Mobile Platforms

In Smartphones: Google is King but Apple is Rich

A couple of weeks ago, the inevitable was announced. According to Canalys, a leading mobile market research firm, in Q4 2010 Android has overtaken Symbian as the world’s most-pervasive smartphone platform. According to Canalys, 33.4 Million Android phones were shipped by Google licensees in the quarter – more than double the iPhones or BlackBerries.

While this has been touted with much fanfare, some seemingly contradictory information is “common knowledge” to mobile application developers. It is still much easier to get traction and especially monetize iPhone apps than Android apps. How come? With such momentum for Android, you’d expect it to be at least as successful as iPhone.

The answer, which I’ve been proclaiming for awhile now, can be summed up this way – “Android is the new Symbian”. Now I’m sure some Googlers will resent this, so maybe a different way to put it is – “Android is the new MS-DOS”.

What I mean by this are really two things. First, that Google’s strategy with Android is to reach as far and as wide as it can. That’s one of the reasons it is free to licensees, open-source etc. Google intends to eventually leverage Android by tying it to its other assets and ultimately use advertising to monetize it. This means you can build cheap Android phones and target the mid-market, not just the high-end as other smartphones have (in truth, Android hardware requirements are still relatively high, but Moore’s law is taking care of that cost). Furthermore the abundance of licensees means that a price war is evident – and indeed we now see free (subsidized) Android phones on many operators portfolios. So – Android is becoming the dominant player in the mid-market, with high-end presence too, and ultimately low-cost aspirations. This is exactly the path Symbian took in 2004 – 2008, becoming the world’s leading smartphone platform by volume – but dwindling in consumers’ eyes to a point where it drives low-margin devices, with BlackBerries (initially) and iPhones (later) commanding the high-end, high-margin sector. In 2008, a Nokia executive told me personally that Nokia learned the hard way that the top 10% of the handset market commands 50% of the margin. Think about it – if one company takes over the top 10%, it can be worth as much of all the other companies combined (who sell in aggregate 9 times as much as it does). Right? So this is the second point – a smartphone platform that is focused on mass is doomed to become a low-margin platform. Google doesn’t mind. But it’s licensees are doomed to fighting over scraps.

Now this is a tall order claim, that I couldn’t really publish before, until I ran into this analysis by Asymco’s Horace Dediu:

Which brought to mind Noam Wasserman’s “Founder’s Dilemma” metaphor about Rich vs. King. Apple’s startegy with the iOS devices, just like with the Mac before, is to aim for the top 10-30% of the market. The people who can spend, the people who care deeply about the product they are buying and using. Google’s strategy is more like carpet-bombing. If we can get to 80% of the people, we’ll surely find a way to monetize that.

So is this just an interesting business case? Or Valley gossip?.

If you’re involved in this business in any way – you might be an app developer, a marketer wanting to reach mobile device users through mobile ads or a mobile app / website etc., or a service provider who is pushed to provide a service to his customers through their phones, this is critical info. Cause it means that you are going to reach a different demographic and psychographic when you target the different platform. In the Apple case, your demographic will be skewed towards high-income, users may be more engaged with the product, and there may be more willingness to pay. On the Android platform you will eventually reach more people, but engagement and purchasing intent will be different. And your adoption ratio (compared to the total available Android market) will be different, as many of these users are much less enthusiastic about their phones. Yes – they bought a smartphone, but maybe because “everyone else is getting one” or because “it was free, so why not”. So choose your audience wisely, and plan your marketing moves with consideration for its composition.

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Mobile Platforms

Why Amazon Needs An Android App Store – A Different Take

A couple of weeks ago, Amazon’s opened it’s App Store to developers, and promised to actually open the store to consumers “this year”. While TechCrunch’ Jason Kincaid has done some good work explaining the premise to consumers and the overall eco-system, a clear answer to the question “Why” remains open. After all, if this brings about further market fragmentation, if it’s going to be that hard to get the store pre-installed on phones which is the only sure-fire way to generate market traction, and if the direct returns from running an app store are generally not meaningful – i.e. the app store is a means to facilitate activity on your platform and make it competitive, (smartphone, e-reader, whatever), much more than a system to generate revenue from commerce.

