SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) — First TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington quit the iPhone, now the FCC is targeting Apple’s App Store. With all the negative press, should marketers question their own love affair with the device and its app platform?
Probably not, considering the numbers: The iPhone platform has 10 times the number of mobile applications of its nearest competitor, and, according to Nielsen, iPhone users are five times more likely than the average mobile subscriber to download an application. And the device’s user experience and built-in goodies such as GPS and a motion-detecting accelerometer make it a great canvas for creativity and utility.
But marketers would be foolish to see the iPhone as the end-all in mobile marketing. So when is it time to branch out? And what’s involved?
Time for Android
Some experts suggest it’s time to warm up to Android, as the Google-backed, open-source mobile-operating system is set to power a growing numbers of handsets, making it an equally vital, if not bigger, long-term play. And though there are only two Android-based phones available in the U.S. (the second one was only introduced last week), Google said 19 Android-based handsets will launch by year-end worldwide, from the likes of LG, Samsung and Motorola, and folks in the app-development space predict about half a dozen of these will be unveiled stateside. Android’s platform is also open source, meaning that unlike the iPhone, anyone can build a device or create apps for it.
Ad Age Digital DigitalNext MediaWorks “Android’s open platform will invite innovation from multiple participants across the ecosystem, ultimately leading to new benefits for marketers,” said Ken Willner, CEO of Zumobi, which has developed iPhone apps for Pepsi, Adidas, REI and others.
“I think Android is going to be very, very successful,” said Matt Jarvis, chief creative officer at 72andSunny. “They are open source, so it has the potential to have explosive development. I would not be surprised if it becomes the most commonly used platform in a few years once it gains a little traction — probably slow at first, and then significant acceleration.”
But to export an existing app created for the iPhone to another platform is no simple matter. Though there are some back-end codes that can be reused for Android and the Palm Pre, the user interface and design have to be created from scratch. And for Windows and Blackberry, it’s a completely new build.
The cost for a plain vanilla app could start as low as $15,000 and scale to $100,000 if marketers want to take advantage of all the bells and whistles, such as creating tie-ins with social media or hosting mini-games.
“The real question is, How many downloads do you require to build something of scale that will drive the business, versus simply being an experiment?” said Michael Winnick, managing partner of Gravitytank. And when is it time to think about building an app on platforms such as BlackBerry, Palm or Windows Mobile?
Michael Chang, CEO at Greystripe, a rich-media ad network, said that “when the number of users a brand has access to is 3 [million] to 5 million on any one platform, it’s time to look at it seriously.”
Little ‘Reach Logic’
But some argue those are arbitrary numbers and, in some ways, there seems to be little traditional “reach logic” to the branded app frenzy, as apps reach less than 10% of U.S. mobile subscribers. When it comes to apps, it’s really about the strategic value of the platform, not always eyeballs.
Some marketers might do well to ask themselves whether they need an app at all. In many cases, the mobile web can accomplish what apps purport to do — and it can be accessible to a lot more users. Only 20% of U.S. mobile users carry a smartphone, and interest in apps can flame out quickly. In analysing 30 million iPhone app downloads, analytics firm Pinch Media found only about 20% of consumers return to use a free app after the initial download; 30 days later, less than 5% are using it.
However, apps help give a brand visibility as a shortcut on the handset. And better argument can be made that a downloaded app requires fewer clicks to get to a marketer’s content than a web-based app does — and in the mobile era, convenience rules. But apps will only pay off if they’re entertaining or useful and take advantage of the device’s native capabilities, such as an accelerometer or GPS.
“The ultimate variable is the quality of engagement and calibre of creativity,” Mr. Jarvis said. “Marketing is quickly accelerating to an ‘earned reach’ framework; [marketers] have to earn their reach by finding meaningful, relevant, and additive ways to connect with their audience.”
So You Want to Build an App …
Well there’s not an app for that, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you create the next mobile hit.
- Make your app free. It’s well established that when publishers don’t charge for an app, the download rate ramps up dramatically. Tapulous co-founder Andrew Lacy said downloads for one of its free gaming apps dropped 95% when it started charging a buck for it.
- Squeeze the most you can out of the device’s native capabilities. Make the interactions interesting, entertaining or useful by using the phone’s on-board functions, whether it’s GPS, the accelerometer or rich-media display. The more creative and engaging apps will keep the users coming back.
- Keep the app fresh. Given how quickly users abandon apps, you’ll want to refresh not only the app’s content, but its capabilities too, as handset makers introduce new functions.
- Don’t build an app just to build an app. Make sure it is part of a larger mobile strategy and know what interactions you want to engage the users in.
- Emulate the winners. Check out the top apps and categories. What are they doing right?
- Don’t forget to promote your app. If you lack the dollars to plug your app in a TV commercial, use Twitter, Facebook, PR or other word-of-mouth. Get the word out on your website or point of sale (e.g., bag-stuffers). Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come.
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