Posts tagged App Store

Designing the Perfect Mobile Application Store

I briefly touched on application stores as part of my last post, Creating a Better BlackBerry Experience. After re-reading the post and reflecting on some of the comments, I felt that a more in-depth follow-up was required to discuss why the overarching design of a mobile application store is paramount to its adoption, usability and ultimately, success.

This post will focus on how I believe the design of BlackBerry App World (“BBAW”) can be improved for both enterprises and consumers.

BlackBerry App World for Enterprises

When BBAW was first released, many BES-connected users had problems downloading applications due to permission-based issues. RIM can’t do much to change corporate policies, but RIM can implement a highly-anticipated BBAW for the enterprise. I am proposing that RIM creates an enterprise app store, similar to the app store announced by MobileIron in December 2009. MobileIron’s enterprise app store allows enterprises to create a repository of approved content and apps, which employees can then download and use with the full blessing of IT. In addition, an enterprise can create device or employee categories with permissions for certain types of content. As mentioned by Kevin Fitchard of Connected Planet, “Salesmen, for instance, would find Salesforce.com’s app in their approved storefront, while a field engineer would not. Both field engineers and salesman could have access to vehicle navigation services, and while a desk jockey might be able to download that same application, the company could set usage restrictions limiting when he or she could use it (say, business trips) or require the employee to pay the monthly service fee in a separately generated bill.” To me, this concept sounds like an app store that would help RIM sell more BlackBerry devices to enterprises, help IT administrators and make employees more productive (and happy) when mobile. Obviously, a more tidy billing mechanism will have to be in place, since I’d reckon the majority of enterprise won’t want to pay via PayPal.

BlackBerry App World for Consumers

In creating v2.0 of BBAW, RIM has a lot of work to do. My last post discusses a few elements that need improvement including the billing systems, pre-loads and fewer bugs. I’d like to add a few more points to the discussion. To begin with, the billing system needs to be more dynamic and allow customers to attach credit cards to their profile for frictionless billing. The billing systems should also be flexible enough to power additional business models for application developers including subscription billing and in-application micro-transactions. Why not bring the minimum price-point to $0.99 as well?

Steven Berkovitz chimed-in to mention that with BES 5.0, there’s a full-blown web version of desktop manager; it uses an ActiveX control to connect to your Blackberry for operations requiring a physical connection and personal data is sync’d over-the-air (“OTA”). However, this functionality doesn’t yet extend to previously installed, licensed and configured applications. As a consumer, wouldn’t it be nice to buy your next BlackBerry, insert your SIM card, load your user profile from within an OTA-driven application and click “Restore Profile” to then have your data, applications (auto-detect new BlackBerry OS and download proper build for the new device) and configuration settings loaded onto your new device OTA? That is one step towards a BlackBerry device that can compete with future iPhone models in delivering the experience sought after by the ever-smarter and bells-and-whistles-seeking consumer today.

Many users are also confused by not being able to find certain apps in BBAW that show up for their friends or colleagues. By design, RIM only shows its users the apps available for their device. In a future version of BBAW, it would be nice to show users all the apps and allow users to be notified (by push, email, SMS, etc…) when the app is launched for their specific OS and device model. This could also give developers a sense of what devices are generating the most demand for their product so that they could focus their development efforts on the makes/models and locations that are going to yield that greatest financial rewards or user adoption.

Ubiquitous Access

BBAW needs to come pre-loaded on all (new) handsets. End of story. In cases where mobile carriers have a contractually dominant position over RIM on controlling content or applications available to mobile devices, RIM should provide those carriers with sufficient access and privileges to formally reject specific applications for use by their subscribers for their own reasons. In concert with these changes, RIM should enter into a formal revenue sharing agreement with carriers so that revenues generated from application one-time sales, subscriptions and micro-transactions can be shared. Once these deals are signed, RIM (or the mobile carrier) should push App World down to all BlackBerry devices. IMHO, this would be a win-win-win scenario for RIM, carriers and consumers.

If you were RIM, how would you design BlackBerry App World v2.0?

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Creating a Better BlackBerry Experience

Over the last 18 months, I have had the unique opportunity to become entrenched in the mobile ecosystem from the viewpoint of business startups, independent developers and as a consumer. I walk around with a BlackBerry Bold and an iPhone and test smartphone apps in all shapes and sizes.