So why does Amazon, which does not have a smartphone platform (Kindle aside), and certainly no platform / device stake in Android, need an Android App Store? The only attempt at an answer I’ve seen came from Gizmodo, and left much to be desired.

While it is entirely possible that the simple answer is “it doesn’t” and this is just a mistake carried too far, here is a  more strategic explanation.

An App Store Is About A Billing Relationship With Users

The biggest advantage the iTunes store had on prior online music stores, and the iTunes App Store on various other app download sites, is the immediacy of transactions that is enabled by the requirement to have a credit card registered with iTunes from the get-go, and by the support for $0.99 micro-payments. This made one-click purchasing a reality, and made the iTunes App Store such a hit with people looking for a quick-fix to their boredom, as well as entertainment app developers of all sorts. Competing app stores which did not have that billing relationship with customers never created a similar volume of sales – including the Android Market itself.

In the same token – while initially most of the business executed on the iPhone App Store was through a pay-before-download model, it seems like more and more of the business is now tied to in-app payments, i.e. “download for free and then pay for digital goods” – be they more levels of play, various items to use in-game, premium content etc. . For instance if you look at the iTunes’ App Store’s “Top 10 Grossing” chart today you will find the FREE game “Zombie Farm” – a game that monetizes only through in-app payments, facilitated through the iTunes micro-payment capabilities.

Amazon is all about a billing relationship for retail. It has made simplifying payment and delivery key pillars of its strategy. It keeps your credit and debit cards on file, and even issues its own store cards for many users. For a very high percentage of existing Android users, this means an Android App Store is a store where they could immediately purchase and download apps based on their existing payment cards stored with Amazon. This is a key advantage Amazon likely hopes to put to use.

But even more importantly for Amazon – Android is a smartphone platform that is already penetrating new global markets en-masse, and if Amazon manages to become a de-facto standard app store, then the billing relationships created with new Android users will then be mined to sell other digital goods – and later physical goods. i.e. the “Amadroid” app-store has the potential of recruiting new Amazon customers in massive volumes, internationally. And that’s a major strategic opportunity.

Amazon Has Better E-Commerce Credentials

Most every existing platform app-store has managed to miss some critical aspects of optimal merchandising experiences. Whether it’s the billing relationship question, the discoverability issue (that I wrote about before, e.g. here), the lack of personalization and so forth – it looks like no one, including Google, has built a great commerce experience that entices users to buy more. In Google’s case a cursory examination would show you apps in languages you don’t read, prices localized to sums like “$3.13” which make little marketing sense, an arbitrary or random list of proposed apps. Compare to your average Amazon display – where once you get into the site, shows you products that YOU are likely to be interested in, suggests add-on or replacement products should you not like the ones on display, and tells you what other people are buying. Amazon with an eye for detail and a knack for optimization is well positioned to create a better customer-trap. This is good for customers, good for developers, and good for the platform. Amazon is betting that if they can build a better store, ultimately Google will not fight back. After all, that is not the reason Google built Android, nor is it how they intended to monetize it.

So Amazon has a better shot than Google at building an effective store (for Apps or any other digital content or physical goods), and certainly better than wireless carriers or some of the other contenders. And there are very good reasons to do so – regardless of the size and commercial dynamics of the app market itself.

It’s a Platform, Silly

Taking this a little further – let’s look at in-app payments again. If this model, facilitated by the store, is adopted by apps selling other goods – digital or otherwise, and especially if Amazon can make the commercial terms more flexible based on what is being sold and by whom – this is really a new mobile commerce platform that Amazon can run, and will allow other innovators to use Amazon as an enabler platform.

That is exactly where Amazon wants to be. It’s the philosophy behind Amazon Marketplaces, Amazon Web Services and several other Amazon initiatives. Amazon wants to be the e-commerce platform for the web – including the mobile piece of it. The more end users are reached, the bigger their total market share is going to be. Period. Having a successful mobile app store for Android or any other platform will help them get farther, faster.

Mobile Platforms, Online Travel

Mobile Gems At PhoCusWright 2010 ?

