Most companies are jumping on the app bandwagon, including established companies releasing existing products repurposed as apps and startups releasing new products, creating entirely new app categories. Regardless of the company, there is a common problem encountered: how can we make money on the app store?
It is incredibly difficult to get noticed when your app is surrounded by a billion others. Let’s think long term for a second. Let’s assume your app is successful: people downloaded your app, they are using it, and they love it. Congratulations! But now what? These users already paid for your app, so now they are essentially using it for free. Here’s the problem: how do you monetize existing app users?
Software update cycles
In the old software model, a customer would purchase your product, use it for a year or two, and when you released a new version, they would pay again to upgrade. This is still common in operating system software (e.g., Windows) and the major productivity apps (e.g., Photoshop, the Office Suite); however, apps have broken this cycle. Customers go to the app store, purchase your app, and expect to receive upgrades for free, including those new features you released to get new people to download your app. If your app is a service with a large backend (think social networks like Instagram and content apps like a newspaper), you have costs you need to cover to support existing users, but these users may never give you another cent.
Here are the strategies I’ve seen app developers try to monetize existing users.
Major ad networks will pay you for each impression, so sticking ads on your home screen means that existing users will give you a continuous source of income (bonus if you provide new content every day, so that users re-engaged regularly). In general, users don’t like ads, and they can make your app feel cheap. You also don’t have very much control over what ads are shown, so your users may get conflicting messages. For example, if you have a strong environmental brand, it would seem weird for users to see an ad for a Hummer. Oh, and if your app is a paid app, you should never include ads. It feels like double dipping, and people don’t like feeling like they are paying twice.
There are two general models of in-app purchase: freemium, and additional features. In the freemium model, users download and use the app for free, and pay minimal amounts to change a feature temporarily. It is most common in games. For example, people could pay to skip a level they couldn’t beat, to get a new costume for their character, or to get an additional spin on a bonus wheel. The other model of in-app purchase is to provide optional features (e.g., the ability to store a document on DropBox), or provide new features that users have been asking for (e.g., “now you can add friends from Facebook!”).
In-app purchases are now the main source of income for app developers. In either approach, they allow users to explore your product at little or no cost to them, and give users incentives to pay for your service. Also, unlike ads, you can include in-app purchases in a paid app without alienating users.
Another version of in-app purchase is the subscription model. The most common is auto-renewing subscriptions (e.g., biweekly or monthly), where people pay for intervals of service. Subscriptions make sense for lots of apps, but Apple’s App Store policies limit what kinds of apps may use subscriptions.
“11.15 Apps may only use auto renewing subscriptions for periodicals (newspapers, magazines), business Apps (enterprise, productivity, professional creative, cloud storage) and media Apps (video, audio, voice), or the App will be rejected” (3 March 2014).
To me, this suggests that some traditional subscription models (e.g., memberships for online games like World of Warcraft) would not be allowed in the app store.
Another great way to monetize existing users is to sell them physical products. This could be swag, like Angry Bird plushy animals. Another approach is to sell a product based on the content of the app. For example, Mosaic (http://heymosaic.com/) sells physical photo books you set up in the app.
Note that with physical products, these cannot be purchased through in-app purchase. This means you will need to have another checkout process, but it also means Apple or Google won’t take 30% of the purchase price.
The last strategy I’ve seen is for large app updates. For example, when Fantastical updated their app for iOS7, they actually released it as a new app (Fantastical 2). This is following the “old style” update cycle of operating systems and productivity suites. This is non-standard in the app world, but it can be a reasonable approach if your new app is different enough from the original app to warrant users to go out and buy your app again.
I think each of the strategies I’ve described can all be successful, but it will depend on your app and your users. The current state of the app stores suggests that in-app purchases are the way to go, but apps are still so new that there are lots of opportunities to try new things.
People sometimes ask me what I learned when I was working at Apple. The answers depend on the context of the question and who is asking and is certainly too grand to put into a single blog post. However, I wanted to share some top tips learned while I was at Apple that I would want to give to myself if I was just out of school.
Customers can be “Wrong”
You don’t have the perspective of the customer and what you think should be built and what they think should be built can differ. As a young engineer you think you know everything, so when a customer disagrees with your assessment you consider them wrong. You may in fact be correct in your assessment or you may be wrong (more likely) you can’t know for sure since you don’t understand their perspective and they don’t understand yours. I use the term loosely because your customer can be many people: They can be your boss, team leader who will be using your code, 3rd party companies, a user out in the world or any of a number of different people. Customers can and will demand things which you don’t agree with. Things which you think make no sense. They can be right or wrong in asking for these things but often times that is what they want you to build.
If your manager at Apple asks you for something crazy you can certainly discuss it with them but if they ultimately want you to build something which you consider crazy then that’s what you need to do. Gaining experience is realizing that you won’t always agree with what your customer wants but that the person with the money makes the decisions at the end of the day when there are disagreements. I see far too many engineers debating with “customers” whether they are wrong or not on a direction. Certainly it is good to bring up the drawbacks with an approach. However, if you bring up the drawbacks and the customer still decides to proceed, it is your job to implement that vision as best you can. You don’t make the final decisions because you aren’t the one with the money. Perhaps one day you have the money and can make the decisions and that’s fine but that isn’t today.
Go With The Flow
The best way I can explain this is with an example: One of the early tasks that I very clearly remember from my time at Apple was almost the first task I was assigned. I was working on a piece of functionality in Mac OS X related to print drivers. We were making a change in the operating system that was going to force a small number of printer manufactures to update their driver so it worked with the new version of Mac OS X. The old driver wasn’t going to work anymore and users were going to have to upgrade to a new version of the printer driver. This was a preventable situation if Apple expended extra effort to avoid breaking the printer manufacturers but they weren’t going to do this. The task I was assigned early on was building a workaround for this problem for the manufacturers and sending out the code they would need to include in their new driver. However, I was furious that this code wasn’t just going to be included in the operating system by default to avoid this problem. It was the only task I was assigned and I could only see this problem and nothing else and of course considering only this and nothing else the best thing to do was to include this piece of code in the operating system.
