain top placement in the iTunes App Store. Such visibility is worth substantial amounts of revenue.

The panel spent quite a while discussing the opportunities for consumer applications, which makes perfect sense. As Nokia's Wright noted: "The success of an app is directly proportional to the number of people who can access it and download it."

Google, however, sees the enterprise market's biggest mobile revenue opportunity, according to Miner. He said the wildly successful paid applications on Apple's App Store -- such as the game iShoot, which has earned its developer $800,000 -- are viral hits, not organizationally transformational software.

"There isn't tons of money in consumer apps," he said. "A business can empower a workforce by giving them a mobile data management cloud. The whole handset could become the workflow for an entire company. The real opportunity is the enterprise."

Miner clearly is bullish on the potential for Android as an enterprise platform for cloud services.

"Whenever you have destabilizing technology, there's an opportunity for upstarts," he said.

Google is reportedly working with PC manufacturers such as Dell and HP to get low-cost netbooks on the market with a version of Android preloaded on them. Such devices could appeal to cost-conscious enterprises with large numbers of mobile workers.

Miner is also optimistic about the ability of software designers to create applications that will work in heterogeneous mobile operating systems, which would be a huge boon to enterprises that are wary of getting locked into a single device platform.

"The good news for mobile developers," he said, "is that iPhone, Android and Nokia60 all have the same HTML-based browsers to build dynamic apps."

To see photos of the event visit

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