On a beautiful Friday in London, I ambled into the Royal Mint Court to attend the Trifork produced DevDay for iPhone event. The conference delivered some great insight and diversity in the speaker line-up ranging from; the start-up app (LexCycle), to the brand app (Starbucks) and finally to the zen-master bearer of apps (smallsociety). The biz track was great; however the morning sessions were a little bit of a letdown. How many Apple ra-ra metrics can one handle? Raven Zachary was determined to find out. All told, the event was worth it. Here are my top 5 takeaway’s.
“We crowd sourced our localization”. Community is everything. How do you minimize the 1-star ratings associated with free apps and maximize the 5 star ratings? According to the self-effacing Neelan Choksi CEO LexCycle, the company behind the Stanza reader app, you need to be participating and responding to your users. Specifically, enable participation by offering; feedback forums powered by getsatisfaction.com, in-app feedback forms, user polls and tips videos. Moreover, responding to bugs and feature requests with consistent new releases helps build credibility and ultimately advocates. The net result? True evangelists. When they decided to localize the app, they simply released the text string list to their users, they responded with translations and voila, they released localized versions. He also noted some of their forum members provide faster, more rigorous support than they can actually provide. Nice!
“We didn’t know the where our Starbucks locations were…users were telling use some locations were in a ditch or field” Good apps are hard to build. According to KC McLaren, Manager of Retail Consumer Tech Starbucks, mobile use-cases are unique and the location issue highlighted this. Despite location information being available online for years, the mobile use of this information was different and exposed the severe inaccuracy of the data. The result? They went thru a painful process of re-hauling their global geo-location dataset. They expect to be at 90% accuracy later this year and hope users will help them to the 100% finish line. More interestingly, they intend to provide this updated information back into Google Maps and ultimately release an open API to developers that may want to use this data. From a corporate brand perspective he noted three important elements in their strategy.
Distinct look and feel. Skinning the background and UI elements was critical to give it a hand-crafted, Starbucks-branded look and feel. Beyond skinning, they actually created a custom tab bar element. Upon porting to iOS V4.0 they quickly realized it did not port and reverted back to the standard tab bar. Lesson learned; skinning elements good; creating custom UI elements bad.
Leverage back-end services. The bulk of the development and effort has been on rather complex back-end web services (versus the client). In particular, he noted the challenges of transactions-based apps. In lieu of NFC taking off, the near-term plan is to simply use 2D bar codes to support coupons etc.
Domain expert contractors. It was important for them to start with knowledgeable iPhone contractors to get them up & running and thru the first version. However, he stressed that mobile is a long-term strategy and that building competencies in-house is an important part of their plan.
“I replaced my laptop on biz trips”. New markets are hard; reinvention is easy. Apple upsetting the apple cart (no pun intended) for mobile phones and laptops was a less risky proposition than trying to create a new tablet market. Clearly, we are going thru a phase where consumers are exploring the value of the iPad. Indeed, Mr. Zachary put forth a use-case of how the iPad has replaced his laptop on road trips. Ultimately success or failure will not be determined by Apple or their product but by consumers (literally) buying into the concept of tablets.
“Emotion + Interactivity.” iAds will dominate AdMob (and others) on iOS. It will take Apple time to fill-out their mobile ad inventory; both domestically and in particular internationally however once things get rolling it will be impossible to stop this freight train on iOS. Why? The ex-Quattro Wireless guys noted that certain features will not be exposed (as API’s) to competitors such as the ability to purchase within the mobile ad. Homecourt advantage, as they say. As a side note, I liked his definition of mobile, simply as “not at the desktop or laptop”
“QA is 30% of initial dev time; PM is 20% of initial dev time”. Good apps require a proper product lifecycle focus. Raven Zachary took us on a four-hour work shop journey thru the product lifecycle of an iPhone app. Despite the length, he delivered a great, snappy product management-esque presentation. Here are the following nuggets that I found particularly interesting;
How do users feel? For a competitive analysis on similar offerings not only review how often they release updates (i.e. rate of change) but also the type of comments folks are making about the app.
Separation of church and state. Wireframing was separated from design in terms of people and process. He noted that their information architecture expertise is the iOS UI environment and that sometimes clients prefer to do the design comps themselves. Indeed, clients are more knowledgeable about their own graphical assets and brand guidelines.
Good guys are $75-90 USD. From a cost perspective he noted that the going rate is $50-125 for independent developers and $100-150 coming from agencies in the US.
Kick-ass iconography. The app icon which sits on the homescreen and is included in the app store is absolutely critical for branding. Use a logo specialist or at least pay special attention to this.
Marketing tips. Tip #1: The app store description includes an organization name. This name does not have to be your official trading name…it can be anything you like. In many cases abbreviating it for effect makes sense. Tip #2: You can select two categories for your app; first is where it is listed and the second enables users to browse your app in that category. Tip #3: A small English-speaking country like Canada is often used for trial deployments before an app goes into the US market or goes global. Tip #4: Keywords can be changed up until app posting
Haters skew ratings. Starbucks and Obama’s apps have c-curves (not bell-shaped distributions) for ratings. People that hate Starbucks or Obama will hit your ratings, regardless of app quality. For regular app folks, don’t take 1-star ratings seriously; look at the written reviews instead. The rating system is badly skewed to poor ratings as a review is prompted upon deletion
Timing is everything. App posting tend to go up at the end of the day between 3-5PM PST. So, be prepared for the fact that if you are in the UK you should expect your app to hit the store when you are going to sleep.
Faster network pulls. Web services can deliver a more optimized payload with JSON + REST versus XML + SOAP. Gzipping also helps.
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