I was wrong though, very wrong. I didn’t have perspective of the entire operating system and the entire Mac OS X project. Of course it would be better to not break this small set of printers and users upgrade however what I didn’t see was the bigger picture. Apple was pressing out the release of Mac OS X out the door we couldn’t include small changes that weren’t important. To maintain quality you don’t want to include lost of new features or changes towards the end as you are going through testing stages. There were thousands of people that worked on Mac OS X at that time and even more number of people that wanted to include a new feature or code change. Towards the end of any project you have to say no to maintain quality because if you are making code changes just before a project goes out the door you are asking for disaster. At the time I had no concept of this and thought there was something wrong in the world. Because I didn’t see the bigger picture I was just plain wrong.
So my early advice, and something you learn with time, is everything you are working on seems like the most important thing in the world. Just as I did with the printer driver fix. However, your task is in the grand scheme of things was not critical at all. Later on as I was more experienced I did work on things that were critically important and they did get in late, but those were important fixes that needed to be in, in the grand scheme of things. Not just in my opinion. Without that wider perspective you can’t see that and young engineers do not have perspective. As a young engineer you will not have the perspective of the entire business and possibly not even the entire project you are working on and because of that you will think things are important which aren’t that important but you have no way of judging. So my advise is go with the flow. As you become more seasoned and able to judge what is important and n you will pick and choose battles but for now the best thing you can do is go with flow. Certainly bring it up with someone more senior if you feel strongly about it to make sure they are aware of it but if they don’t think it is important then accept it and go with the flow.
Quality is Important
I remember having discussions of how important quality is and how to tackle a certain problem. Certainly you may be constrained by time and other factors on a project that prevent you from creating the perfect solution. However, always do your best to create the best quality project you can. You will thank yourself for this as will your customers.
Nice to Have Your Own Island
My Manager at Apple started with Apple back in 1984 and his project was Apple Lisa. He stayed with Apple for many years doing quite well for himself over time. In fact after doing well he decided he wanted to buy his own Island in the Pacific. That would be an island with electricity house and all the amenities but would just be for him and his family. He decided to buy his own island and did so even outbidding a Saudi Prince who was bidding on the same island. So while not a lesson for everyone, a lesson I learned is, it is nice to have your own island and if you do things right such things are possible.
Hard Work Pays Off
I didn’t care in school that it would take an extra four hours to do something right and the grade might not reflect the four extra hours put in. I didn’t do calculations of grade/time ratio to determine if I should put extra work in or watch TV. I wanted to do it right and I wasn’t afraid of hard work. This should be your philosophy if you want to succeed in the long run. Do the hard work and don’t be afraid to work even harder. They didn’t tell me until after I had been at Apple for a year but they had literally hired 18 people in the position before me. The longest person had lasted was six months. All 18 had been fired or let go for one reason or another but I stuck around. In school and since I have seen young and older engineers trying to avoid hard work. This is not the path to success. To take the short cut because someone isn’t looking or you think you will get away with it will only lead to disaster in the long run. You may get away with it in the short term maybe even a few times. But in time no matter what you do, you will be found out one way or another and then the consequences need to be paid. It just may take longer in some places than others but you will be weeded out because you don’t produce value. Mark my words. Anyone who produces value will be valued and over time rewarded. But certainly no matter where you are if you don’t produce value then eventually you will lose. So don’t avoid the hard work go towards it and get it done. That is the sign of a true engineer and a professional.
Hard work and the right attitude can also lead to your own island (or equivalent) if you do it right. When that happens you can be the “crazy” customer who is “wrong” that wants their island house on the island designed in a certain way.
I am excited to announce that we are finalists for the North Saskatchewan Business Association 2014 Business Builder Awards. We were nominated for the Team Building award and were delighted to find out we were selected as finalists in the category. The North Saskatoon Business Association supports Saskatoon’s Business Community and is a member-driven and focused organization that serves, promotes and protects business throughout Saskatoon and beyond. We are honoured to be amongst some amazing companies in the category and wish everyone luck on March 13th when the awards will be held!
Today I was reading the article: Samsung Galaxy S4 and Knox: iPhone versus Android just got exciting again. The article delves in to new release of KNOX 2.0. Although I had heard about KNOX before I was intrigued to learn a little bit more about KNOX and how it is improving Samsung’s security.
Here are some quick facts to give you the basics of KNOX:
- Allows IT admins to keep employees’ personal and work data apart
- Knox incorporates Security Enhanced (SE) Android to create a container that separates business and personal use of a mobile device
- Encryption at the file system level, which ought to cut data leakage, viruses and malware attacks
- KNOX container presents a variety of enterprise applications in a secure environment including email, browser, contacts, calendars, file sharing, collaboration, CRM and business intelligence applications
KNOX will be especially beneficial for those who BYOD (bring their own device to work). Do you think KNOX 2.0 levels out the iPhone vs Android battle?!
Article source: ZD Net
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of unveiling our new company name and brand identity. Since then we have received so much support for our new name and look!
We also received our first company banner and got to show it off at a career fair and to the clients who have visited our office.
So what exactly is in a name?! Well in our name there was a lot of hard team work and excitement that’s for sure. Remember how I told you we had a brain storming session where we threw out words or phrases of who we were and what we aspired to be? Once we had gathered all of the words and phrases as a team, our marketing team began to sort out the ideas and phrases that would become our new name and brand identity. The hard part was next. We took the words and phrases that we liked and tried to see awesome potential names for the company. When it came down to what we felt was the BEST the phrase:“Pushing technology into small spaces of life.”
Everyone felt an instant connection to this simple phrase. Once we had decided on the word “Push” we began to do our research into how we could legally make this name ours. We learnt that it was best to have a word attached that would give some sort of descriptor for what our company did. After much trial and error we decided on “Interactions” because not only did it describe what our product does but also what we do everyday with our own team and our amazing clients. Once all of the legal filings were complete, we announced our new name to the whole team on the day we moved to our new office! Stay tuned for the next New Year, New Us when I will share that first day in our new office with you!
By the way you may be wondering (just as we were) “Well WHO exactly wrote that sticky note?!?!)” By the time we announced the new name to the team that beautiful neon orange sticky note had gotten lost in the shuffle (I remember it was orange at least!) and no one ever claimed that they wrote it!
An open office set up is quite popular, especially in the software development world. I believe a large reason is because it’s very economical from an office space perspective. In the same way you can gain more space in a house with an open floor plan, you gain more usable space in an office if you don’t have a bunch of walled offices everywhere. However the true intention behind an open work space was to break down barriers and foster teamwork and collaboration. Unfortunately, the science is bearing out that an open work space can lead to more tension and reduced productivity. But never let scientists dictate your reality! There are things you can do to take advantage of the benefits of an open space, while minimizing the negatives.
