In February at Mobile World Congress, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty launched the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, a first of its kind, global competition to encourage software developers to create mobile consumer and business apps powered by Watson. The IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge encourages the millions of mobile developers around the world to build sophisticated cognitive apps that can change the way consumers and businesses interact with data using mobile devices. For more insight on the challenge and app development trends in general, the Smarter Planet blog turned to Matt Gross, founder of Mobile Monday Boston, a community of nearly 8,000 professionals interested in mobile, and Mobile First Software, a mobile strategy consultancy.
Smarter Planet: Analysts predict that by 2017, there could be 200 billion downloads of mobile apps. What do you view as the major factors driving that volume?
Matt Gross: The popularity of apps is driven by smartphone penetration, which is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s well over 50% in the developed world, and continues to accelerate in major emerging markets. In parallel, the data plans offered by carriers are falling in price and becoming less restrictive, while free Wifi access is also expanding. These converging factors continue to spur device usage, and make it easier than ever for users to download and utilize more apps. For many consumers, apps are becoming a primary channel to connect with brands they care about, and for organizations to extend offers to build customer loyalty and engagement.
SP: What do you hope the Watson Mobile Developer Challenge will achieve?
MG: Through this initiative, global software developers can take advantage of Watson’s ability to understand the complexities of human language, to “read” millions of pages of data in seconds and improve its own performance by learning. I’m hoping to see something really novel come out of the Challenge. There are so many fields of human knowledge that are well documented on the web, but in an unstructured way. For example, if you are using your computer to find information about a particular medical condition, you can browse multiple websites and maybe learn enough to come up with some useful direction or conclusions.
However, on a mobile device like a smartphone, this sort of research or in-depth Internet query is not always practical because of the small screen and the many clicks and swipes it takes to navigate through pages of content. So, one of the novel apps I could foresee a Challenge team working on is one that takes an unstructured set of data, turns it into structured information through Watson, and then provides an elegant mobile interface into it.
SP: What industries do you think are primed to benefit from Watson-powered apps?
MG: Cognitive computing certainly has the power to transform mobile engagements across industries – and the strides being made in the healthcare and medical fields are excellent examples.
Additionally, I think retail is another sector that could benefit from power of Watson. Consider the tremendous amount of available product data – from warrantees and safety information, to intricate supply chain components. The potential to use the power of Watson to organize that data, and make it accessible and relevant for business decision making could create significant efficiencies and cost-savings.
In addition, major retailers have huge amounts of data from consumers. While balancing consumer privacy priorities, retailers may be able to take advantage of significant benefits in terms of personalization of the shopping experience on the web, on mobile, and in physical retail stores.
SP: What developer skills sets will be needed to keep up with the pace of mobile change?
SP: There have been stats citing that 80% of apps are used once, then deleted. What major challenges do developers face today in their efforts to commercialize apps with staying power?
MG: Motivating a user to download your app, from among the millions out there, and then become a loyal user is quite challenging. And it’s a challenge that is getting steeper as more apps flood the market. Today, some developers or development teams rely on viral or organic adoption. But without deep experience in consumer behavior, that is not a sustainable strategy. Better strategies include seeking distribution partners that reach your target audience in either the consumer or the enterprise space. I would imagine that IBM is becoming that type of partner for a growing number of startup companies in the mobile space.
For more information or to apply to participate in the Challenge, go to www.ibmwatson.com
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