It looks like there's a mobile bandwidth crunch on the horizon and, as such, app developers may soon be asked to tighten their bandwidth belts with "light" versions of their mobile apps.
Yup, it's time for the mobile app to go on a diet.
The topic came up during a panel on the future of computing at the Pacific Crest investment conference this week. John Lagerling, director of Android global partnerships at Google, said it may be time for companies like Google to start offering incentives to developers to tone down the data usage of their apps and/or give users the ability to track their own usage and, when necessary, scale down the app itself.
What exactly does that mean? Well, no one is exactly sure yet. Lagerling suggested that a feature-rich app might cut out some of those features when a customer's bandwidth limits are lower or maybe more data could be cached to the device so that the throughput between cloud and device is reduced. Maybe it means selling users on lower-priced data plans for social networking and email only - or some variation like that.
Regardless, the messaging has been clear. There is only a finite amount of wireless spectrum available and, around the world, many of the cell sites that provide data to mobile devices are operating near capacity.
In a post last week, PC World's Eric Mack noted that the carrier rollout of 4G networks such as LTE will help stay one step ahead of a mobile bandwidth drought - but that the 4G networks also encourage users to take on even more bandwidth-hogging apps, such as downloading or streaming HD video.
Simply put: If you build it, they will use it.
Granted, we're not in crisis mode yet. But we're starting to see the effects of the inevitable coming down the pipeline. The replacement of unlimited data plans with data caps and tiered pricing are just one example of how the industry is addressing the problems before they hit a critical stage.
And that's the good news. There are some proactive steps being taken to reduce the impact of a bandwidth shortage that will degrade the connected smartphone and tablet experiences that we've come to love. Certainly, consumers can't be expected to slow down their usage of apps and other features that eat up a lot of data - that kind of goes counter to the experiences that consumers are being sold.
Tapping app developers is the next logical step. But Lagerling is right when he says that developers will need incentives to scale down their apps. Google, which wants to see its Android ecosystem continue to grow, is smart to take a proactive stance, as well.
The perception may be that this is a problem for the carriers to worry about - especially since they're the ones that collect monthly payments from the end-users and they're the ones who will take the heat if the experience goes sour - but in reality, companies like Google will also take a hit if their devices can't live up to their potential.
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