Avoiding distractions to yourself
Everybody is in control of their own world, and so this is the first place you should look to improve. There are two key pieces that will often work to keep yourself focused and those are 1) using headphones; and 2) not allowing yourself to get pulled into unnecessary discussions.
Using headphones can be extremely helpful, even if you aren’t listening to any music. First, it signals to other employees that you are working and would rather not be disturbed. Second, it prevents you from being distracted by conversations around you. Even if you put on a pair of headphones and play some white noise, I think you’ll find your productivity will trend upwards.
If you aren’t keen on wearing some ear gear all day long, you can still work at keeping yourself in the zone by actively avoiding discussions not relevant to your work. This can be a bit tricky but over time, you’ll find it’s like being absorbed in a good book – you know the world outside you exists, but your brain is able to shut it out and focus on the task at hand.
Minimize distractions to others
In tandem with avoiding distractions to yourself, you should also aim to minimize distractions to others. One of the best ways to do this is to pay attention to your surroundings. If everybody is quiet and working, it’s probably best not to start a loud conversation that could snap everybody out of their zone. Likewise, if you need to talk to someone and they have headphones on, you may want to start by sending an email/IM asking them to talk with you when they’re available. It’s amazing how many things aren’t as urgent as they seem to be in the moment. Almost anything can wait 15-30 minutes, and I bet you can find something else productive to do in the meantime.
Set up collaboration stations
Our office currently has a very open work space and a collaborative team who enjoy solving problems together. One thing we are doing next week to keep the collaboration going while reducing distractions is to set up separate collaboration stations. These desks are set up in areas away from the whole team, so that a few employees can break away, set up at these stations and discuss a problem without inadvertently affecting the entire office. These stations are set up fairly barebones with a monitor and couple chairs, to encourage the “use it, then lose it” ownership nature of those stations.
Set the culture
You need to make it clear to your team that this is their workspace, and they need to use it as productively as possible. They can expect to get distracted at times, but they can work with each other to minimize those as best as they can. Just the act of knowing that something will happen can reduce the stress and frustration when it does happen. Try and make quiet the norm, and encourage the team to be open and honest with each other if they feel things are too loud and unproductive.
Not every company can afford enough space to house all employees in their own offices. It’s a goal of ours down the line, but for now we’re working within our surroundings to keep churning out quality software as efficiently and effectively as possible.
A smartphone in every pocket, a tablet in every hand and a PC on every desk. That’s the dream espoused by the technologically elite: Computing that is pervasive and all-encompassing. We are well on our way down that path. Smartphone sales surpassed 1 billion units in 2013* and tablet sales reached 76 million** . The people that have bought tablets and smartphones had to be convinced of the value of those devices. That’s where the user experience comes into play.
The user experience of a particular device is defined by a person’s interactions with that device. Today, the interactions that a person has with a particular device are defined mostly by software. I’d like to go over 2 of the most notable differences in a modern computing device versus older computing devices from just a few years ago.
We’ve always had applications; software that we bought and ran on our computers. We bought them from a retail store, they came on a disc and a major new version would come out every 2 or 3 years. Those were applications. Today we have apps.
Apps are purchased from an online store. This online store is often seen as the definitive marketplace for apps for the device. Almost anyone can submit apps to these stores and be on a marketplace selling to hundreds of millions or even billions of people. 6 or 7 years ago, a developer’s only option if they wanted to sell to the largest number of people would be to sell their software through a physical retailer. Physical retailers have very limited shelf space. They are likely not interested in an application from a little known company run by fewer than 15 people. But the App Store is non-discriminating. Shelf space is unlimited and with so many visitors the demand for apps is monumental.
Apps themselves are quite different from the applications of 5 or 6 years ago. Apps are highly focused, often performing a single task or a closely related set of tasks. Apps are meticulously designed, the developers ensuring that the user is never lost. Older applications prioritized breadth of features and had complex designs to accommodate them.
App updates are quite different as well. The host operating system is now responsible for updating apps. All updates are visible via a single list, each update accompanied by a list of changes (known as release notes). With a single tap, the user can update all their apps. Today, users don’t even need to tap a button: The host operating system will automatically update apps for users in the background. This ensures that every user gets the same experience and is able to make use of the latest features. It reduces support costs for the developer and increases user satisfaction.
Software is a playground for developers. We are able to do almost anything in software. That’s very apparent in the variety of apps available across the various app stores. But with software design, restraint is key. Us developers, being the technically minded people we are, can often forget that the users of our software are not attuned to its subtleties. One need only look at today’s version of Word or Excel to be reminded of that. Furthermore, features are laid out differently across applications from different companies.
In the early days of the Mac, software consistency was considered a paramount feature. That a user could learn one piece of software and that that learning would carry over to all the other software is a beautiful idea. Sadly, it is one that lost its way on the desktop. But with mobile, we have a chance to get it right.
Modern apps have been much better at guiding the user without resorting to handholding. By creating a design whereby the user imagines a consistent mental model of the software, they can easily navigate the user interface. For example, the back button in the top left corner of the screen in an iOS app indicates that the user has something to go back to. The title of the back button states the screen that the user would go back to were they to tap it. When the user taps the back button, an animation occurs: The title of the back button moves to the right and becomes the title of the screen that the user is going back to. This is accompanied by another animation where the content of the screen animates and fades to the right while the screen the user is going back to animates and fades in from the left. See the screenshots below.
More important than the specific design itself is that it is used consistently throughout almost all of mobile software. The designs themselves trace back to the operating system vendor (Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc…) and are heavily encouraged by them. There is also a lot of experimentation within these design patterns.
Do you remember this?
For most, system requirements were an arcane list of ingredients that a customer had to verify. If they did not, the software that they just paid for was useless. System requirements come from a time when what was in a computer was more emphasized than what a person could do with it. A user needed to know their computer’s processor speed, amount of RAM (Random Access Memory), graphics card and other highly technical specifications. Today, all a user needs to do to check that an app works on their device is to try to download it. If their device is not supported, they won’t be allowed to download the app.
What is in a modern device is of no concern to users. They are not aware of their phone or tablet’s processor speed, RAM or graphics capabilities. The App Store lists all the applications available to them and will not let them download any that they can not use.