A few weeks ago, I’ve attended a very vibrant PhoCusWright conference. With over 1,000 attendees, an upbeat economical (compared to 2009), and a Tnooz “Appy Hour” reception on the first day, I expected mobile to be a key topic. Frankly I was very surprised when out of the  34 Companies presented at the Innovator Summit – only three were directly mobile-focused – less than 10%.  Maybe mobile is not that relevant? Or alternatively is it a business that for some reason has to be owned by incumbents? Well, on that last point, we got the answer on the last day of the conference, when Expedia’s focus on this space was demonstrated through its acquisition of Mobiata, and in the final executive interview with Priceline’s CEO Jeff Boyd, who stated that “If you look at the rapid proliferation of smartphones, tablet computers… that’s the most exciting thing to have happened on the Internet… and represents a unique opportunity for travel… there’s a huge opportunity to try and capture the value from the change in behavior that results from this technology…“ With these statements in mind, here’s my take on the alleged mobile innovators who presented at PhoCusWright – and some thoughts on where mobile travel is going. In expressing these opinions I am naturally biased – after all, I’ve been doing mobile travel for over 11 years now, and probably generated more revenue and users than all of these companies combined…

Movitas – “The New Guest Operating System”
Due disclosure – I am a big fan of Keith Forshew, their CEO. I think he’s a class act. Movitas essentially build property-specific mobile apps for resorts, hotels etc. Their perspective on this is that the mobile device is a great way for the property to communicate with the guest, and by providing a hotel-specific app that covers everything from check-in through communications between guests and staff and between guests themselves, access to everything from restaurant menus to amenities down to using the hotel switchboard to place calls routed from the smartphone.
I agree that hotels, and especially resorts with many services and amenities, would do well to offer their own mobile apps / websites. People are coming to expect that. But the assumption that a guest (and old dog) is willing to learn a “whole new operating system” (new tricks) every time he is visiting a new hotel is simply unfounded. Simply getting guests to download your mobile app is not trivial.  Getting them to learn how to use it to do twenty different things – including things for which they already have well-established mobile habits (e.g. telephony), is plain unreasonable. So if I’m a property-manager in need of a mobile-app, I may well look at Movitas as a vendor – they do have a good “template” to start from. But I will avoid much of the high-flying tech-for-tech-sake features they propose. Movitas will do well to take some of their ideas and try to ground them in existing mobile user habits – not build proprietary experiences (easier said than done).

Goby – The Local Mobile Search Engine
I have to say I like the area these guys are pursuing. Hotels / Cars / Flights were done time-and-time again, while no one has really cracked open the in-destination market, especially with regards to activities & services (A&S). I also think they’ve built a compelling mobile user experience, and they seem to have amassed a whole lot of content.
However, the challenges ahead are still significant. First & foremost, one of the biggest issues of the A&S market is the lack of an easy monetization infrastructure. Those dozens of thousands of disparate businesses, each with a different “booking model” do not tap into one system and are not all (or most) part of some wide-scale affiliate program, which makes monetizing the traffic (customers) you send to them extremely hard. In an adjacent space, OpenTable did that by building a significant sales-force on the ground and signing up restaurant after restaurant by offering them software they actually needed in order to lure them in – and ended up monetizing mostly through the subscription fees for that software. And restaurants are generally comparable which simplifies the software and the user experience. A museum and a white-water-rafting vendor – not so much.
The second challenge is again getting traction with users in the face of established habits. Google Maps and Yelp are slowly becoming platforms for solving the “what to do next and where” challenge for consumers in their home-town. These consumers may well prefer the brands and user experiences they know when they’re traveling too. TripAdvisor is already trying to chase Yelp, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goby is a target for them – at least in order to progress the user experience faster and present a more compelling consumer story.

Kony Solutions – Write Once, Run Anywhere?
Again for due disclosure – in 2001 I led the creation of a platform called X-Mobile, an XML-based, mobile, loosely-connected rich-client creation environment. It was deployed by Israel’s largest bank for banking application, and Israel’s largest dairy vendor for a supply-chain-management app. Heck I even wrote my MSc. thesis on the subject. So I am biased.

The challenge of developing multi-platform mobile apps is real. This is a market where not just the #1 but even the Top-3 platforms change every 3 years –

  • 2010: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry
  • 2007: Symbian S60, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile
  • 2004: Symbian S60, Windows Pocket PC, Symbian UIQ

Furthermore the different device form-factors themselves are varied – big screens, smaller screens, keyboard, no keyboard etc. If you’re a consumer-facing company, and you decide you need an app – you have a big dilemma. We discussed that at EyeForTravel and I followed up with a more detailed review. So I buy at least into most of the arguments in Stewart Elliot’s FUD campaign.

