We were sharing war stories at a recent mobile app developer’s meetup, when one incredulous engineer exclaimed: “Wow you were doing app development before the AppStore launched!?”
I was surprised that it was really that shocking. Sure I’ve been doing this stuff for a while, but it really hasn’t been that long, has it?
It’s been five years.
That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but given the pace of tech innovation, entire industries have been upended.
It was after a trip to India when John enlisted me to do a startup with him and Harry. We wanted to build the best way to share data with the people around you. With the advent of the iPhone in 2007, we knew this world was not too far away. At Zintin, we wanted to be the ones to make this happen.
So we got moving. Fast. I described the experience then to make sure I captured the excitement I felt. Those were heady times for sure.
At the time it was clear something big was afoot. A lot of ideas that were mostly research prototypes in academia started coming alive. Even more so, every way we interacted with the world was being re-imagined through a small portal of glass in the palm of our hands.
Initially the name of the game was Location Based Services or LBS. Everyone, including us at Zintin, was trying to build the next big internet company using people’s location as the most important contextual signal. Of the earlier big names like Whrrl, Loopt, Foursquare and Gowalla (and Zintin which was lucky to be named in the same breath as these for a short period of time) only Foursquare thrives on today.
But then something interesting, and in hindsight very obvious happened. The attention people gave to regular “old guard” internet properties started growing on mobile. And if it hasn’t already, the amount of time people spend on the mobile web is eclipsing the desktop web (including apps).
Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo suddenly started scrambling to capitalize on mobile. The term LBS came and went, and the name of the game became for these larger companies became owning the experience of the devices in our hand.
This is the world where we live in today. Facebook finally released their “Phone” with Facebook Home, Google owns the fastest growing OS on the market, Amazon built the most successful Android tablet with it’s own store, Microsoft is playing catch up, and Yahoo only now seems to be waking up to the world it must compete in.
It’s no longer the wild wild west with small players trying to stake out their land. The big companies have arrived and are making their presence known.
But it’s not entirely their game. The Instagram and Pulse acquisitions show that mobile only companies can scare established web companies to their knees. Foursquare is bent on becoming THE LBS company; Pandora and Evernote basically became mobile companies; Companies like Shazaam, Square and Bump are re-imagining what interaction with the real world looks like; and of course independent gaming studios have found new life on mobile.
It’s not easy. It’s taken a lot of work for us to get here, and there is a lot more work ahead. But it’s been fun being part of these early days of mobile. So much changed in the past five years. Here’s to looking at the next five, heck, even the next one. This place moves fast.