The death of the system requirement has gone mostly unnoticed (good thing, they were terrible and didn’t need any more attention), but it’s probably my favourite feature of the modern user experience. System requirements required the user to be ripped out of their domain to deal with the technology itself. Anytime that happens, it is a failure of the technology itself.
These are only 3 examples of how the modern user experience is different from the old. There are plenty more: The significant increase in online services, the ability to share data wirelessly, the ubiquity of Bluetooth. Just as modern computing today is not the same as modern computing from 6 years ago, modern computing 6 years from now will not be the same as it is now. But, the lessons we learn in making computing better are largely additive. Most of what we do to make computing better today will help form the foundation for making computing better tomorrow.
Kumaran Vijayan is a longtime iOS and Mac developer. His work at Push Interactions involves making very nice iOS and Android apps.
Whether you are married, dating or single this Valentine’s Day there is an app for everyone. This morning I had the pleasure to share these apps on CTV Morning Live. Keep reading for a further look at these fun love-themed apps:
1. Pic Collage
This fun little app is perfect to create a picture collage of someone you love. Once you download the app for free you simply tap the screen to bring in photos from your phone’s gallery and then begin applying fun templates, borders, backgrounds and stickers. They have a ton of selection in terms of colours and textures for background and borders and the fun little sticker packs are perfect to add some Valentine’s Day flair! I found that it had an extremely intuitive user interface and within about 30 seconds I got the hang of all of the fun features. Once you’ve finished creating your masterpiece collage you can share it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Path and email it to your loved one(s). I think this quote from USA Today sums up this app beautifully: ”Whether you’re 6 or 106, you’ll find the free Pic Collage app an excellent way to dress up your photo collection and share your handiwork.”
Did you know that Avocados grow in a pair? Think of the Avocado app like a social network for two. Avocado is a place where you can chat privately with your significant other, share photos, texts and video in one secure place. It also has the ability to create lists where both people can see it (shared and up to date grocery list!). If you are into this feature you can also locate your significant other through GPS. The cutest feature this app has is if you are far away from your “boo” you can send them a kiss or a hug by kissing a picture of them on your screen and it will apply a little pair of lips over the photo or holding the phone to your heart and it will send them your “hug” through a vibration! In a word: ”Adorable!
Free for iPhone (Seller: Oliver Popov)
When I was searching for the perfect apps for Valentine’s Day I thought to myself “What is an app that everyone could use whether you are with your significant other on a date or out with your best friends?” I thought back to a game’s night I had with my family the other night and we found this little deck of “conversation starter” cards and it opened up an hour long conversation where we sat around getting to know each other even better and had lots of laughs. I wanted to find this in an app form so you could always have it when you are on the go. I ended up finding lots of apps that had conversation starter-type features but none as beautiful and cool as the Conversation Hero app! This beauty of an app opens up with a comic book style introduction video and then reveals a beautiful user interface with rich images and neat little animations. Another nice thing about this app vs other converstaion starter apps is that the questions are broken down into topics. The apps gives you a ton of cool topics for free and has the option to upgrade to unlock other topics. So whether you are on your first date or your 1000th date, this little app can come in handy to get to know your special someone(s) even better.
Make sure to spread the love this Valentine’s Day by downloading these apps and sharing them with your loved ones!
There comes a time in every company’s life when they must say goodbye to the old and celebrate the new. It is my pleasure to introduce you to the new us:
As you may know, we have been on a long journey to completely rebrand CollegeMobile. Today our COO, Shane Giroux, is at a career fair and will announced our new name to the local tech community. We thought it was perfect timing to share with all of you as well and prep you for the changes to come! Over the course of the next few months we will be changing over our website, social media, and everything else that has to do with Push Interactions. Next week I will be continuing my Blog Series, New Year, New Us, and tell you how we came to decide on our new identity.
Thank you for sharing in this journey with us and for all of the support along the way.
You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of the sensation that is the game Flappy Bird. Although I haven’t played it myself I am really interested in learning about it and the success it has had over a very short time period. The app world changes so fast and it is always interesting to hear what is working for other apps on the app store.
Also over the past few weeks we have been blogging a lot about how In-App Purchases account for 96% of the top grossing apps on the app store, as we are always keeping on top of the ways our clients can make more money from their apps. Earlier today I came across this interesting article: How in-app review mechanics pushed Flappy Bird to the top of the charts on VentureBeat. One thing I was surprised to learn is that Flappy Bird developer, Dong Nguyen, had “zero marketing spend”! So how on earth did an app with zero marketing spend shoot to the top of the app store rankings. According to VentureBeat it seems the immense number of app reviews contributed to its climb to the top. A “rate” button was put at the end of each session in a place where the user would normally tap to play (know as a “dark pattern”). When Flappy Bird was at the top it was receiving 400 reviews a day and at the very top received 700,000 in around a month. Although Apple doesn’t make its algorithm public, developers are speculating that there is a formula that takes ratings into consideration.
I encourage you to read the original article as it is a very interesting look into this “rate me” tactic. What do you think of this strategy?
Over a year ago I wrote a post entitled “New Year, New Us: Part 1″. To summarize, I talked about how our company was going to embark on the journey of rebranding ourselves. We were thankful for the success that the name “CollegeMobile” had brought us, but knew that in order to grow and expand we needed to have a more professional brand image that matched our quality product and people that worked for us. When I wrote that blog post a year ago I never realized what a year it would be figuring out all of the pieces that go into building a new brand identity.
As we are coming to the end of this journey I thought I should continue with this blog series and talk about the first two steps we took:
Step 1: Vision, Values and Pillars
We knew we wanted to have a team brain storming session where threw out ideas about our new brand. Before we did that we had to determine the vision of our company that would guide us. I knew that many successful companies shared their vision with their employees and it helped to guide employees and big business decisions. Our management team fleshed out our vision, values and pillars that would guide the company not only in the brainstorming session but in all of our future decisions. This was a great exercise for our team and really helped to define who we were and who we aspire to be.
Step 2: Who Are We?! Who We Want to Be?! ”What Do we NOT want to be?!”
