Distilling market noise into market sense

VisionMobile is the leading research company in the app economy and mobile business models. Our research and workshops help clients compete and win in their rapidly changing industries.

Mobile widgets: market review and commercial reality

[Mobile widgets: hype or paradigm shift? Research Director Andreas Constantinou talks about the commercial reality behind widgets and compares and contrasts 8 widget platform solutions to shed more light into this new driver of mobile service adoption].

What’s in a widget? It’s amazing how such small pieces of cute graphics are managing to create such a hype wave in the mobile industry. What widgets lack in size, they gain in terms of market expectations; most European tier-1 operators have deployed or getting in proposals for widget-based solutions, while for handset manufacturers (e.g. N97) widgets are the latest must-have feature to drive up selling price in the footsteps of the iUserExperience.

Widgets everywhere!

The concept has come a long way; widgets as single-purpose, windowed, mini-applications, were introduced by Apple’s Dashboard, popularised by Yahoo’s Konfabulator and mass-adopted through Microsoft’s Vista. Yet while widgets are nice-to-have on PCs, they are a must-have on mobile; in a sense, mobile is the promised land for widgets,since their properties make them ideally suited for this domain; small screen space, limited memory requirements, quick to download due to small size, visually unobtrusive and condensing a diverse set of complex information onto a compact 4×4 grid.

There’s plenty of demand for widget-driven solutions; operator rationale for sourcing widget solutions varies, but generally revolves around three axes:
- a tool to increase mobile Internet usage on mass market handsets (like Opera Mini for everything beyond the web)
- a customer acquisition tool for attracting customers onto a data plan
- a tool to both discover AND deliver operator services

So what about technology supply? The hype wave has triggered the launch of a wide range of solution providers. Beyond the mainstream mobile software providers (ACCESS, Opera, Picsel, Sun, SurfKitchen and Yahoo), there are manufacturer-led solutions (Nokia WebRuntime, WidSets and Motorola WebUI) as well as numerous smaller mobile solution vendors (Insprit, FeedHenry, Streamezzo, Ulocate, ViaMobility, Webwag and Zumobi).

A fun part of what we do here at VisionMobile is vendor comparative analysis (e.g. see last year’s Mobile App Store analysis). We ‘ve spent quite a bit of time talking to widget solution vendors and comparing and contrasting their commercial attributes. For this analysis, we looked at 8 mobile widget products: Nokia WidSets, Nokia WRT, Opera, Access, Motorola WebUI, Yahoo Blueprint, Sun Java ODP and SurfKitchen Widgets. We selected major solution providers; Nokia with two widget solutions (with WidSets now being merged under Ovi), Opera (a strong performer with Vodafone and T-Mobile deals), Access (one of the earliest to roll out widgets with operators in Japan), Motorola WebUI (great vision, albeit slow to execute), Yahoo (impressively executed Yahoo Go! strategy, now extended to widgets, Sun (Internet and Java centric vision, but well resourced) and finally SurfKitchen (veteran in mobile software and ODPs, and recently extending onto widget deals).

We ‘ve summarised our comparative vendor research into the table below. There’s quite a lot of data in this table – so we ‘ve added a PDF version after the click.

vendor-comparison-snapshot

So are widgets just another iFad ? We would argue that they are not. Widgets are perfectly suited for discovering and delivering the 100s of operator services that so far remain hidden behind WAP menus, premium SMS shortcodes and cryptic USSD instructions. Equally importantly, we believe that widgets will be also instrumental for exposing network services to third party developers (i.e. using widgets to wrap network APIs) and also engaging users in a social discussion around widgets (including service) discovery and sharing. We ‘ve only seen the tip of the widgets iceberg.

Comments welcome as always.

- Andreas
twitter: @andreascon

  • http://www.viewfromlondon.com Matt Millar

    Interesting research, but I'd missing the developer/publisher/consumer advantages here.

    I've blogged in more detail on this here:

    <a href="http://www.viewfromlondon.com/2009/05/mobile-widgets—w…” target=”_blank”>www.viewfromlondon.com/2009/05/mobile-widgets—w…

  • http://www.qelp.com Wouter Deelman

    Interesting overview Andreas.

    Have you looked at Flash Lite from Adobe as a platform for widgets?

  • http://visionmobile.com/blog Andreas Constantinou

    Hi Wouter,

    Flash Lite is an application environment, much like Java, Qt, WebKit, etc – so it doesn't make sense to review it as a widget platform.

