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Devs Like Linden Lab Must Go Mobile or Die -- Here's Why

Mobile versus Web use 2012

Linden Lab's purchase of iPad-based game Blocksworld last week brought up an interesting conversation about the future of mobile in relation to the metaverse, which NWN reader Joe "Iggy" Essid captured succintly in this comment I want to highlight below. To bolster what he says, take a look at the infographic above, presented by top mobile analytics firm Flurry a few weeks ago:  Consumer time spent web browsing (mostly on laptops and desktops) has remained flat for the last three years, while mobile app usage has nearly doubled. Just as interesting if not moreso: Mobile app usage is even starting to compete with television viewing, which has also remained flat.

Now let's get the take from Essid, who's a college educator, and makes a prediction in five parts:

"Tablets as hype? Perhaps for serious gamers and SL's heaviest users. It's not the best place for the sort of experience they crave. Here's my prediction, based on what I see on campuses. (Though whether LL's purchase of companies doing things that 100 others do is another matter):

"#1: Phones and tablets will continue to increase in power. Their killer app is what Sherry Turkle from MIT calls 'always on, always on you' convenience. Phones may simply get strong enough to replace tablets.

"#2: Telcos, following Verizon's lead, will stop laying fiber optic lines. They will instead move to wireless broadband, as Verizon is doing.

"#3: Desktops and laptops will continue for the most serious content creators, for a while. Eventually, users will go to a store to buy the extra monitor and keyboard to create a docking station in their homes for the phone. Tablets might find a niche if docking stations are not common enough. One can do work on a tablet, but not a phone.

"#4: Companies that don't make their content mobile-friendly will become tiny niches or die outright.

"#5: Apps like Photoshop CS10 (or some such?) and MS Office 2016 will live only in the cloud with all of our content-creation apps.

"I had five more, but I dropped the tablet when coming down from Mount Sinai.

"Walk around a college campus to see what the best-heeled and most upwardly mobile demographic is using to communicate. About 90% of the e-mail I get now from students comes from iPhones or Android phones. The percentage with desktops among our student body of 3,500 is puny, and has approached 0 for a few years. Smart phone? Nearly 100%."

To Iggy's point, I recently chatted with an app developer who previously worked in web-based virtual worlds, and who now has an iPad app that's basically an avatar-based fashion customization game/toy. In just a short time, it's gained more users than Second Life. And that's just a single app. That doesn't necessarily mean Second Life should come out with a "light", fashion-only ap. For while it'll take some serious re-architecting, I think it's possible to create a more immersive, "world-like" experience for tablet, too. But don't take my word for it, read what Myst co-creator Rand Miller told me about that last year.

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Jo Yardley

I am not at all mobile, no mobile phone, no ipad, nothing.
And I hope that stays this way for ever.
But yes, I guess its a good thing for LL to aim for that market.

Alan

A year ago Sl needed tight Facebook integration or it would die. No doubt next year SL will need to do something else that it is at the peak of a hype wave or die.

Even accepting that SL must go mobile has one teeny weeny little flaw. What is the average price of using a mobile app and are eager mobile users going to pay many times that price to access SL?

Many companies are going mobile. It's getting quite hard to buy a car without lots of mobile stuff packed in. That does not mean that car manufacturers are abandoning their core product in order to join the mobile world. Nor does it mean that they are charging prices thousands of times that of their competitors because they are too intellectually lazy to think of anything else.

Desmond Shang

Fully agree with the data here, but I think the the term 'mobile' ~ as understood to be people generally using a device away from work or home may be a bit misleading.

For instance, the vast majority of tablet usage is within a person's own home, within a few steps of a desktop computer; often even within sight of it. The 'mobile' part is very often merely an ability to do the same old things, but now from the couch or the kitchen, rather than the desk.

Hitomi Tiponi

Tablets are a device for those on the move - when you get home you want something with more power, and a better keyboard. It is important that Linden Lab provides products for the mobile market as part of their suite of products, and hopefully there will be some spill-over between their markets.

cube republic

Look at the CES footage on youtube from the last few weeks for what's coming out. Everyone won't go to phones because they're simply too small. There will always be a need for a larger screen. If you use a keyboard or your hands to access data, it makes no difference, it's still a computer. The technology is getting smaller that is all.

ZZ Bottom

Another payed post?

Arcadia Codesmith

I use my phone to play games... when I can't be at my desktop. They just don't work for most apps I'm interested in.

