MightyText, an app that lets you text to any phone from any device, won Qualcomm’s $100,000 QPrize on Thursday evening. And while cool, the app and the other finalists also offer a glimpse into the way Qualcomm thinks about how mobility and connectivity will change our apps, our habits and eventually large portions of our world.
While MightyText is clearly an app that one associates with mobile phones — after all texting originated there — it’s really trying to build connective tissue between all of our platforms with broadband as the mechanism to do so. As many teens could tell you, there’s no difference between a text and an IM unless you consider the device. And thanks to IM applications getting loaded onto phones, there’s really no reason to involve your carrier — something that helped precipitate the changes in mobile data plans by AT&T and Verizon.
Mobile first, and everything else feeds into that.
The lesson here is the mobility isn’t a separate platform, it’s the primary platform for most apps and everything else should be built to tie back into it. This is a fundamental shift in worldview, and some companies like Spotify or MightyText get it, and some companies are struggling, such as Facebook. In an interview a few months back, Nagraj Kashyap, vice president of Qualcomm Ventures, explained how he thinks about mobility and how that influences his investments.
“In general on mobile phones, resources are more expensive and attention spans are less,” Kashyap says. “We like companies that are more creative and come at it without a legacy way of thinking. The app is based around the mobile phone: and we have a growing focus on how to leverage the smartphone and not worry about the PC online business.”
First, he’s focused Qualcomm Ventures more on early stage companies and he’s also broadened the geographic focus for Qualcomm Ventures. There are plenty of places in the world where wireline broadband is a luxury, but millions access the web on their smartphones. Given that, places like Brazil, China and India have a mobile first attitude already giving them an advantage. He’s also broadened the concept of what makes a “mobile company.”
Qualcomm Ventures invests in mobile companies, but some of its investments just like some of the QPrize finalists don’t really seem like a traditional mobile play. For example, Cloudessa, one of the finalists, is a cloud security company. But since many of the potential customers of the Cloudessa software are likely enterprise customers worried about their employees working on corporate apps on unsecured personal phones or tablets, Qualcomm’s interest makes sense.
Another area where Qualcomm is stretching the definition of mobile is in its healthcare investments. For years Qualcomm has been preaching the benefits of linking mobility and wireless devices to medical devices and healthcare in general. Although Ubiqi Health, a QPrize finalist, isn’t a novel medical device that takes advantage of connectivity, it does provide a mobile-first dashboard for managing a chronic condition, tying together two of Qualcomm Venture’s investment theses.
Some other elements of Qualcomm’s worldview and what it aims to invest in through its venture arm are companies that take advantage of the mobility of phones to gather data from users and then turn that data into useful services. Examples of this are Waze, which makes crowd-sourced traffic maps or RootMetrics, which measures wireless signal strengths on phones that run its software and then deliver coverage maps. (Update: To be clear, Qualcomm doesn’t have an investment in RootMetrics.) Kashyap is especially interested in using camera phones and augmented reality along with crowd sourcing to build up a repository of imagery that could help push the envelope on computer vision.
In general Qualcomm’s investments and QPrize finalists exemplify Qualcommm’s mobile-first worldview. And once that worldview is factored in, then the devil is in the details. Remembering that bandwidth is expensive and more limited means designing lightweight apps. Shorter attention spans mean that the lifetime of apps may be short-lived if they are entertainment-focused and that productivity apps will have to balance brevity with a business model (this means advertising that requires extra time and space) may be out.
It’s a new world, and Qualcomm is investing at the forefront of it.