Last week the Washington Post published an article on the fervor surrounding the iPhone and the slew of independent developers that are making boat-loads of money by creating apps for the iPhone. As the article correctly points out, Apple’s goal is not so much to make money from selling these apps, but to become the de facto platform for all things mobile.
Apple won’t say how much money the App Store is taking in, nor will it say how many of the 300 million downloads were free apps and how many cost money (most apps are free; the others cost anywhere from a buck to $10). Apple gets a 30 percent cut of revenue generated by apps. But for Apple right now the money isn’t the point. The big thing is the race to become the dominant mobile-computing platform, the way IBM-standard PCs running Microsoft operating software — first DOS and then Windows — came to dominate personal computing in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Apple has a monsterous head-start on the competition.
Today, there are over 10,000 apps for the iPhone, nearly 450 just for health & wellness. Taking a look at would be competitor Google and its Android platform and you’ll find a paltry 35 apps total, none by the way are targeting health & wellness. Palm, which once had the physician market virtually to itself is all but dead. Yes, Palm is releasing a new OS any day now but they have lost so much momentum and market cache that they will find it impossible to come back as no independent developer in their right mind will bother to develop an app for a dying platform.
What about Blackberry, Nokia (Symbian) and Windows Mobile?
These are three big players in the mobile market who will not give up easily and each has some pretty substantial resources to back them up. Problem is, if you add Appple and Google to the mix, you end up with 5 potentially viable mobile platforms. Can and will the market support that many? Unlikely.
In time there will be a shake-out that will result in at most, 3 mobile platforms, but that is at least 3 years down the road, unless of course there is an acquisition (e.g., Microsoft acquiring Blackberry).
So what is a developer to do? Here is our 5 steps to mobile platform success:
- Talk to your customers and talk to your customers’ customers to understand how they are using mobile technology today and what mobile apps/platforms they are using today.
- Pay particular attention to those customers who are often away from their desks/offices for extended periods of time. Understand how they access information on the go and what information is most difficult, but critical to gain access to.
- Build platform flexibility into the app. Assume your app will eventually be available on at least 2 if not 3 separate mobile platforms. In the US, we recommend established developers to target the iPhone first. If you are new to the market, developing for Android first will provide early and important market visibility. If you have a large presence outside the US, Nokia’s Symbian wil be on your radar.
- First and foremost, focus on simplicity of engaging/using the app. Despite all their features, mobile devices have their limitations, thus the app must be extremely easy to use requiring a minimum number of clicks to perform any task. Beyond simplicity, think radical and leverage the unique capabilities of mobile devices e.g., accelerometers, GPS, barcode scanners, etc.
- Iterate, iterate iterate. Once you launch the mobile app, do not expect to just sit back and let the $$$ roll-in. Get the product out into the market quickly and continually track usage patterns. Update product on a frequent basis to reflect those usage patterns, creating added value. Mobile apps are extremely viral, iteration is key to a viral market infection.