Maybe the mass market will move in the direction Iggy predicts, but the phone won't displace the desktop until the phone is at least as powerful as the desktop. When providers can let me dial up "Skyrim" or "Second Life" and play them on the nearest compliant HDTV screen, give me a call. Until then, don't waste my time.

That includes, by the way, some method to type with more than one finger. I hate, hate, hate texting with a virulent hatred that transcends all bounds of reason.

Arabella Jones

Verizon using wireless instead of fiber?

I can see them using wireless at the very local level, kerb to house-wall, but they're going to need a lot of bandwidth and I don't think anyone has changed the laws of physics recently.

(Or chemistry: how powerful a battery will future tablets need and how big a boom will it make when things go wrong?)

The Tier Is Too Damn High Party

Arcadia stated it perfectly "..but the phone won't displace the desktop" ect.

And I consider mobile apps for SL *on the run* limited in appeal. It simply isn't immersive enough, at least for me.

Iggy

@Arabella, it's a fact that Verizon has stopped expanding FIOS to customers:

http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Verizon-Again-Confirms-No-Future-FiOS-Expansion-121365

They are pushing 4G wireless around here now.

To others, I agree that SL would stink on a phone or a tablet save for IMing and inventory management (no small thing, in all senses of the word).

Yet mobile on phones is increasingly how the rising demographic of Internet users I know do everything (toss lightweight laptops into the mix). I just conferred with a student, using my laptop, him an iPhone, to check some claims made against Tim Wu's book, The Master Swtich. Said student will tap out his final draft on a "real computer" (that means a laptop) somewhere later, when he stops running around like a mad thing.

And that won't change. The kids never stop moving.

@ZZ--darn right. Hamlet, where's my check for my two cents worth??

Orca Flotta

1) not everybody is a student
2) not everybody is too broke to afford decent hardware
3) not everybody is permanently on the move
4) not everybody is willing to trade in their high powered computing machinery for some little plasticky weaklings
5) not everybody wants to waste their time with badly thought out hip shit
6) not everybody has the attention span of a 3 y/o
7) not everybody wants to type with one finger on a smeared touchy feely screen
8) not everybody is falling for the latest marketing stunts
9) not everybody is interested in what LL do in their spare time with their spare money
10) not everybody was failing physics in school and believes that the power needed to play SL is available from their not-so-smart phones

Iggy

@Orca:

Not everyone is angry.

I'm merely reporting what I see, not what I'd prefer. I don't yet own a smart phone, rarely use the university-supplied iPad, and prefer my laptop, wired connection, and extra monitor + keyboard + mouse.

Grizzla

I note that the only two people who use the words "everybody" or "everyone" are Orca and cube, to assert that NOT everyone is going to do certain things.

The blog post is about trends, not about what everyone will do.

Archangel Mortenwold

We've heard this sort of thing before and it's all turned out to be so much baloney. The fact is that Linden Lab needs to cut tier across the board or it and Second Life will die. No one wants to rent mainland regions because of the extreme lag, neighbor-related issues (ugly builds), and limitations on estate rights (inability to restart regions). Private estates are disappearing because no one can afford the high tier (the marketplace contributed to this by negating the need for costly land rentals in-world).

You know the real solution to SL's problems, Hamlet. So does Linden Lab. But you refuse to acknowledge it because you're in denial. Face facts: Second Life cannot be sustained, nor can Linden Lab, so long as it continues with policies users don't want and maintains ridiculously high prices.

anonymous

Blue Mars went exclusively mobile and it has pretty much killed them. Enough said.

Hamlet Au

Actually, that's not what happened at all.

"Second Life cannot be sustained, nor can Linden Lab, so long as it continues with policies users don't want and maintains ridiculously high prices."

That's not the subject of this post, but I've written that SL's land revenue model is not sustainable many, many times. Here's a post from 2011:

http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2011/04/second-life-revenue-estimate.html

Ciaran Laval

Mobile simply isn't powerful enough to deliver the required results yet and it never really will be. People are moving to bigger television screens and bigger monitors, mobile devices can't compete in that area.

They can and have made inroads in terms of im's and email but in terms of meaty applications, which people still want as exemplified in the graphs, mobile isn't touching the sides.

Hamlet Au

Actually, Cieran, check out the full Flurry report -- media and entertainment app usage is growing 2X faster than games (slide 9):

http://www.slideshare.net/FlurryMobile/mobile-outlook-2013

42% of that category is usage of apps from movie studios and TV networks (slide 12).