    A widget platform could be coined as comprising of the following components at a minimum: application environment; widget launcher; widget lifecycle management; on-device catalogue or storefront management; widget delivery and management solution OTA.

    Andreas

  • http://www.mobisy.com Lalit

    Would you consider Plusmo as a widget platform? It has more consumer angel than any other runtimes enumerated here.

  • http://twitter.com/s_constantine Stefan Constantinesc

    Sticking widgets on mobile into the hype category.

    The reason they work on desktops is the large screen real estate. On mobile a widget takes up the same size as an application.

    Home screen widgets are a little more interesting in terms of displaying content that's available at a mere glance, but monetizing it is close to impossible.

  • http://AndroidWidgets George Sarmonikas

    Excellent overview.

    I recommend extending it by also including the Android Widget Engine.

    HTC Magic (Android v 1.5) has a strong widget API, and there are already numerous free and paid widgets in the Android Market.

    Among other features of Cupcake, I believe Widgets are of the nicest and most popular.

  • JP BAUDOUIN

    Andreas, as usual we work in parallell ,o) – pretty good insight view, thanks for sharing.

    Just few comments and thoughs,

    - Nokia Widset as been pre-installed in few phones since Q4 2007, mainly Series 40 (see Nokia 8800 Arte, nokia 7310 Supernova, E61i and more…i could consolidated the list) all very "trendy" or vertical market centered.

    - From Flash based technology, some point: what about Mobile Connect/Flash Cast ? very widget L&F ..no ?

    other ongoing work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sZhDcJBmbU

    - Going further, new players want widget's pie part: Samsung touchWiz UI enable widget, Operator projects (Orange Djinngo,…), Netvibes UWA technology …, Vodaphone dedicated Widget store ..

    Hum, lot of work to understand, ..

    If Yahoo read this post, coul be good to drop a line about Go widget penetration …

  • http://meedabyte.wordpress.com/ Simone Cicero

    Hi Andreas,

    maybe we should align on what means a Widget platform.

    Since I see really a lot of veeeery different platforms to be in the same sheet on your pdf.

    Mobile widgets have a chance to become somehow important just in case more and more vendors align to W3C standards (that is what I consider a "real" mobile widget platform) like are partially doing Nokia (with WRT) and Opera.

    In case OMTP initiatives BONDI and BONDI2 will be success initiatives this can help a lot.

    What can drive widgets a key technology is the "cost" factor- And have less fragmentation is crucial.

    I still believe that we are going toward a platform by platform runtime technology choice so, with Java being gradually discouraged by leaders, widgets are the only solution to lessen the development costs for supporting 5 or 6 leading platforms that will remain the market (Symbian, android, Wmob, Brew, Mac OSX, RIM and, maybe, webOs and Limo somehow).

    JM2C, http://meedabyte.wordpress.com/

  • http://visionmobile.com/blog Andreas Constantinou

    Stefan,

    If you look at mobile widgets as a mere UI interaction paradigm, then they make a lot of sense in mobile – in fact more so than a PC/Mac. They are ideally suited for delivering service status on a mobile device. Re: monetisation, most widgets will be indirectly monetised, i.e. in the form of aiding service discovery and leasing shelf space to service providers.

    George,

    Thanks. Indeed, at a platform level, Android widgets are another mobile widget solution, although closer to being a discovery mechanism for the Android Market than separate solution.

    Jean-Philippe,

    Thanks about the note on WidSets pre-installs. I wasn't aware of that and it didn't come up during the Nokia interview. Re: Flash. Flash Cast is on its way out (ie it has been discontinued as a product), much like Flash Home. Thanks also for the FEWidgetsLite mention, I would class this next to Samsung's TouchWiz UI and the Android Widgets that George mentioned as platform-only implementations.

    Hi Simone,

    You are right, the term 'mobile widgets' means different things to different people. Here we 've defined them as 'single-purpose, windowed, mini-applications'.

    In practice, widgets are just a new user interaction paradigm and a new service delivery paradigm.

    In technology terms, they are only a UI paradigm on top of an existing application environment (Flash, Java, S60, WRT, etc).

    In solution provider terms 'full' mobile widget solutions comprise of an application environment, a client app implementing the widget user interaction paradigm, and some infrastructure for managing the lifecycle etc.

    And I agree on your observation, that web development paradigm (what developers call widget development) is becoming a de facto alternative for Java-based programming, esp. for the broad audience of hobbyist developers, scripters, web programmers, etc.

