One of the major trends in tech startups what Fred Wilson calls “Mobile first, web second.” Instagram is a great example of mobile first. They barely had a website – it was all about the mobile app.
The excitement over mobile-first apps is justified. Smartphones have unleashed a wave of creativity, resulting in entirely new categories of applications. But to me an even more exciting trend is what people have been calling (for lack of a better phrase) ”offline first, mobile enabled” apps.
For example, Foursquare is primarily about improving your offline experiences (meeting friends and finding new places to go). And it couldn’t exist without smartphones (ok, Dodgeball existed on feature phones but had a fraction of the utility). Similarly, Uber couldn’t exist without smartphones. The Uber apps (one for drivers and one for customers), while essential, are all about enabling for the car service. Square is about making payments more convenient and giving small businesses better analytics. The mobile app is just an enabler.
It seems natural that the first wave of mobile apps would be about improving core smartphone apps (e.g. photo apps) or porting apps from other devices (e.g. games). And there is probably a lot of interesting innovation remaining there. But the really massive opportunity is dreaming up new ways that the little computers loaded with sensors that we carry around with us everywhere can improve our real-world experiences.