Going native on apps can get Apple user loyalty

But focus should be on communications services, not basic functions such as contacts, e-mail or calendaring.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Apple's efforts to rein in its reliance on third-party apps with the next iteration of its iOS mobile operating system (OS) will help Cupertino gain a competitive edge over rivals and win customer loyalty. These native apps, though, should focus on communications rather than basic functions such as e-mail or calendaring.

Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research, said mobile platform providers are now moving to cement customer loyalty across multiple form-factors.

The more customers invest in a platform, whether in buying the device or apps or in information through the apps used, the greater the returns on investment, Golvin said, and this makes it more painful for customers to switch to another platform.

Kiranjeet Kaur, market analyst at IDC Asia-Pacific, added that Apple's decision to switch from Google Maps to its own self-developed map app was a move in this direction.

"It is likely Apple's intention is to create a competitive advantage here by providing a better product, save some money on the license fee, and provide a refresh with a newer look of core apps," Kaur said. "[After all,] why use a third-party app if you can have your own and provide a better and differentiated user experience?"

Focused approach needed
However, Apple would need to focus its energies on areas which offer greater opportunities for differentiation and innovation, Golvin stated.

In this regard, he disagreed with Ovum analyst Jan Dawson who suggested Cupertino replace third-party services in areas such as Web search, social networking, e-mail, contacts and calendar, with its own apps.

Golvin explained: "I believe there is a small number of areas in which Apple could excel in crafting its own branded apps that go beyond what partners offer. However, I don't believe these areas align with those identified by Dawson.

"In particular, things like contacts, e-mail and calendaring do not offer significant opportunities for innovation and differentiation. Consumers also are not expressing frustration or disappointment with the options on offer today."

He said iCloud--Apple's online repository for its users--also acts as an aggregator for third-party services customers are already using, which benefits Apple without trying to force customers to shift their data investments.

The Forrester analyst suggested the consumer giant should focus instead on communications as this segment presented a greater opportunity.

Citing iMessage as an example, Golvin said benefits to users could be further expanded by integrating the Internet Protocol-based messaging app with the company's desktop operating system Mac OS. This would be particularly pertinent once Mac OS 10.8, or Mountain Lion, and iOS 6 both go live.

"One could imagine an even richer integration among the phone, iMessage and FaceTime apps to span the full range of communication options," he added.

Kaur said a large part of user experience comes from display, user interface (UI) and apps, which is a mix of core, native, and Web apps.

Platform operators such as Apple know having compelling apps which are best supported on a platform-device combination is imperative for the company to stay ahead of the competition, he added.

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