When NIM released press in early May citing their 1 million subscriber tally for VZ Navigator, I second guessed the virtue of the walled garden bash-fest many innovators currently partake in. After all, NIM and Verizon demonstrated launching a hit quickly and gaining a significant subscriber following is possible with marketing muscle and solid sales-support. To date, I am not aware of any other pay-for mobile LBS consumable, in any global geography, penetrating 1 million subs within a similarly short timeframe.
The VZ Navigator success is great for NIM, but if you’re a developer struggling for preferential Carrier-treatment, vying for deck visibility with Carrier power-marketing behind your app, and you scrap for mindshare over existing competitive strongholds, well then you naturally jump on the wallop-the-walled-garden bandwagon and whine about a lack of openness and open APIs for the long tail ecosystem of which you belong. The truth is though… you aspire to become a blockbuster bread-winner instead of a niche-product traveling salesman with an underground clientele base—it’s why you grumble about ‘openness’. If you’re one of the elite few on Verizon’s LBS deck like NIM, you don’t complain. Whimpering for more openness supports ‘the ecosystem group’ who watches and waits for you to stumble and loose the loot you’ve labored to earn.
In today’s world of single-purpose dedicated-use mobile downloads, distributed within limited-choice Carrier walled garden shelf-spaces, there are few that win, many that loose, and nothing in between. Winners play the political brownnose game and do whatever it takes to win mindshare and earn the top-dog promotional spot on the walled-garden deck. The niche application-provider-losers retaliate and champion alternative direct-to-consumer distribution models deliberately designed to bypass and devalue the deck directory. So what’s wrong with this picture? Where’s the happy medium? Can niche application aggregates win along with top-dog deck placements?
In half the time it took Verizon and NIM to celebrate their 1 millionth subscriber Widsets secured 1 million users of their own. Devoid of TV ad marketing, pricey pamphlets in retail stores, and special promos at sponsored events, Widsets reached identical penetration rates in a fraction of the time with a webpage, a blog, and a viral community. If you’re not familiar with Widsets, it’s a Nokia brainchild mobile widget offering distributed directly to consumers and available for download from the Widsets website. Widsets aggregates various content services and applications and distributes them within one free download, with future plans to subsidize the offering with sponsored ads. While only several Widset services are location-enriched today, assume future widgets to include location-smarts baked into more content as handset-based carrier-independent location becomes more widely available on devices. Despite limited marketing, Widsets D2C distribution model works, has reached niche markets, found the happy medium, and won 1 million through aggregate offerings. Who’s next?