After we had our Vision, Values and Pillars in place we spent an entire afternoon brainstorming with the whole team. We rented a large collaboration room and I led the team in what I like to call our “brand identity discovery exercise”. We broke into little teams of 3 and everyone was given hundreds of bright sticky notes and black sharpies. I started off by asking the team to compare different brands (ex. Starbucks vs. Tim Hortons, McDonalds vs Burger King, etc.) I asked them first to write down the words and phrases that described these brands. Then we went through and described words that were NOT associated with the brand; for example a word that did not depict Starbucks was “Cheap”. I felt it was important to not only describe the words that described the brand but to define what words were not associated with the brand.
Then we went on to do the same exercise for our own company. In groups of 3 we came up with all of the words we currently associated our brand with, the words that we didn’t want to be associated with and then we went one step further and came up with aspirational words for what we wanted to become in the future. This was an awesome exercise that brought our team closer together and really revealed our company’s identity.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of our branding series where I will tell you how we wade our way through the legal complexities of changing our name!
When making a purchasing decision many people weigh the cost/benefit to confirm that its a straightforward decision. For example when you are buying tires one type of tire is $100 per tire and the other is $110. Certainly, you may notice a difference between the different sets of tires if you bought them and used them, however the fundamental experience of driving a car doesn’t change. If you did buy the cheaper tires you may have a different experience but it won’t stop the car from functioning. You should still be able to drive from point A to point B. When people are searching for a mobile app developer this theory does NOT apply. If you hire a “cheaper” developer you may actually get nothing, because they aren’t able to deliver an end product. Or perhaps they build an app that is unusable and if you actually presented it to customers it would only damage your reputation. We have seen this happen many times where people think that they have saved some money on their app when actually at best they have likely shot themselves in the foot and set themselves up for having to rebuild the app from scratch in the future. Simply put: purchasing tires and purchasing an app are very differnt.
Building apps natively increases the quality of the app almost immediately. You will find almost every popular app on the store will be built natively because its an inherent part of creating a great app. With native the user experience is faster and more responsive, things work correctly and in line with what users expect. Users now demand apps that are high quality and if you build a low quality app you are only going to damage your reputation as a company and the app you built won’t get used anyway. Doing it right the first time ensures you get an app that functions correctly and will keep users coming back.
There are four main platforms for mobile: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry. Many app developers only build for one platform (often for iPhone). If you want to reach your customers you need to support multiple platforms. Most development shops develop for one or two platforms and if their client needs another platform they may contract it out to a different firm. Make sure when you are developing an app you think about reaching your users and that means supporting iPhone and Android and increasingly Windows Phone as well.
Building for the Future
At CollegeMobile when we develop our apps we think about what the app will need to do in the future. We build a solid structural foundation on which to build additional features. When we developed an app Federated Cooperatives we put in the right foundation to accommodate future development. Anytime they brainstorm ideas to add to their app they know that it will be possible with the strong foundation we have in place. This also goes for another App we built for Affinity Credit Union. The initial app we developed the app the only functionality was locating branches, ATMs and Insurance locations. The current version is a full native mobile banking app and even includes a feature that allows you to take a picture of a cheque and deposit it to your bank. Again when developing their app initially we built the proposal foundation to accommodate for these big features.
Experience and Track Record in Mobile Development
CollegeMobile has a long track record of building apps. I founded the company in 2009 right after teaching the first in Canada (3rd in North America) Univeristy Accredited iPhone programming class. Since then we have developed many apps. In our public facing portfolio we have 41 apps and in our private portfolio (which we can’t share due to Non-Discolosure Agreements) we have another 2o. In any case our work includes banking apps, workforce automation, partnerships with companies like Google, as well as working on projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Few companies you will find that type of work and across such a broad spectrum of industries. We deliver each time no matter what the industry is.
This is more of a differentiator than people realize. With Agile development you get to see the project as it developers. We send periodic builds so our clients gets to see the app as its being built. Seeing an app in your hand and interacting with it is imperative to developing a quality end product. Something that looked great on paper may not work well when you actually hold that in your hand and you may only realize this by interacting with the app; this is the concept of Agile development. Many shops will only show the customer the project at the end, assuming they deliver at all. When you get the project at the very end the developers may have faithfully built what you though you wanted. However, when you interact with it you see problems you didn’t realize when you were designing everything on paper. With Agile development you get this feedback sooner and it saves everyone time and money.
Based on my experience at Apple, where I dealt with large companies like Adobe, Microsoft, Symantec and many others including the internal Apple development team, I realized that proper communication is paramount to solving technical problems correctly. In fact you could completely build the wrong solution if you don’t communicate effectively with the customer at each stage of development. You will find that our team is excellent at communicating with customers. CollegeMobile is run with a mindset with the customer in mind and it is our main focus.
We have two professional designers on staff. One has a 4-year Bachelor in this field the other our more senior designer has a Ph.D. in Human Computer interaction and (between the two of them over a decade of experience in design). Our designers have also designed apps such as the Co-op CRS App used by thousands of people across Canada. They can help you flesh out and polish your idea in a iterative design process.
Our company focuses on our customers and on developing mobile apps. Mobile apps is a quickly changing field and you have to keep up to date all the time. Here a great example for you: just three days ago Apple required all developers to start using XCode 5 if they want to publish to the App Store. This is a big change in developing for iOS because before you could use any version of XCode that worked. We keep on top of these impending changes and have dedicated individuals on our teams to keep up to date with coming changes.
All the members on our development team have at least a 4-year Bachelor from a University in their field. Our team also includes people with Masters and PhD degrees. In other small development shops you will find that the developers simply taught themselves mobile programming and are now charging out their services. We pride ourselves on our collective and individual knowledge.
In conclusion I encourage you to think about the above when considering our company.
With the recent sale of NuuNest on the App Store for $0.99 and a little marketing help from PregnantChicken NuuNest has reached #1 in the Canadian App Store and #2 in the US App Store for Paid Medical Apps.
Short term sales with marketing support can help you get your apps out there to reach a wider audience. Though the app normally is on sale for $4.99 the sale effectively brought a lot more people’s attention to the app. Though not an In-App Purchase App (yet) NuuNest has used this strategy effectively to grow their user base and bring more users and attention to the app.
Breaking into the US App Store is also something NuuNest has strived hard to do over time as ranking high in the Canadian App Store is certainly a great feat. The app is currently also ranking in the top overall apps which NuuNest ranked #173 on the US store just three spots behind Angry Birds Seasons and #89 on the Canadian Store well ahead of Angry Birds Seasons.
