Former Microsoftie Charlie Kindel Joins Mobile Madness NW—And Says Apps Are Dead

11/10/11Follow @curtwoodward

The first thing Charlie Kindel wants you to know about the buzzworthy mobile sector is that it’s actually “old, dead, and boring.”

OK, so that’s kind of for shock value—Kindel, who recently left Microsoft after 21 years, will admit as much. After all, this comes from a guy whose last job was serving as a general manager on Windows Phone, and whose still-stealthy startup company is aiming for the mobile arena.

Charlie Kindel

Here’s what Kindel really means: The world of mobile apps revolving mostly around a specific operating system is coming to an end, quickly. Instead, platform providers will make it easier for developers to attack multiple platforms at once—making an OS something you plug into, rather than an existential question for small companies.

That will usher in a new era of cloud-based services that can be served up on any of the devices in a consumer’s life, Kindel says, from smartphones to tablets to laptops and smart TVs. Think about Twitter as an example—available just about anywhere a user might want it.

“The real value of the service is the connection it enables between the devices you have, the people you interact with, and the services that compose the experience,” Kindel says. “So what I see happening is an inflection point where the value and the emphasis that people have been placing on building mobile apps is shifting to an investment on the white space between the devices, the services, and the people.

“When I talk to startups and mentor other people investing money, I’m trying to get people to think about that, because that’s where the growth is going to be.”

Expect to hear more of those insights on December 6, when Kindel (on Twitter @ckindel) joins our all-star cast of presenters at Mobile Madness Northwest—a premier half-day Xconomy forum presented in partnership with the Washington Technology Industry Association. The afternoon-to-evening event at F5 Networks in Seattle will be packed with smart speakers, startup demos, and plenty of time to network. Here’s where to get your tickets.

Kindel’s point about the death of mobile OS wars is an interesting one, particularly since the battles for market share between Apple, Google, and Microsoft in the smartphone market have been dominating the tech headlines.

It sounds like a scary proposition for Apple, which defined the modern smartphone market, and threw in tablets for good measure, by exerting a huge amount of control over the operating system, app ecosystem, payment processes, pricing, and more.

But the writing is on the wall, since big companies already are doing this, Kindel points out. Say you’re at a big tech company with a Web service, and you want to build an app for it. The costs are getting low enough that it makes developing for several different platforms a no-brainer.

“You would be insane if you spent more than $250,000 per client platform. It’s likely closer to $100,000,” Kindel says. “It’s mouse nuts. It’s irrelevant in the scope of these businesses. And so these businesses are going to target all of the platforms.” And soon enough, that kind of efficiency is going to trickle down to smaller companies, startups, and individual developers, Kindel says. That’s why you see big investments in platform players like Portland’s Urban Airship, and the rise of startups like Seattle’s Buddy Platform, which Kindel has joined as an adviser.

“I think that there is very little value in client platforms moving forward. The real value is in the services that light up those devices and the services that enable people to interact across multiple devices,” Kindel says. “And so we’re in a period right now where there are these huge battles around what device operating system is going to ‘win.’ And my argument is none of them are going to win. It’s an irrelevant question. The real battle is what platforms developers are targeting to enable their cloud-based, service-based experiences.”

Kindel says he gets plenty of eye-rolls for these assertions, for some pretty big reasons—people see the billions of dollars being pumped through the current app-centric, operating system-based mobile ecosystems. That’ll continue for roughly another year or more, he says. But the end is coming.

“I think it’s obvious from their behaviors that all the big players are very conscious of this,” Kindel says—specifying Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon in that group. “In each case, they recognize that there are several assets that they have to have at their disposal to be successful in this new world. And I say that they have to have them at their disposal because I don’t think that they have to own them. They just have to have access to them—although owning them is better.”

The Social Graph: This is the first and most important asset for the big players to have access to, Kindel says. “It’s all about the network effect,” he says. “This is why I believe Google is going to invest until the cows come home in Google Plus. They’re going to do whatever it takes to make Google Plus successful.”

E-Commerce: “They have to have an ability to directly take and give money to end user consumers in very fine-grained amounts,” Kindel says, with Amazon and Apple the clear leaders right now.

The Cloud: “They have to have a cloud platform asset that allows third parties to build on the core services they provide, and extend them and leverage them,” Kindel says. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and the Facebook Platform are all examples of this critical type of service.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and I’m psyched to have Kindel joining us for Mobile Madness Northwest. Our Early Bird rate expires November 15, so make sure you get your tickets now. We’ll see you on the other side of Thanksgiving.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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