At the BlackBerry Partners Fund, we’ll invest in mobile businesses agnostic to the device that the application is based on; however, we expect that as a business owner you’ve chosen to target the right devices for the right reasons in the right market verticals. With that in mind, I get the opportunity to see the merits of developing applications for one platform versus another in a variety of contexts and business situations. From my experience, I have learned that generally, developers want to reach as many target users (or screens) as possible with the minimum amount of work, cost and time invested – and this makes a ton of sense!

BlackBerry Partners Fund is often perceived as the corporate venture arm of Research In Motion (“RIM”) – but it is not. RIM is an investor in the Fund and it is co-managed by RBC Venture Partners and JLA Ventures. As an employee of RBC, I don’t have access to internal information at RIM and I operate at an arm’s length from the company. However, as a fellow Canadian, I would love nothing more than to see RIM continue its dominance in the global smartphone market.

For RIM to remain one of the leaders in the marketplace, I strongly believe that a few fundamental changes need to happen at the developer level through to the end-user experience.

mobile-value-chain

Figure 1. Mobile application value chain from developer to end-user.

Developer Tools
As I mentioned previously, developers want to find the fastest, cheapest and quickest way (while retaining quality) to develop their applications. Many developers who develop for BlackBerry run into two huge fragmentation issues – the first at the device level and the second at the carrier level. My advice to RIM is to either acquire a company that has figured out how to port between BlackBerry models or develop an in-house multi-device porting tool that can be released as part of the BlackBerry SDK for developers. A tool with these capabilities would be helpful to RIM and to developers; there’s a simple equation: “BlackBerry-wide porting tool = more developers + more applications (net, on more handsets) = more revenues for RIM and developers + happier developers” (Note: No scientific studies exist to prove or disprove this equation). Just to be clear, RIM isn’t the only company with this problem. Device software fragmentation has been a problem for Windows Mobile for years and is now beginning to become an issue for Google Android. Microsoft is now trying to combat this with the Windows Mobile 7 platform by taking a standardized approach with no backward compatibility.

Application Stores
Application stores have become an essential distribution platform for mobile applications since the launch of the Apple App Store and are expected to reach $7 billion in revenue in 2010. One of the core elements to ongoing vitality in the app store ecosystem is the ability to create a seamless customer experience, which includes availability of quality apps and the ability to purchase apps easily and quickly, while on-the-go. RIM has a great start with BlackBerry App World (available via mobile and online), but for RIM to improve upon their current application store, I strongly believe that a number of things need to happen:

(1)    A credit card needs to be added to each user’s profile to allow payment beyond PayPal.

(2)    BlackBerry App World needs to come pre-loaded on all handsets; in situations where carriers keep “walled-gardens”, there should be rev share deals in place to push down App World and split revenues on pre-agreed terms with RIM rather than fragmenting distribution for developers who have a hard enough time distributing across all handset models.

(3)    BlackBerry App World needs to run faster and without as many bugs; it crashes far too often IMHO.

I’d like to further note that easing the end-user’s ability to purchase mobile applications would result in more revenues going back to developers who will in turn create more compelling applications for users (as seen in Figure 1, above). It’s a very nice cycle that would benefit RIM, developers and consumers.

Alternative or Cloud Device Management
I think that Apple maintained such a strong, early and rapid acceleration of mobile application adoption because of their centralized billing platform and iTunes. iTunes was a very smart way of leveraging a desktop application (used frequently) to create a simple management console for the iPhone. I believe that RIM should take on a similar strategy. My recommendation to the company would be to have each BlackBerry user create a profile online, hosted in the “cloud”, and accessible through a variety of interfaces. As a primary interface, I would suggest that RIM creates a plug-in that hooks into Microsoft Outlook (the most commonly used application by business users) that would allow full device management capabilities (updates, application purchase, install, sync, etc…); this would take place of the current BlackBerry Desktop Manager. I would also make alternative means of syncing the ‘Berry available such as a plug-in for Firefox or a completely online, hosted solution. However it is done, the core premise remains: make it simple for the user to update, backup, sync and install new applications. IMHO, the simplest way is to embed or plug-in to an existing application that is already running on the user’s machine for the majority of the day. Just like the proverb “out of sight, out of mind,” I believe the opposite is true here.

Readers, I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you agree with any/all of this post? Did I miss anything fundamentally important to RIM’s success going forward? Would you like your device profile and information stored in the cloud?

