Apple’s announcement of the iPad this week and the incredible growth of Apple’s AppStore, I thought it would be appropriate to share my thoughts on software distribution and marketing in a closed eco-system for software. This post is the first half of a two part series on closed eco-systems, like the Apple AppStore, for application development and distribution and the effect that will have on customer adoption.
Last week, I had written the first in a two part series on software development and distribution on closed application store eco-systems. I had used Apple’s AppStore as an example partially due to the release on Apple’s newest device the iPad and also because the AppStore is by far the most successful example of a single distribution system for software developers. In part 1 I had outlined the benefits to consumers and developers in using a closed system like Apple’s. Part 2 will show some how control can negatively impact those who create content for AppStores and those who want to use software on their devices.
To be clear, Apple represents one of the most aggressively closed systems for both developers and consumers. The platform itself only allows for loading of native applications from the the Apple AppStore. Beyond creating a web-based application that is optimized for the device itself, there is no way to implement a solution that is not specifically endorsed by Apple. Other mobile platforms such as Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Palm all offer methods for users to install applications directly onto a device without the need to have their wares approved by a governing entity. Being able to distribute a piece for software on your own website, your own terms or with any licence agreement gives developers flexibility and channel that is better suited for innovation and support to the end-user.
The ability to work beyond confining terms and license agreements allow developers to push platforms and solutions that allow the the mobile industry to grow and be challenged. This was true with the explosion of Palm in the late 90′s and continued in a smaller scale with platforms like WindowsMobile, Symbian and recently with the open-source based Android operating system. The adoption of a popular piece of software can challenge manufacturers to change hardware, create a new use-case or even extend the life of a product. Software developers can also support a product far beyond the “end-of-life” that a manufacturers support. Ironically, Apple is a prime example with users of their Newton still supporting and improving the platform. If it were not for devoted developers still writing software and loading it directly onto the devices, many working Newtons would have long-ago become plastic paperweights.
AppStores are positioned as a solution to preserve quality and integrity for the end user. Each application is screened and tested to ensure that it is free from anything that may harm the end user or expose them to an unpleasant experience on a manufactured device. There are too many iFart applications or virtual lighters to allow one to speculate the definition of “quality in taste”, but the model holds true for most in maintaining security and safety for the end-user and their data. It does represent an issue that Apple (nor BlackBerry at the time of publishing) has disclosed the criteria for what parameters are used to judge if an application should be allowed or rejected from their AppStore. This presents several issues for application developers poised to pour many, many hours into an application’s development. The first is “how do I know if my application will be accepted?” the second “what do I do if my application is rejected?”. Neither of these are clear beyond the requirement of developers to adhere to the Software Development Kit (SDK) specifications provided. This is not a consequence of an open system where a developer has several solutions if the hardware manufacturer does not approve or endorse an application. For most devices, there are several methods to install or append software to a device by either I/O access (USB, FireWire, etc.,) or via a networked solution.
Having a focal rally point for comments would seem to be an ideal way to communicate with and distribute user feedback for a developer’s software. In an open system, comments and reviews are distributed all over the internet and users looking for a solution must sift through search-terms and potentially irrelevant material to discover a solution. AppStores put search-term results in logical formats and focus a single point-of-distribution with a link, install option and user reviews in once place. This may not be a good solution if your product is #2, or #3 (or lower) in the search results. Users searching for a solution via Google, Bing or any other search engine may find results different depending on their search history, the terms that are searched or how much they may have invested in their own marketing. An open-system gives a more fractured option list, but a better opportunity for the less popular, and potentially, more appropriate application or content for the searcher. Reviews can also be reached in this same matter rather than shown in aggregate in a single AppStore page.
As a follow-through thought on marketing, you have to think about the financial implications of participating in an AppStore. For some, BlackBerry and Android for instance, there is no commission taken for sales within their eco-systems. Both of these examples are not market-leaders and participation by developers are required to help build the brands. The developers are a corner stone in the platform’s infrastructure. Apple has a slightly different model. Developers pay a 30% charge for every sale. Apple, a market leader, presents a different marketing position. The Apple user base has only one choice to find and install applications: The Apple Store. If you are a developer for iPhone, iTouch and now iPad applications, the AppStore 30% is the only game in town. This is one of the more influential criteria driving developers to more open solutions like Android and, one can speculate, creating a market amongst thought-leaders and geeks to purchase more open-platform devices like the Google Nexus One and Motorola Droid. The popularity of the iPhone and it’s AppStore has set a president and a trend for software distribution that I hope will be contained to the mobile platform and not to the computer industry in general.
That same distribution method is also changing the model for how companies are using the web and “Apps” for marketing and customer conversion. Many of the most popular applications in the AppStore (and Android Portal) are no-cost solutions allowing customers to interface with paid-services or free-mium services. Pandora, DropBox, Box.net and Amazon are only a few examples. Many of these services leverage easy access to position advertising or easily provide consumers access to their content from anywhere they may be to monotize interactions. Native apps and even having an application, a brand footprint on an always-connected, intimate device like a mobile phone is ideal for encouraging interaction and brand loyalty. 2010 will show that there will be a saturating of the market with Apps and brand touch-points. Those not already in the market will have to fight against early incumbents for mind-share and a coveted place on the user’s home-screen (the new prize in marketing real-estate).
Dichotomy: As a developer I am frustrated by the confines that the AppStore represents. As a marketer, any AppStore can be a new distribution channel and focal point to drive customers to interact with your brand from anywhere at anytime. The Apple iPhone, a market-leader, and soon the iPad (success is to-be-determined!) will provide ambitious developers willing to work within Apple’s confines an opportunity at wealth. For those who want to think beyond those confines, platforms like Android and BlackBerry are an opportunity to spread their wings and push the devices they develop for to the limit.