Austin mobile app maker evolving with the times

Austin app maker Mutual Mobile has always been about what’s next.

Despite its name, the company says it can see a future beyond mobile apps. And some of those platforms are surprising for a company that built its reputation on mobile.

At the company’s downtown headquarters, co-CEO Tarun Nimmagadda recently showed off a series of apps for a banking customer — with the apps working seamlessly between a smartphone, a tablet and a laptop.

Wait, a laptop?

They’re not going away, Nimmagadda admits.

“One year ago, I would have been brash enough to have made really big, bold predictions about laptops not being around anymore,” he said. “I’m kind of resigned to the fact that laptops are here to stay.”

But he pointed to services like Netflix that give users a seamless experience across devices (in Netflix’s case, being able to pick up on one device where you left off with another).

“This is where the future of really great digital user experiences are,” he said. “Not just mobile-only experiences or mobile-first experiences, but these omni-channel experiences.”

Still, mobile represents the lion’s share of work for the company, which at more than 200 people locally continues to be one of the largest digital agencies in town.

Mutual Mobile recently acquired a minority owner after British multinational advertising and public relations giant WPP purchased a stake in the company (which Nimmagadda described as “less than 25 percent”).

But that hasn’t changed the makeup of the company, Nimmagadda said.

“It’s not like they’re pushing us to do anything that we’re uncomfortable with, from a growth perspective,” he said. “The coolest thing is how much thigns have stayed the same.”

And mobile is still going strong.

Overall use of mobile apps soared by 115 percent in 2013, according to a new report from analytics firm Flurry.

Every category tracked by Flurry grew in use over the past year. Utilities and productivity apps rose by 149 percent, music and entertainment apps by 78 percent, and games by 66 percent.

“Going forward, the smartphone will be the remote control for our lives,” said tech industry analyst Jeff Kagan. “Today we don’t leave the house in the morning without our keys, wallet or smartphone. Tomorrow all we’ll have to remember is the smartphone. It will do everything. It will start our car and open our doors. It will have everything we now keep in our wallets and more. It will be connected to our doctors, our banks, to everything that’s important to each of us.”

And the mobile space has gotten more competitive, Nimmagadda admits. Companies are now convinced of the value of having mobile applications — and are spending much more on them.

Plus the quality bar has gotten higher. When companies previously spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on applications, the product didn’t necessarily have to as rigorous. That’s changed now that companies are spending up to eight figures on applications.

“So the winners win bigger, but it’s harder to win,” Nimmagadda said. “So the market’s definitely mature and is definitely in that second stage.”

But Mutual Mobile is continuing to keep up with the ever-changing nature of technology, sponsoring events like hackathons of the new iBeacon indoor positioning system.

The company is also making forays into wearables, partnering with other companies to make an app that connects to a sleep apnea machine and provides user feedback on their sleep patterns.

“We’re starting to evolve quite a bit,” Nimmagadda said.

And there’s wearable technology, which fired some preliminary warning shots in 2013 with the release of the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble smartwatches. But this year will see the arrival of a selection of truly innovative wearable devices.

Most notably, Google Glass is expected to launch this year, offering head-mounted computing that could, ultimately, make smartwatches and mobile phones a thing of the past.

Alongside Google’s new high-tech glasses, Marcus Fairs, the editor of dezeen.com, a highly influential online design magazine, told CNN that in 2014, “technology will migrate onto the body as digital services are miniaturized and embedded in our clothing or worn against our skin. We already have Google Glass and wearable fitness trackers, but a vast array of services — from health monitoring to augmented information (telling you what’s around you and helping you navigate) will become commonplace.”

And while no one yet knows if Google Glass is the future, Mutual Mobile worked with another Austin company, Pristine, on an application that lets surgeons broadcast their work live for training purposes.

But ask Nimmagadda what the future is and he won’t offer predictions. That’s not the company’s job, he said. Their mission, as they define it, is providing user experiences, regardless of the device.

“Fundamentally as a company, we don’t want to spend a bunch of our efforts trying to predict necessarily what the next thing is,” he said. “But as we start to see an emerging technology and we say, ‘Ok this has a lot of application from a business perspective,’ and we know companies are going to be slow to adopt – we’re going to make it easier for them to adopt.”

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