Note: These are my personal beliefs and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the BlackBerry Partners Fund.

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Does Eliminate Pro Violate Apple’s Developer Agreement?

As an after thought to my last post on virtual goods, I published a comment discussing Eliminate Pro’s innovative play (or “experiment” says MTV Interactive)  on Apple’s changes to the App Store to allow for in-app billing on certain items. It’s been a successful experiment. As of yesterday, the game has been downloaded 500,000 times so far at a rate of about 25,000 an hour, currently making it the top free app in iTunes (via TechCrunch).

After some successful digging, playing the game and reviewing Apple’s Developer Agreement. Some red flags were raised…

Eliminate Pro, a game developed by ng:moco, is an action-packed first person shooter (FPS) game that progresses very slowly. The game uses this tactic to charge impatient users to play and progress through the game at a faster pace. The game allows users to buy more battery packs or cases (Power Cells) through the In-App billing system. This allows users to recharge faster, compete to earn more “credits” so that they can upgrade their fighter’s armor, weapons and other items (virtual goods). Power cells are the currency of the game.

What I want to know is where Apple is drawing the line in the sand in terms of what is considered a virtual currency and what isn’t. As per Apple’s iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (the “Agreement”), Apple states:

Additional Restrictions

2.1 You may not use the In App Purchase API to enable an end user to set up a pre-paid account to be used for subsequent purchases of content, functionality, or services, or otherwise create balances or credits that end users can redeem or use to make purchases at a later time.

2.2 You may not enable end users to purchase Currency of any kind through the In App Purchase API, including but not limited to any Currency for exchange, gifting, redemption, transfer, trading or use in purchasing or obtaining anything within or outside of Your Application. "Currency" means any form of currency, point, credits, resources, content or other items or units recognized by a group of individuals or entities as representing a particular value and that can be transferred or circulated as a medium of exchange.

Specifically, item 2.2 of ‘Additional Restrictions’ within ‘Attachment 2′ of the Agreement raises some obvious questions about how Eliminate Pro got approved. Eliminate Pro uses Power Cells (the virtual good that they sell) to buy additional energy (a resource) that they can use in a game to earn credits, which are redeemable for weapons, armor and other inventory items.

This seems to be in direct violation to the Agreement. Unless, however, Apple is okay with allowing “indirect” forms of currencies to work (Buy Energy > Spend Energy for Time > Use Time to gain Credits > Use Credits to buy Virtual Goods (weapons, etc…)). Some clarity please?

It would be great if some people (Apple execs, developers, anyone) could weigh-in on this matter. What types of “economies” or “currencies” can be established while still being compliant with Apple’s policies?

Please share your perspective below.

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Geeks Love Halloween

The rumors are true. Technology geeks do have a thing for Halloween. Mashable scoured the web and found some great pumpkin carvings well representing the current state of web technology and social media. The Twitter Fail-Whale (below) is great and there’s a fantastic carving of Diggnation hosts Alex Albrecht and Kevin Rose.
See more at: 12 Awesome Social Media Halloween Pumpkin Carvings.

failwhale-pumpkin

Source: Scott B. on Flickr via Mashable!

The iPhone App Store is also cashing-in on the Halloween frenzy. The App Store is promoting its “Halloween Apps & Games” section where you can carve virtual pumpkins with “iCarve” and play Halloween-themed games.

apple-store-smort-zombies

One notable oddity, a game called Attack Of The Zombie Bikini Babes From Outer Space was launched in the App Store two days ago. Smort (rumored to be Smule’s Evil-Twin by Techcrunch) launched the game. As TechCrunch puts it, Smort looked at common themes popular within App Store games, and generated a list: Bikini Babes, Zombies, Bombs, and Bloodshed. This game is the result of that (innovative? smart? creative?) thinking. What are your thoughts? (see video below)

Personally, I think this is really smart. Now, although this game doesn’t necessarily look that compelling, I think that Smort has the right thesis: Research. Build. Launch. Iterate. Repeat. App Store trends are constantly changing. Therefore, monitoring user behavior and download trends can lead to new learnings about your target audience.

My advice: If you’re a startup/entrepreneur, go research your market (do a quick market survey if you wish), build your app and launch it! Review your analytics/metrics, iterate and launch again quickly. There are some app-hungry consumers out there.

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