So – is Kony the solution? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. This is a hard problem to solve at its core. The differences between the platforms are supposedly the manufacturer’s “differentiators” – the reason someone prefers an iPhone 4 to a BlackBerry Torch or a Motorola Droid X to a Samsung Fascinate. They have a good reason to maintain the differences, so the common way to build a platform that “magically bridges them” is to dumb down the capabilities to the platforms to a lowest-common-denominator. This means many things that can be done in the “native” platform cannot be done in that “write once” platform. So do you need those things in your mobile travel app? If you do – Kony might not be good enough. If you don’t – they may be overkill anyway.

Furthermore, the “right way” to build such a tool is one where the platform owner (e.g. Google Android, Apple iOS) is the one incentivized to have that tool work well on the platform. Otherwise the tool will break every time there’s a new platform update or product. That usually means establishing a standard, and in this domain the relevant standard seems to be HTML 5. HTML 5 allows rich web apps to run in the browser on all these devices. Kony is aware of that and seems to be running a hybrid approach of HTML 5 screens running within a Kony “meta-client”.

So what Kony really is, from my perspective, is a consulting company with expertise in serving travel suppliers, and a “secret sauce” in the form of a proprietary framework to build these hybrid applications in. So as in Movitas’ case – if I’m a travel marketer looking for someone to build my next mobile app, I’ll definitely solicit a proposal from these people. If it’s a non-trivial app, it’s likely they will be able to expedite it to the market and the cost may even be competitive. But assuming they will displace standards, or give Adobe (for instance) a run for their money? Don’t bet on it. An if ultimately what you wish to built can and should be built as an HTML 5 mobile website, getting locked into their platform can be a big mistake in the long term.

So – what does this mean for the industry?
From the low attendance of mobile travel innovators and also from what these companies actually do, I get the feeling the zeitgeist is that mobile travel will be left in the hands of the incumbents. Whether it’s established travel players – e.g. Expedia (with some help from the Mobiata team) or potentially mobile players (Apple’s iTravel? Others are moving too) or most likely real platform players – like Google Maps. For all of these companies this is a high-stakes game, and they do seem to realize it. In the absence of disruptive upstarts, they’ll just keep trying and gradually improving their offerings in the space, until they hit a gold vein. At this stage I think Google has the most demonstrable ability to do it, and if no one else builds a better mouse-trap, Google Maps / Local Search will be the in-destination tool of choice for travelers. With 80% of purchasing decisions made in-destination (according to QuickMobile’s Patrick Payne), they stand to make a lot of new revenue there. And with the ITA and Google Places assets progressing, they stand to be the dominant player in mobile pre-trip planning too.

Mobile Platforms

If Steve Jobs Kept A Pet, It Would Be A Hamster

The App Store’s Hall-Of-Fame: Making It  Worse For New Developers

Just last week, I wrote a piece explaining the detrimental effect that the Top-25 charts have on new apps. To make matters worse, in a move just out of Yahoo’s books (circa 1998), Apple announced the “Hall-of-fame” – an “all-time top-50 chart” that seems to be part quantitative, part curated. What it means for new developers is that old, established, previously successful developers have yet another advantage now – one more search mechanism that steals what limited customer attention there is, and deflects it back at existing incumbents.

Is this a good move from a consumer’s perspective? On the surface, it is – now the consumer has an way to find out “what everyone else has downloaded” (the Hall-of-Fame) and “what everyone else is downloading” (the existing Top-downloads list).Everyone who gets an iPhone can quickly get up to speed with what’s best out there.

But what it really does is turn more and more of the attention in the direction of fewer and fewer applications, ultimately stifling innovation. If the Internet was managed the same way, we’d all have MySpace rather than Facebook accounts, we’d be getting directions from MapQuest, not Google Maps, and this blog would  have been a GeoCities page. To enable innovation, the “long tail‘ has to be long enough and thick enough for some good stuff to emerge – and ultimately displace the people at the top. But if it’s too hard to get noticed, even great stuff will just dry up and die before it is. So no long tail – or a very thin and shrivelled one.

So what comes next?

