Monday, April 23, 2012

Why onboarding should be priority #1

If you do not live in mobile, you probably have never heard about the word "onboarding". Too bad, because it is the most important word in this space today.

When the mobile revolution started, phones did not store any meaningful user data. Yes, there was the address book, and it was a pain to move it around (for example, to your new phone), but the suffering was minimal.

Nowadays, your phone contains your entire life. Not just your friends, the pictures of your kids, the video of your graduation and much more. Losing a phone is a horrible pain, so many people do backups, or use a personal cloud solution (such as iCloud, or SkyDrive, or really soon Google Drive) to store their stuff somewhere secure.

That does not solve one little problem, actually it makes it worst: it locks you onto one platform. If you are an iPhone user and you start using iCloud, you are stuck for life. You cannot change device. The same for Google with Android, and soon for Microsoft with Windows Phone and SkyDrive.

Onboarding is the process of moving your data into a new device, just after you buy it.

It is simple if you buy an iPhone after an iPhone. However, if you have an iPhone and you want to move to Android, good luck. What about having a BlackBerry and moving to something else? Or a Symbian phone? Exactly.

If you are a device manufacturer, and you want to expand your market today, you need to steal a user from someone else. It is not a green field anymore. You need to take a user from a dumbphone, or another smartphone. You need to make it super duper easy to move its data. Or you are dead.

It is not just address book, video and pictures. It is everything. It is apps, for example. If I have 75 apps on my Android, how do I know if I will find them in the other device? Am I going to lose all of them? If you leave a user with a doubt, you are not going to convince her to move. Period. We have too much data in our phones now. The pain of switching is too big.

Funny enough, onboarding is a very tough problem to solve for a device manufacturer. Think about it: you need to build apps for different operating systems, own by your competition. Put them on their App Stores... It is a task nobody is assigned to, in a device manufacturer. Nobody owns this. And it is the most important thing you should be looking at, to get market share. Forget the color of your device and the megapixels of your camera, nobody will buy your phone if you cannot move their data.

Of course, I should add a disclaimer: I have been working on onboarding for a long time. The company I founded (Funambol) is the only one I know that allows data to move from a Blackberry to an iPhone, to an Android, to a Symbian, to a Windows Mobile, ... and back ;-)

That said, despite my clear bias, I still believe onboarding should be the most important task on a device manufacturer list. One that is always overlooked, left at the end of the process, just in time for that "oohhh crap, nobody is buying our phone because we are not giving them a way to move their data".

Interesting how fast this market moves. In the span of a few years, this item moved from priority #100 to #1. Trust me. This is where it belongs. There is no market for a phone that does not allow you to move your data. None.