getting real with iphone apps

July 10, 2009 ·

one topic that i see talked about in my job almost daily and that for sure i read about daily is the iphone. specifically, applications for said device. i see why all the excitement abounds, but i don't really get it.

yes, there are some great apps. they are few. most are simply non-uttilitarian, briefly novel, limitedly functional or just pointless. while that is opinion, my issue is simply a numbers game. from my particular standpoint as a media planner, there is a signifficant gap in the value equation. i have to weigh investment in one thing to another because no one can do it all.

the simple number is 4%. that's the penetration amount for the iphone here in canada and in the usa. that is the total available market for your app. i should rephrase that: potential market. is that critical mass? further, you're likely only going to get a fraction of that to actually use it. how's that as an audience for your $50K+ investment? that's what i find hard to digest and rationalize.

of course, the response is: develop an app for each platform. android (even lower penetration), windows mobile (why even bother), blackberry (getting better) and palm (does this even matter). that's nice for the production houses who can get paid for making the same thing five times. that undoubtedly leaves the majority of the market underserved as non-smartphones are a huge contingent of the mobile market.

i'll also just throw in these other small issues that make it more nonsensical. varying carrier technologies when the iphone only supports one. exclusivity carrier agreements that will limit it right at the outset. there is only one distribution point - the itunes store.

what amplifies my troubles with iphone apps and developing for multiple platforms is the alternative. of course i'm talking about WAP pages, a universal applicaiton. something any even poorly web enabled phone of the lowest common denominator can access. as for cost, probably less than the cost of making in app for one platform.

sure there isn't the flashyness of an iphone app, but it sure is functional, efficient, cross-platform usable and broadly accessable. sorry you can't use the accelerometer. sorry that your shiny new object need can't be allayed.

my other stumbling point is how iphone apps are a trend unto itself when it eschews the general technology trends. what i mean is we are at a time when everything is moving to a web based model and desktop programs (the apps equivalent) are slowly going the way-side. building an isolated platform (as is the iphone) is counterintuitive. what makes mobile any different? why are we forgetting about the semantic web, another leveragable data collection point.

all this is not to say we shouldn't invest in these. not at all. it's being smart about it. not doing it as your only mobile initiative or having expectations set really high for them. it's the attitude around these from agencies selling them through to marketers demanding them.


Ameet said...
July 15, 2009 at 12:47 AM  

Interesting post, I agree with most of your points. As someone who represents a production house that specializes in mobile content development, I can certainly say that probably receive 10-15 requests a week from a variety of different folks looking to build mobile applications across a multitude of platforms. I would say less than 10% of these requests have the appropriate ROI to justify a spend.

As mentioned in the post, this is something that has occurred in the past -- most recently, with social media. Does every brand need a Facebook fan page or application? Of course not! If you can do something creative, such as what Refresh Partners (now Shiny Agency) did with their Whopper Facebook app, I both get and dig it.

The whole point of a mobile applications is to provide a useful or service or interaction to a user while on the go. Generally speaking, its something that a user will use for a few minutes at a time with the caveat that there is some level of stickiness that keeps them coming back!

Check out our blog, we have a few posts that speak to a few of your points in further detail. Specifically, we do a comparison of developing for the Mobile Web vs Native Mobile Applications as well as offer some tips for an award winning mobile application.

Finally, we also speak about a hybrid approach that many companies employ to keep costs down.

Either way, great post. Looking forward to more.

Ameet Shah

Travis St.Denis said...
July 15, 2009 at 9:41 AM  

ameet - appreciate the comments. less than 10% is a telling number for sure.

i agree with your comparison to social media, mostly as it relates to jumping in the space without fully understanding or having a solid plan. absolutely, the facebook apps comparison is right on. a little less so with the fan pages because that is essentially free, just a time commitment. the biggest difference is the ecosystem, having a fan page and app live in the space, integrated with profiles and home pages. with some promotional ads, it has potential for growth. with mobile, the promotion to get growth lives outside so there is that bit of removal that makes it more challenging and expensive to make mobile apps work. but that's an aside.

i completely agree that mobile needs to have utility. novel and one-time use apps are mostly a waste. the dunkin run one is such a great example of brand utility with a great roi model.

hybrid approach looks very promising. are you seeing clients take to it?



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