I have no idea. I think new iOS developers will find it even harder to penetrate that market. And incumbents will get an even bigger piece of the pie.

Where should app discovery be headed?

In my mind – probably something similar to the way Google displaced Yahoo. An effective Search mechanism, based on keywords possibly. It should study how people relate to apps, which apps are downloaded by whom, rank relationships between apps and users, possibly in an analogous way to Google PageRank, and take into account velocity and current trends, much more than it does historical downloads. A marketing mechanism based on the keywords search would make much sense too.

Any better ideas out there?

Mobile Platforms

Is App Store Success Closed To New Developers?

Since DiscoveryBeat 2010 (of which I’ve written here), I had a few discussions with relatively successful app developers about the state of that marketplace. And there was a recurring a theme in some of them. It had to do with how the app store is becoming packed with consumer brands and / or apps with huge marketing budgets behind them, to the point that new entrants are unable to penetrate it.

A friend who runs a very successful finance app company put it this way – “We lucked out by going into the market early… nowadays the category is crowded by people like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase… you name it. I couldn’t possibly compete in that market environment. And there’s no effective way to promote on the store…”. A quick examination of the free Finance apps category shows that 20 of the top-25 are indeed key finance brands – from Wells Fargo through PayPal to Mint.

On a similar note, a couple of weeks back I chaired the mobile track at a travel conference, where one of the speakers showed a couple of slides about the Travel category on the App Store – “then” and “now” – Top 25 Travel Apps in 2009 vs. 2010. In 2009, 10 out of the 25 were established, “non-iPhone” brands – from AAA through Expedia to Google Earth. In 2010 it’s 15 of 25. And with many of the new entrants airlines and hotel chains, where will be a year from now, when virtually all of them will have apps, which they will promote on their websites?

Why is that such an issue? According to Tapjoy’s Lee Linden (quoted in my post here), 80% of downloads on iTunes are driven by the “Top Downloads” charts. So out of an alleged 250,000 apps, you have a few hundred (~25 x number of categories) who get 80% of the downloads. A long tail, with a very fat head. And very slim pickings if you’re not in those “Top Charts”.

So key point #1: As the Top Downloads charts fill up with established brands, it becomes very hard to get and maintain such a position for a (non-branded) mobile app developer. i.e. “Get Discovered Consistently”

How is this different from the web, you might ask? In a few ways. The web is similar in that 80% of discovery happens through one interface – Google. So Google is the equivalent of the “Top Charts”. But Google manages millions or more sites. Not a few hundred. If you will, the App Store is the equivalent of Yahoo circa 1996 – and even then Yahoo had categories, sub-categories etc. etc.

Which draws attention to another point – search. If we look at the Finance and Travel categories again, here are the apps that do not include a major consumer brand, from both:

  • PageOnce Personal Finance
  • Expense Tracker
  • PageOnce Bills
  • Ace Budget Lite
  • QuickTip Tip Calculator
  • NYC Way
  • WiFi Finder
  • Poynt
  • Cheap Gas
  • Happy Hours
  • Tripit

Notice the commonality? Except for 2 cases (ok, 2.5), all of them include the actual function as part of the name, or in fact the name IS the function – e.g. “Cheap Gas”, “WiFi Finder”, “Expense Tracker”. So is “Expense Tracker” the best expense software out there? Not necessarily. But it’s the one getting the most love out of the App Store’s simple search function. Users looking for cheap gas go into the App Store, type “Cheap Gas” into the search box, and find… “Cheap Gas”. What if your gas is even cheaper? Sorry. Not so many people search for “even cheaper gas”…

key point #2: Simple keyword search is the main driver for the rest of the top-downloads. And the first thing searched is the app’s name.

…and yet again – if you Google (or Bing for that matter) “expense report” or “wifi finder” – yes, www.expensereport.com did have an initial advantage, but since then the search mechanism has evolved quite a bit. Try.

Bottom line: The design of the App Store’s “Portal” and “Search” mechanisms are pushing that marketplace towards a sort of static state – where established consumer brands dominate, and some early movers with generic product names managed to get some shelf-space too. Without significant changes to these experiences, it is going to be very hard for newcomers with mobile-only plays to get into the charts.

My next piece will probably be about some of those “alternative app discovery experiences” – AppsFire etc. Stay tuned.

