Network operators should begin to own experiences…not just networks.

Interesting piece in the Economist today on the business of Carrier Apps. This is a space Maark crawls inside of every day so it is always nice to get an outside perspective on what is happening and why.

Clearly the game is changing for network operators (and the entire industry) very quickly, but what few of us fully comprehend is the rate at which the pace of change is accelerating.

In the mid 90’s mobile phones moved from obscurity to ubiquity in what seemed like the blink of an eye. A decade or so later, in early 2007, Apple launched the iPhone which effectively recreated the mobile industry in Apple’s image. And then only three years after that, in mid 2010, Apple created the tablet market, which is now on pace to become the fastest spreading consumer technology in history.

Next year we’ll have things like Google Glass, and not long after that will be driverless cars, and god knows what…maybe we’ll be sky craning humans down to the surface of distant planets.

But while the data networks and the devices that are connecting to them are themselves filled with stunning innovation, perhaps the bigger story is that together they are creating an extremely fertile platform for ever more powerful software. And so the idea behind Joyn is correct - applications are where network operators should probably start to focus in order to take advantage of the value they helped create.

Apps are a far easier business to get into than either devices or networks. And the promise of Joyn for carriers is that it starts them on a path that ends at the top of our minds and in control of our wallets. Communications apps (voice, video, messaging, file sharing, contacts) are a great place to begin that journey because if there is one place that carriers should still have credibility with their customers, it should be around communications. The networks they operate and the data they posses could contribute to some pretty amazing advances in communications applications.

Joyn itself, it should be noted, is a bit of a joke (4 features is all that can be agreed upon, really?), but on that foundation there are many far more feature-rich applications that can be built. But to create something really compelling network operators will need to change a few things.

First, they will need to take an approach to innovation that allows them to launch light, launch early, learn quickly, and iterate. This approach will lead to more successes (and failures) more quickly. That’s a cultural sea change for them.

And second, they will need to place a huge premium on User Experience. In fact, they will need to fundamentally change the way they look at their assets - instead of just owning a network, they’ll need to think about owning experiences with the network really being an enabler of those experiences.

Many view Joyn with a healthy dose of skepticism for a lot of really good reasons. The reality, though, is that the mobile applications universe is a wild west marketplace where upstarts mosey into town every day and drag the incumbent out into the street. No one is really safe. There’s no reason why network operators can’t start a few gunfights of their own.

We’ll see.