In this day and age it seems that everyone has a smartphone. This increased demand for smartphones has of course created an increased demand for smartphone apps. Although there are a few different top mobile platforms to develop for (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, BB10 and Windows Phone), many companies choose one or two platforms that will target the mass majority of their user groups. Apple and Android users are most prominent in North American and many companies choose to develop one of those platforms for their first app.
Recently we have been noticing a trend; we have been approached by companies that have developed an iPhone app but now want to branch out and see what other users they could get by adding additional platforms. As many of you know, at CollegeMobile we develop for all of the leading platforms which tends to be unusual in our market. Our software engineers specialize in one (sometimes two) platform[s] so the end product they develop is of the utmost quality and conforms seamlessly to that platform’s guidelines and standards. When we meet clients that already have an iPhone app our first two suggestions are to develop for Android and the iPad. By expanding to these two platforms a company can spread its reach even further and cover many of the smartphone users in the market. Also sometimes larger companies who have users across North American will want to accommodate all of their potential users so they will develop for all of the platforms. One other thing we noticed is that although users personal phones are iPhones and Android devices, their work devices may be BlackBerry due to the widespread adoption of BlackBerry by business. We have dedicated BlackBerry and BlackBerry10 developers on our team that can accommodate this demand.
If your origination currently has an app for one platform, give us a call or shoot me an email and we can talk about expanding your app to other platforms that will help you gain more exposure to your target market: 1-800-298-7081 ext 710 email@example.com.
After years of slowly gaining momentum, mobile payments are becoming one of the juggernaut markets of the technology industry. Last year Forrester estimated it would become a $90 billion market by 2017. Apple is gradually beginning to unroll and reveal their plans for this space. Their Passbook application is starting to gain traction, thanks in part to to its recent widespread adoption by various companies, and yet, impressively, it is speculated that Apple’s plans for mobile payments do not end there.
Passbook is an iOS application designed by Apple. It was announced at the 2012 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and was released with iOS 6 on September 9, 2012. The application lets users store and display their boarding passes, coupons, event tickets, retail cards and other generic cards (ie. membership cards).
Passbook offers many benefits over conventional payment methods, perhaps the most obvious being convenience. People tend to carry their iPhones with them everywhere. Passbook provides the user with a centralized location for all their passes so they can always purchase goods from their favourite retailers (and perhaps more importantly not miss out on earning loyalty rewards). Important also, Passbook reduces the likelihood of misplacing one’s card as it is much easier to keep track of ones phone than a tiny pieces of plastic. Having the app available on the iPhone additionally eliminates the resource requirements dedicated to the production of a card’s physical counterpart, although unfortunately this isn’t always the case, as some implementations require the use of an existing card. Conveniently, Apple makes it incredibly easy to share passes via text message and email.
(Messaging a movie ticket)
Many features of Passbook actually outstrip those associated with conventional payment methods. Users’ passes can be dynamically updated using Apple Push Notification service. This allows the user to be notified of important information, such as a gate changes at the airport, or when the balance of their gift card changes. Since a user’s passes are stored in iCloud, these updates will be sent to all their devices. Passbook also offers the ability to display on the user’s lock screen when they are near a location associated with a pass. In this situation, the user simply opens the app from the lock screen and presents it to the retail associate or customer service agent. Another benefit of Passbook is it can move more customers. Richard Crone, of Crone Consulting, reports the application can make store lines move 10-20% faster during peak hours.
(Users can choose to enable Automatic Updates and Show On Lock Screen)
There are plenty of excellent implementations of Passbook available to consumers. For instance, the Starbucks iOS application does a fantastic job of integrating with Passbook. After registering a card with their Starbucks account, a user can perform all plausible functions necessary to a customer using only their iOS device. The application allows users to reload and auto-reload (ie. reload $25 when the balance falls below $10) their card, refresh and transfer balances, view recent transactions and rewards, and most importantly, pay for their goods and earn rewards at Starbucks. Everything can be managed within the application.
(Users can reload and auto-reload their Starbucks cards)
Owing, no doubt, to the ingenuity of their design, Starbucks is having plenty of success in the mobile payment space. During an earnings call on January 23, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz stated that mobile and gift card payments now account for more than 30% of Starbucks’ total share of U.S. payments. More than 10 million customers pay using the app and they process over a million mobile payments per week. Schultz also noted that Starbucks “process[ed] more than 40 million new Starbucks card activation[s] valued at (more than) $610 million in the U.S. and Canada alone in Q1, including (more than) 2 million new Starbucks card activations per day in the period immediately leading up to Christmas, and $1.4 billion of Starbucks card loads globally.”
While plenty of companies have excellent implementations of Passbook, there are two others that I’d especially like to point out. The Cineplex Mobile app and MLB.com At Bat are both gorgeous applications that let individuals purchase tickets within the application, and store them until showtime/gameday. The Cineplex Mobile app also conveniently lets the user store a Scene card in Passbook, which affords 10% off concession and earns the user points towards free movies. I personally can’t remember the last time I’ve needed anything more than my iPhone when going to a movie!
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Apple is looking to expand their mobile payment efforts so users would be able to pay for physical goods using their iOS devices via their existing iTunes accounts. Indeed, Apple has an enormous amount of dormant potential in this space. According to analyst estimates, the company has over 600 million users with credit cards on file as of late last year (for reference, PayPal has around 137 million active accounts). There are a few other recent developments that hint at Apple’s future mobile strategy. First, the debut of iBeacons (permitting device-based mobile transactions in-store) with iOS 7. Second, a recent patent filing that would allow devices to securely store payment information and then authorize purchases in a way that doesn’t convey any user sensitive data (much like the way Touch ID is used on the iPhone 5s). While much of this is speculation, there is no denying it is an exciting time in the mobile payment market and Apple has set themselves up to be major player in it.
Karson Braaten is a long-time software engineer at CollegeMobile. His latest baby at the company is the Space Stretch iPad app.
Carleton University has had a mobile presence for many years. In fact, they were at the forefront of providing students with a solid, simple app to improve their university experience. In keeping with that spirit, Carleton decided it was time to refresh their app for a new school season.
Redesign with new features
They decided to go full out and completely re-skin the application, as well as add some exciting new features for students. Along with previous features like viewing classes, exams, and grades, they added a new Student Accounts feature where students can quickly check their outstanding balance and ensure they stay on top of their payments. Along with CULearn – their innovative Learning Management System – this completed a trifecta of online information Carleton provides to its students.