Mobile Platforms, Online Travel

Mobile Travel Lessons from EyeForTravel

 

Last week, I had the honor of moderating the Mobile in Travel track at Eye For Travel TDS Chicago.

With presentations and panelists from fifteen different companies, the amount of experience and hands-on knowledge was hard to replicate, and hopefully was useful for the audience.

 

Given the nature of such events, sometimes after listening to so many people over so many hours it is hard to recap everything. Here’s a run-through of the main points, as delivered by the speakers and discussed in the panels.

 

The Time For Mobile is NOW!

This fact is was demonstrated in two different ways by two very different presentations – Jared Miller from Continental showed the traction generated with the brand-new Continental iPhone app – within weeks of release the application was providing services to dozens of thousands of passengers and generating significant ancillary revenue. Tripit’s Gregg Brockway took the 30,000 feet approach, presenting mobile as part of another wave of change which will change whole industries, and which you should prefer to ride – rather than be crushed by. According to Gregg, the interoperability between current offerings, mobile and social capabilities provides for a new Traveler-Centric service approach. Similar thoughts were reflected by Max Starkov of HeBS in his talk about the “hyper-interactive travel consumer”. This is an opportunity for disruption, which could come from start-ups, incumbents, or companies not traditionally involved in travel, who decided to step in (esp. mobile giants).

 

… A video recording of Gregg, Max and Chris’ session is available online here.

 

Mobile Creates New Touch Points With The Customer

Jim Davidson of Farelogix moved the audience with his question – “What is the first thing that happens once an aircraft touches down?”

The answer – hundreds of cellphones are turned on all at once. The potential for revenue-generating or otherwise value-generating interaction with the arriving passengers right there and then is easy to understand. It is totally feasible to deliver relevant content and transactional opportunities at this time (to wit – it is a feature of WorldMate on BlackBerry). Many such examples exist, based on location, context and immediacy. Jim predicted that “in 2012, 50% of all ancillary transactions will be made on mobile devices”. While this may sound like a tall order, Jared from Continental presented a chart showing that weeks after their iPhone app was released, check-in transactions on iPhone were generating more ancillary revenue than on any other medium (web, kiosk or mobile web). In the hotel domain, similar data points are emerging.  Tony D’Astolfo quoted a Priceline report stating that 82% of their mobile customers book their hotel within one day of arrival – compared to only 45% who do it on the web.

 

The Platform Story Is Complicated – And Will Remain So

It’s a complication from multiple aspects – first, the multitude of different mobile platforms (iOS, BlackBerry, Android etc. – see my previous post) and approaches (apps vs. mobile web). And no – it doesn’t look like the platforms are consolidating soon, nor does it seem like HTML 5 will replace apps in the foreseeable future. TripAdvisor’s Mike Putnam suggests a hybrid approach, with an app that presents the main user interface but uses an integrated “browser window” to present most of the on-line content.

 

Second, some experiences call for a platform-wide solution, for instance mobile boarding passes – a sub-par experience that can be improved with an airline app – but only for boarding passes from that same airline – and do we really want to download and sign up on an app for each of the airlines we use? More likely, we want the platform to provide a solution, styled after Kerry Kennedy‘s “save the screen shot” idea but a little more direct.

 

Last – Tablets. They Are A Separate Opportunity

Tablets (e.g iPad, PlayBook) are great travel research tools, unlike smartphones that are great immediate info retrieval / action tools. This market is growing quickly, as demonstrated by some of the stats provided by Orbitz’ Chris Brown.

 

 

 

It’s a different mode of interaction – more similar to the desktop, but still a different user interface. If you’re an online marketer, these too should be on your roadmap, and unfortunately, what you deploy on these should be different from what you plan to build for smartphones.

 

… In retrospect – we’ve barely scratched the surface. Marco Saio and team at EyeForTravel did a great job arranging this – maybe they should consider a whole conference dedicated to mobile.

 

Personally it was a challenging experience for me not to try and answer every question myself… If you have specific questions / ideas and need someone to discuss them with, contact me directly or comment here.

 

 

Mobile Platforms

What Have I Learned at DiscoveryBeat 2010?

Stop counting Downloads / Measure Engagement

Don’t charge up-front / Go for In-App Payments

The biz is on iPhone / But Droid’s on the work-plan

You need Analytics / Cause numbers’ the game, man!

