06 August 2010

Give Grandma Her Apps

This is a repost of an article that I originally wrote for Technorati and was published there.

Recently, Forrester analyst Thomas Husson wrote a blog post on the future of application stores and I was struck by his suggestion that publishers make it too complicated for end users to find and download apps.
He said:

"The subtle differences between widgets, Web apps, native apps, Java apps, and optimized mobile Web sites don’t make much sense to your end users. As long as they have an icon that acts as a touchpoint to access content and services that are relevant to them, it won't matter. The challenge for you is to make sure that your core target audience has your icon on their home screen, so that they engage with your company and not your competition."
I couldn't agree more.

Husson points out that there is an increasing demand for apps from end users, however, app stores need to greatly improve the user experience so that even those with no technical knowledge can leverage their offerings and access all these coveted apps.

Today, the delivery of apps to end users can sometimes be cumbersome, especially as it relates to app payment. Paying for apps is probably the second most difficult challenge for end users after poor user experience. While payment is what drives developers (the idea of being able to easily make money off of their application), it is a big hurdle for end users.

App stores need to encourage developers to offer free apps so that overall adoption rates rise. Down the road, when the market matures, payment will become easier to manage and more accepted by end users so everyone will benefit. In the meantime, App stores must reduce the friction and let end users easily consume free apps without having to set up an account or payment method (currently, in the Apple Appstore a user needs to set up an account before they can download any app). This will lead to a better app economy in the long run.

This doesn't eradicate or reduce the benefit for developers. On the contrary, with the right monetization mechanisms in place, publishers can realize greater adoption and higher revenues without charging end-users. Developers need other monetization options to be available via the platforms for which they develop; for example, built-in virtual currency systems, easy access to advertising (a la Apple's iAd), and affiliate systems.

Once app stores make it easy for developers to use these different mechanisms in their apps, more and more apps will be self-sustainable without having to charge users. This will lead to an increase in adoption, while still being able to monetize the popularity of an app (for both the developer and the app store).

The driving forces for a good app economy in an app store are:
  • A critical mass of users that reach the appstore
  • A user experience that enables all these users to be able to consume apps easily
  • High quality apps
  • Happy app developers

In order to create high quality apps, app stores need to make sure developers are happy with the results they get from developing an app and offering it through a specific app store. Aside from the prospect of making a lot of money by developing an app, app stores can lure in developers by offering reach. After all, the two things that pretty much every publisher on the Internet is interested in are traffic and monetization. The app store needs a critical mass of users anyway in order to thrive, so it should offer the developer mechanisms for reaching all those users, especially based on the quality of their apps (good apps get exposure to more users, creating even more of an incentive for developers to create good apps).

The apps space is definitely heating up and there is a lot of potential there, but app stores still have a long way to go before everybody, including my grandmother, will be consuming apps.

The big guys all know this and are setting their sights on creating app stores for different platforms to hook in users. Aside from Apple's Appstore, some great examples to keep an eye on are the Google Chrome web store, Microsoft Windows 8 (both currently pending), the Conduit App Marketplace (yes, technically I work for Conduit, but biases aside, you should really check it out), and OpenAppMkt (both live).


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