Ciaran Laval

@Hamlet that's what I'm getting at, it's social networking and sharing files where mobile has disrupted the desktop, it's not in gaming and it won't be in watching movies and television, although in television there's probably small disruption.

Archangel Mortenwold

Well, Hamlet, the shrinking number of private regions in SL indicates a shrinking revenue pool, necessitating Linden Lab's expansion into games and other software besides Second Life. SL can't last at this rate. And the Lab's new software toys, outdated and outpaced by games and other software that got their start years ago, won't salvage their dwindling revenue. It's the basic law of supply and demand: when demand is down, lower the prices and improve the quality of the product to increase demand. Companies that can't figure this out are doomed to failure.

Orca Flotta

@Orca:

Not everyone is angry.

@ Iggy: I'm not angry but I just find the pretty small group of upwardly mobile college students rather insignificant for SL and its future. They really have better things to do and are not the people who spend much time or money in game anyway.


---------------------------------------------


media and entertainment app usage is growing 2X faster than games (slide 9):

@ Hamlet: and that means what? Are we "gamers" now supposed to succumb to the trend, toss our rigs into the garbage and buy some cheapo consumerism apps?
To do what? Helping LL to survive despite their best efforts to ruin themself?

Orca Flotta

I note that the only two people who use the words "everybody" or "everyone" are Orca and cube, to assert that NOT everyone is going to do certain things.

The blog post is about trends, not about what everyone will do.

@ Grizzla: not everybody is following the trend :)
It's a hard trend to follow anyway since I'd need to shed off like 25 years off my age, 50% of my brain and 80% of my experience.
And the blogpost was much more than a trend indicator. You can see that when you read the header carefully: "Devs Like Linden Lab Must Go Mobile or Die -- Here's Why"
Hamlet could've said it more directly: "Jump ship everybody, we're sinking unless you follow the trend!" Well, I'm prepared to go down with the ship. Still better than playing Blocksworld on some tablet that is otherwise of no use for me.

Arabella Jones

@Iggy

What Verizon is doing is interesting, but I doubt there's enough bandwidth available to replace wired connections, whether that connection uses copper or optical fiber. It isn't going to scale, and what I see in my locality is a wired network which sometimes struggles to support the demand for such things as streaming video.

Mobile-based technology, such as 4G, is still going to depend on there being sufficient coverage, and my own experience does bias me. I'm in a rural enough area that 3G data coverage is patchy. I know of a local small town (pop. 5,300) which has no 3G coverage at all.

Now, whether it's a new tower, or piggy-backing on the wired telco local-loop, that's going to need fiber to get the data within reach of customers, and knowing what current charges for mobile data are in these parts, neither Second Life nor streaming video makes sense.

Guessing here, but I wouldn't be surprised if Verizon started price-gouging. Do they, perchance, have a local monopoly?

Henri Beauchamp

@Orca

Fully and wholeheartedly seconded !

@people thinking Orca was angry: no he's just damned right and realistic: don't make assumption and generalize your own feelings about the mobile hype: some (many) simply find it overrated and useless.

Iggy

@Orca, the question becomes "can LL afford not to go with the technology trends, if they mean to grow their business?"

If they can keep SL profitable with such high tiers, 10% retention after the first hour, slowly falling land mass, and with a user base who has other serious-gaming distractions for their high-powered desktop rigs, I say "go for it."

If they wish to grow the SL product among a new demographic that has disposable income, they cannot afford to ignore the trend we are discussing.

As to whether Hamlet is cheer-leading for something? That's a different issue.

@Arabella, you bet Verizon, like any teleco with exclusive service, will price-gouge. Several stories you can find with a quick Google search show that Verizon is raising FIOS pricing in areas where there are no other options.

I'm lucky; in the Richmond area we have at least two options for high-speed via fiber or cable, and more still for wireless. I'm now on WildBlue Satellite Internet, and SL runs acceptably without sucking up my data allowance.

The towers keep going up in rural areas, as the telecos bet on mobile as the default choice for future consumers. I'm guessing--and it is a guess--that 4G in urban and suburban areas are good enough for casual users such as my students.

What the telecos do with the older wired networks is an issue we cannot predict.

Arcadia Codesmith

My conclusion is that contrary to the somewhat alarmist headline, developers that eschew mobile are in no immediate danger of perishing.

If LL explores mobile apps, I have no issues with that. It's a viable market. But it's not a mandatory one.

And if the phone/tablet becomes powerful enough to take over entirely, then developing for it will be virtually indistinguishable from developing for the desktop.

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