I ain’t generally a lyrical guy, but they were running a poetry contest, so I took a crack (darn if I understand how I didn’t win that iPad!)

So in a nutshell – these are the main points, really:

Platforms: iPhone and Android are all that’s interesting to this crowd – and iPhone seems to be monetizing ten times better. Even though the trend for Android as a platform is great, it is not monetizing well through paid apps (and there’s no in-app payments). With this type of revenue driving most of what’s happening on the iPhone – Android developers have slim pickin’s… BlackBerry and others were all but ignored by most everyone, except for Flurry CEO Simon Khalaf who says for the last three months he’s been seeing significant developer investment in Windows Phone 7 – driven by Microsoft’s basically committing to minimum revenue numbers (i.e. directly paying them to take the risk).

Business Models and User Behavior: Most revenue still comes directly from the users, but lately more through in-app payments than pay-per-download. Advertising dollars are growing, according to Google’s AdMob, but are still secondary, especially on iPhone. Now whether it’s ads or in-app payments, to get this revenues flowing, you need engaged users, who will use (and pay) over time. People will download everything, but also discard it immediately – apps typically churn overnight… if you can’t keep your users for weeks and months, you have very little, whether it’s by way of payments or advertising. This makes analytics critical if you want to know what works and what doesn’t.

What works for promotion?  A huge percentage of downloads on iPhone result from being on the “Top X” charts – these drive 80% of downloads according to TapJoy co-founder Lee Linden (!). This means that to effectively promote, you need a concerted effort that drives your app to the chart – which then gets you a virtuous cycle of user exposure -> download -> you remain in the chart. Developers with multiple apps can then cross-sell their new apps to their existing user base via in-app ads, email etc. In fact – having multiple apps is a key driver of revenue, as when you “spike” with one you can successfully spillover to the others if you cross-market well.

Virality is great if you can get it, but getting it is far from simple. Advertising works but is costly, so it only makes sense if you can spend enough to get your app into the charts – and then have it remain there on the virtue of its quality. So you need to “buy many thousands of users” at a high CPA so that you will get into the charts – and then get many more organically. If you can’t spend enough to reach the chart, or if you immediately drop out of it due to your app not being good enough / priced low enough / presented well enough – it was all wasted money.

Flurry, who seems to be doing very well by the way, presented their AppCircle product as an alternative – lower CPA due to better targeting, which can then be economical even at a small scale. Some other points made by panelists focused on the limited merchandising possible in the App Store – sometimes even changing the app icon can bring a huge boost in downloads… Appolicious too pitched themselves as a distribution platform for developers, albeit with much less of a structured methodology around it to my mind. If you’re interested in that model, also check our AppsFire. Tapjoy (formerly OfferPal), claimed a great ability to help iPhone developers get traction, with “up to 200,000 downloads per day for the top spot” – and then to monetize via virtual goods. Some other interesting comments from their co-founder include that the app icon has a significant effect on people – sometimes by improving it you can get a 10x increase in downloads!

Android is a little different. First, the Android Market is not as driven by the “Top 25” listings as iTunes. It is also a multi-channel market with many competing App Stores (Android Market vs. Carrier app-stores vs. direct downloads / GetJar etc.) Angry Birds launch, which was done exclusively at GetJar for the first 24 hrs was of course a topic for discussion – further highlighting the issues the audience and panelists raised regarding the Android Market. When asked “which platform you’re focused on”, less than 10% of the audience responded “Android”. Most importantly – it is much harder to monetize on Android. Between the different user demographics, the missing credit card info, and the ability to “return” an app and get a refund – users are so much less likely to pay for the download. Add to that the missing in-app payments, and your market is reduced by an order of magnitude. The general consensus was that on Android it is easier to monetize via ads than via payments.

In retrospect – I have to say that this reminds me a lot of the PDA applications market circa 2001 – after the first wave, come the big aggregators (mainly Handango at the time) whose charts dictate the market . Concerted marketing efforts are focused on getting into the charts (hard) and then remaining there (not so hard if your product is both relevant and good), which you often do by engaging with your existing audience and get them to download something new on the same product SKU… Many other points of similarity too. All-in-all a very valuable conference – Kudos to the VentureBeat people for pulling this off.