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What Steve Jobs Taught Me About the Future of Mobile

Apple Unveils New Software For iPhone And iPadApple Unveils New Software For iPhone And iPad
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs at an event in 2010 in Cupertino, Calif.Justin Sullivan Getty Images

“This is the coolest %^@&*#$ phone in the world!”

That was all I knew – I’d never actually placed my hands on the iPhone ahead of its launch in 2007. Fortunately, that sentence was said to me by a source that likely knew best: Steve Jobs.

When Steve and I first met, I was working for a consulting firm named Adventis. I was a specialist in the mobile space and was brought in by Apple to help work on the business framework for the upcoming iPhone.

Our job wasn’t to build the iPhone or market it, but rather build the mobile business around it. As you would expect, Jobs was bullish on getting the carriers to do what he wanted, at the price he wanted. He knew he had an amazing product and refused to move ahead with any plan that wasn’t totally different from everything that came before it.

In many ways, Jobs’ bullishness about mobile and our early conversations about the iPhone were foundational to the way I think about mobile. None of us ever knew what an impact the iPhone would ever have – but he had the vision to think big and the force of strength to make us believe something was revolutionary.

To me, what made the iPhone into a success was when Jobs made the platform accessible to any developer. In doing so, he created what we later referred to as the “magic glue” that connected people to content (brands and app developers) through software. iTunes was the formula that made the iPod a success, and we were constantly trying to figure out what it would be for the iPhone. But Jobs knew – it was apps. He showed me the potential of what happens when you think big about the people – brand relationship.

As soon as the App Store launched in Spring of 2008, I began making my own apps, starting with an expense tracker. They didn’t go anywhere but I quickly realized that I could be of more use understanding and fixing the problems that app developers were facing, and focused on that instead.

That seed of an idea was the genesis for Localytics, my current company. At Localytics, our goal was to help content producers connect to their end users via the new software of apps. In the early days of the app space, no one understood what was happening inside those apps. That’s what led us to first focus on analytics and user data and then on the methods for engaging users with push notifications and in-app messaging. Analytics and marketing were vehicles for content producers and brands to understand how well this new software was helping them engage with users. It made the experience better for both parties. To us, they were the connecting dots in the “magic glue.”

Of course, since those early days we’ve seen apps take over and we’ve seen Apple look to recreate that relationship between people and brands again and again – most recently with Apple TV and Apple Music.

All of this taught me one thing: you have to be audacious about where mobile can go. Most importantly, you need to find ways to connect the content and brand producers to stakeholders and delight them with software experiences that go far beyond what they could have ever expected.

As we look forward to the future of mobile, I believe that those experiences will become only more engaging and personalized. For apps, it’s more important than ever. Despite their massive popularity, our own research has shown that we have an engagement crisis. Apps may get thousands of downloads, but 25 percent of them are only used once.

Users are no longer happy with cookie-cutter relationships with their apps. They want personalized experiences and app content that maps to their preferences, needs and locations. They know you have data on them, and as long as you respect and protect their privacy, they are OK with letting you use it to create a better experience. The problem is businesses are not thinking big when it comes to meeting those expectations – they’re applying the old way of engaging customers to the mobile opportunity.

It’s tough to say what the future of mobile will hold. Jobs was a visionary with an exceptional understanding of what would come next. Nevertheless, those early conversations with him gave me early insight into what could be, if only we are bold enough to go out there and make it happen.

– Raj Aggarwal is the CEO of Localytics