Single Sign In
One issue that arose in offering all of these services, is that they are all unique and separate systems. This meant that users would have to log in to each of the three sections separately. As Carleton prioritizes their students first, they set out to solve this problem.
In conjunction with CollegeMobile, they rolled out a Single Sign In system, which allows users to log in once to access these three valuable systems. This reduces friction and frustration for their users, and ensures students can quickly access the information they need.
When iOS apps first became popular, an icon grid was often utilized as the main screen of an app. These icons represented each piece of functionality an app offered. It was very similar to how iOS still currently uses a grid of icons for their home screen. The only problem with using this grid in an app is that it presents the users with an array of choices, and no logical grouping between these choices.
In their redesign, Carleton went with a tabbed approach. This allowed logical grouping to the app’s features, as well as opening up space to have featured content immediately displayed to users. Carleton wants students to be up to speed on all campus information, especially important information such as registration deadlines.
This drove them to bring users immediately to Recent News, which is featured immediately on launch. Upcoming Events are then a single tap away. Utilizing a stylish feature graphic for the most prominent news item was a great way to ensure users didn’t miss any crucial news items.
Following that is Campus which contains anything a student needs to know about campus life and activities, including transit service details. A small amount of parallax scrolling was added to the rotating feature graphics to ensure the app feels lively, even when it’s presenting static information.
Academics follows next, which allows user to access the previously mentioned cuLearn, Classes/Exams/Grades, and Student Accounts features. Via the app, students can easily add their classes to their devices calendar, to ensure they’re never late to class again!
Finally, because Carleton is always looking to improve, they have prominently featured a feedback section where students can ask for support, suggest features or congratulate Carleton on their amazing app!
With a fresh design and new features, Carleton is again raising the bar for student-focused mobile apps! If you’re a Carleton university student, or just want to try out the app, you can download it from the Google Play Store or from the iOS App Store. If you’d like to learn more about Carleton University, visit their website.
1. Positioning & Marketing
Marketing is something which many App developers overlook when building their App. But it is a very important component to making money in Apps and so overlooked that I have put it first in this list to draw attention to it. Look at the App Store there are over a billion Apps on the various stores. You can have the best App but nobody can find it then it will not rise to the top. You need to compete with those other Apps for people’s attention. Making an App that is different from your competitors is very important. People think in sets of categories. For example “best ruler App”. In the ruler Apps if that is what you are in how do you position yourself the best in certain ways. For example if someone wants to measure something really long perhaps your App does that the best. Once you find what your App does best and can be #1 at and make plenty of money you have found how you should position your product in the market. Specifically as “the best ruler App for measuring really long distances”. Whatever that positioning is you also want to make your App easy to find if someone is searching for you with that idea in their mind. This goes back especially to the title you use in your App but also the keywords you put into your description and even the icon you use which is mentioned in the next point. Thinking of how you position your App as a key component of your strategy.
2. Improving the App Icon and Title.
What users see when they look at the App store is either what you see directly below or a slight variation on this.
Users don’t have a lot of information about an App when they are deciding which App to click on. Really the icon represents a significant portion of the information conveyed and then the title makes up the rest. Updating or improving your icon and title can go a long way to improving your ranking on the App Store and bringing in more dollars for your App. When choosing an icon choose something that is
Unique – should stand out from other Apps in your category
Attractive – App Icon needs to be attractive to attract the user to the App
Convey Important Information – This is probably one of the most overlooked things about an App icon. Many App developers will handle one or both of the items above correctly but then pick something which doesn’t convey any real information about the App. Think about Apps like Angry Birds its very clear from the icon that the App is about a bird that looks angry. If you know nothing about the App you know that. You want to convey information in the icon which tells the user what it is. The same holds true for the title. When choosing a title only part of your title is shown to the user so pick the words which covey the most information in that short space.
3. In-App Purchase
96% of the top grossing Apps on the App store use In-App purchase and aren’t straight paid Apps. Give the user a free experience to start and give them enough that they want more. But when they want more that In-App purchase is there. There is more information Making Money on the App Store">here if you want more details.
You need to know what users are doing in your App. You should always add Google Analytics or similar tracking technology to your App. This way you can determine what things people are getting stuck on and what might prevent their enjoyment of the App. Amazon in building their website did all kinds of tests to determine what stopped people from buying. Where they would get stuck and what were the barriers. Over time they looked at this and optimized till they had a site that allows users to buy as easily and quickly as possible and without barriers. Look at your Analytics for your In-App purchase for example now that you have implemented this. If there are multiple opportunities to buy which ones work better? Perhaps something as small as the text presented to the user prior to the buying process is effecting whether they buy or not. You can test by putting three different versions of the text and then the App, with the App randomly selecting between the three. By doing tests similar to this you over time can determine which of the three options makes people buy more. Same holds true of many changes you may make to your App.
5. Good Design
You may have heard the term “content is king” before. What exactly does it mean, and does it have any relevance when it comes to mobile applications?
The concept has a simple application to mobile design. Users want to see the application content, they care about little else. I’ve gathered some screenshots of Apple designed iOS 7 applications (a version of these applications are included on any iPhone you buy). You could say that these applications are the heart and soul of an iPhone; they make up the primary user experience most iPhone users will have. Let’s carefully consider how some of these applications present their content to the user in a quick and effective way.
The “App Store”, “Clock”, and “Photos” applications all immediately show valuable content as soon as the application is opened. One mistake that is easy to make is to first present the user with a method of filtering or sorting through data. The “App Store” for example, doesn’t show a list of categories as its home screen. The categories are easily accessible and can be found in one click, but Apple is telling the user that they think the applications they’re featuring are more interesting and more deserving of the home screen space. This immediately presents the user with a visually appealing list of applications and banner ads.
The “Clock” application is similarly made up of 4 tabs, or 4 content pages. The first thing the user is presented with is the content that corresponds to the selected tab. The application remembers the last tab the user had open the last time they used the application. That tab is open by default, the next time the application is run. In this way they have the best chance of identifying what data the user cares about, and opening that data by default. For myself, the “Alarm” tab is almost the only tab I use in the application, and I am immediately presented with my alarms when I open the application. They’ve even went as far as to include the alarm toggles in the default “Alarm” view, thus saving me more time on one of the most common alarm clock functions (turning an alarm on or off).