    Andreas

  • http://meedabyte.wordpress.com/ Simone Cicero

    http://www.alanquayle.com/blog/2009/05/smart-pipe

    Erik de Kroon, Vodafone:"W3C is the only widget platform that will survive – if universal commitment can be achieved in the industry this would address some of the fragmentation issue."

    ;)

  • http://flashmobileblog.com Mark Doherty

    Hi Andreas,

    I think there's an issue with the word Widget, it feels like it was hijacked. Why are so many operators interested in a W3C spec for Widgets?

    Eg. Why create a mobile spec when the market is established elsewhere? It's called "New Business" :-)

    In the context of Flash Cast we use the term "channel". While Flash Cast is not a strategic priority we do have three large supported deployments at NTT DoCoMo, Verizon and Chungwa Telecom. In the case of NTT DoCoMo there were over 15 million subscribers as of Jan 08.
    http://www.nttdocomo.com/pr/2008/001380.html

    As with Windows Mobile 6.5 and S60 Web RunTime you'll notice that these allow widget packages to appear as first class citizens. So I believe that ongoing there will be no distinction between native applications and others including Flash and AIR.

    Incidentally Flash runs within the WM6.5 and S60 Widget container, or outside it and sometimes in the browser :-)

    Mark
    <a href="http://www.flashmobileblog.com” target=”_blank”>www.flashmobileblog.com

  • Ben Hookway

    One of the keys here is not the what? but the how?

    Getting widget concepts and platforms rolled out is still a major challenge for the operators. Getting a standardised widget environment on enough phones from enough premium handset brands at the right price point remains a problem going forward.

    I think this is one of the reasons Opera has been successful: their browser has already been integrated by the handset companies and so is not so much of a burden to use when the operators needs a platform/

  • http://visionmobile.com/blog Andreas Constantinou

    Simone,

    I think the quote is wishful thinking on Vodafone's part. The W3C spec is pretty thin right now (it's not even ratified!) and no operators we 've spoken to have mandated W3C compliance as part of their widget RFQs.

    Mark,

    Indeed, everyone agrees on the word 'widget', but everyone uses different definitions for it :) In the definition of widgets as a user interaction paradigm, the Flash Cast channel would come quite close to a widget delivery channel. On the W3C topic; for portability and addressable market issues, operators are opting for web-based widgets environments (hence the W3C interest); if you can show widgets in browser you can use HTML to deliver a crude version on the default browser and more sophisticated WebKit derivates for richer versions. Flash Lite isn't (yet) as ubiquitous as HTML browsers, at least not the FL installations which are exposed to third party developers.

    Ben,

    Agreed – in fact widgets face the same deployment issues as all other app environments. And Opera is very well placed among widget vendors, especially if it can extend widgets to Opera Mini.

VISIONMOBILE BLOG

Distilling market noise into market sense

The 3 key Apple Watch features that nobody talks about. Yet.

apple-watch-09

If Apple wants to create a new, large product category out of smart watches, it must empower developers to discover…

Continue reading ...

Uber API launch validates the “Gurley scenario”

Uber API

[With the release of Uber’s API, their ploy to achieve world domination has just gotten a lot more probable. Uber…

Continue reading ...

Will developers stop playing the app lottery?

illu

[How long will developers be loyal to ecosystems that seemingly set them up for failure? The odds are clearly stacked…

Continue reading ...

VISIONMOBILE STRATEGY

Workshops & research on Developer-centric Business Models

Apps for connected cars? Your mileage may vary

Automotive-report_illustration_web

Car makers are now entering unfamiliar territory as some of their latest product innovations have nothing to do with driving.…

Continue reading ...

M2M Ecosystem Recipe

M2M-Ecosystem

M2M is rapidly approaching a tipping point. Lower technological barriers pave the way for new entrants in the market. As…

Continue reading ...

Mobile Innovation Economics

profit recipe

Mobile Innovation Economics is a strategy workshop focused on business models and asymmetric competition of mobile ecosystems. Mobile ecosystems are…

Continue reading ...

VISIONMOBILE RESEARCH

Research on the app economy and developer ecosystems

App Profits and Costs

AppProfits

This research report examines the critical success factors for a profitable app, and how business and technology choices, such as…

Continue reading ...

Developer Segmentation 2013

Developer Segmentation 2013

The Developer Segmentation 2013 report delivers a needs-based segmentation model that actually works, with extensive profiling of the eight principle…

Continue reading ...

App Economy Forecasts 2013-2016

App Economy Forecasts

This report investigates the relative sizes of the app economy: developer population by region and platform, distribution of revenues, revenue…

Continue reading ...