The “Calendar” application takes an interesting approach. When you enter the calendar application you are presented with a detail view of the month that it currently is. If the month is January, the application will show you the calendar for January. In the top left you will see a back arrow that will show you all 12 months of the year. This concept is interesting because Apple has chosen not to show the top level of their application, but to automatically show you one of their application’s details pages because they feel that information will be more useful to you. Showing the detail view, by default, in this push-down navigation application, is an interesting and fairly unique design approach. By choosing to do this the calendar application has forgone having “Month” and “Year” tabs, thus opening up the bottom strip of t he application for action buttons.
Next I’d like to talk about the applications that immediately present the user with a list of data, but have no tabs; namely the “Messages”, “Reminders”, “Stocks”, and “Settings” applications (pictured below). Apple has identified the primary use cases of these applications, and found a way to, without clutter, present this data to the user immediately. A list of data is almost always the first thing that should be shown when a user opens your application. The fact that the user can see and interact with your content immediately is critical to providing the best user experience. Users do not want to navigate through menus and explore different functions of the application as their first experience with your application. It is almost always a better idea to show the user content related to the part or feature of the application that you think will be the most popular (ideally you’ll have analytics to back up what your most popular feature is). From this feature the user should be able to find or navigate to other features easily (possibly with one of the two navigation methods we’ve explored: tabs or the back button).
Any keen reader may note that Apple has broken the paradigm I’ve been talking about on one of the applications I mentioned above. The “Settings” application is the exception. The screen you are presented with could be interpreted two ways, either as a list of content or as an application menu (the menu for the settings app). In this case it appears there was simply no easy way for the sheer amount of settings that the application shows to be intuitiv ely organized into tabs, or given any other intuitive navigation method. In an attempt to mitigate this failure of design the top settings that are shown are meant to be the most commonly used settings. Some of these top settings even hint at detailed information before the user has clicked into the option (the airplane mode function even allows you to toggle it on and off from the root of the settings application). They’ve tried to mitigate the shortcoming of showing the long list of items on the “Settings” apps home screen with this added functionality built right into the menu.
I’ve briefly mentioned some of the ways Apple helps build fast and intuitive user experiences for their applications. The two methods we’ve explored are: starting on a detail page of a push-down navigation application, as well as using tabs to organize and display information (while displaying one of the tabs by default). The same or similar approaches can be taken on the Android platform. Although tabs are currently out of style on Android, a similar concept is often used to organize content. It’s known as a Navigation Drawer. The same method of showing a push-down navigation detail page, by default, does translate directly to Android.
You can see in Android’s “App Structure” documentation, one of the first concepts they mention is “Put content forward”, explaining that, “Many apps focus on the content display. Avoid navigation-only screens and instead let people get to the meat of your app right away by making content the centerpiece of your start screen.” Apple’s documentation similarly describes this concept as such, “As much as possible, avoid displaying a splash screen or other startup experience. It’s best when users can begin using your app immediately.” If you follow this link you can observe an example of two home screen designs for the calculator application, one that Apple considers bad, and the other they consider good. Here’s a few other relevant and important points Apple’s design documentation mentions:
“Avoid asking people to supply setup information”
“Make it easy to focus on the main task by elevating important content or functionality”
“Use a tab bar to display several peer categories of content or functionality. A tab bar is a good way to support a flat information architecture and its persistence lets people switch between categories regardless of their current location.” (Emphasis is my own).
These application designs, as well as the documentation and quotes I’ve supplied, include concepts you should consider when building and designing your application and user experience. Ultimately your application users will care about your content more than anything else, your job is to provide an application to them that makes your content as easy to find and consume as possible. This will result in happier and more engaged users, as well as a more positively reviewed application.
In the early days of the App Store it was easy for developers to enter the market and make a lot of money with a paid app. There were many iPhone users and apps were hot and nearly anyone who made an app made at least a small fortune. Thus began the craze where everyone and everything needed an app. After a few years of this trend the App Store has become more saturated now. Any new app that comes to the store will probably have one or more competitors. This is the new reality.
The psychology of the app consumer has also changed. The buying behavior of app buyers used to be “Wow there is an app for that, isn’t that great! Sure I’ll buy it for $0.99!”. Apple even built an entire advertising campaign: “There’s an app for that”. Users were generally happy to find an app or two for their purpose and sometimes they might buy them both just to try them and know they had tried all that was available. However, the world has moved on and now that the app store is more saturated the consumer behavior is changing. Nearly every app will have a few near or direct competitors. User behavior is now based on the idea that “There are several apps I can choose from so I’ll try a few free ones first”. The user will then exhaust all of the free apps and if none of those meets their needs then only at that point will they consider a paid option. If you are a developer trying to make money from a paid app, the user has probably exhausted all of the free choices before they will even look at your app. The model has changed because the consumer has so many choices.
In-App Purchase lets a customer try the app for free and at some point they will be prompted to pay. This is a very different buying behavior for the customer. The new habit will be downloading the app for free, trying it out and then being prompted to pay to continue using or to unlock features. At this point they are already hooked on this particular app and it will be a lot of work to leave that app and find another one which may or may not suit their needs. So the decision comes down to “do I want to pay $0.99 or do I want to spend the next 15 minutes of my life trying to find another app?”. The decision will usually be to pay the $0.99 and just keep using the app they are already hooked on. This is a good outcome for both the developer and consumer because the developer got paid for his work and the consumer got a product they liked. This scenario also rewards good work by the developer as consumers will tend to choose the app that gives a good experience and then pay for it. If the app isn’t good it will be in the list of apps that were discarded in the initial trial period. This is also another reason Native apps are replacing Web Apps but that is a different blog post.
Apple recently announced that 96% of the top grossing apps on the App Store use In-App Purchase to make their sales. This is up from 80% in 2012. These numbers indicate that the ship has sailed and In-App purchases are really the only way to make money on the App Store (I do add the caveat that for certain things like magazine periodicals, subscriptions may be a better option). It seems clear at some point that ‘pay up front apps’ may be discontinued all together and isn’t something we recommend our clients. It seems that in-App purchase is really the only way to go if you intend to make money selling your app. Perhaps in a few years this trend will move onto a different model. However, for now In-App purchase is here to stay and it isn’t going away and it is really the only way to make money on the App Store for the majority of the developers out there.