It’s the User Experience, Stupid.

I had a conversation with a taxi cab driver who was upset about the impact of Uber on his livelihood. He cited unfairness, that they were unlicensed, and several other reasons. Although, I was sympathetic, it dawned on me that he didn’t realize why Uber and Lyft are successful. Sadly, the leaders of the Taxi Industry probably don’t understand either what the issue is. To paraphrase the Clinton Presidential Campaign, it’s the user experience, stupid.

The Thrill of Catching a Cab: So, to put this in perspective, I have never had a good experience with cabs. I have never been successful hailing a cab from the street (this is pretty emasculating). I have tried calling for a cab only to never have one show up. As such, I’ve learned to find a nice hotel and get in line for a taxi…and when you enter a cab, you never know what you’ll find. My experience includes being greeted by the smells that consisted of a mixture of cigarette smoke mixed with body odor. This is followed by a terrifying high speed ride to the airport only to find that the cabbie only accepted cash. Anybody able to relate?

The Ride Sharing Experience: In contrast, my experience with a Lyft driver was quite pleasant. Literally within 3 minutes of requesting a ride, a Lyft driver arrives. He’s pleasant and through polite conversation, I find that he’s working his way through college. The entire transaction is handled by the app so I don’t have to pull out my wallet. Everyone that I have talked to that have taken an Uber or Lyft will never take a cab given a choice.

The Taxi Industry Response: What is the cab industry doing to respond to the Ride Sharing Threat? I’ve seen essentially two ways that the Taxi Industry has responded:

  1. Legislation: The Taxi Industry has been successful in keeping out ride sharing services in cities like Las Vegas and Portland, Oregon through legislation. However, I feel that this is only temporary for a couple of reasons. Because of Uber and Lyft’s success, they now have deep pockets and can hire their own lobbyists. And more importantly, because they provide such a terrific customer experience, public sentiment will eventually win over the politicians.
  2. Technology: Several cab companies have developed an app with Uber-like features thinking that this will provide a level playing field. However, this only helps in hailing the cab. The user experience once after entering the cab still is unchanged. This is why the cab companies are not really seeing much success with their apps.

A Cautionary Tale? The Taxi vs. Ride Sharing Service fight is still playing out. However, in my life time, I’ve seen the rise and fall of Blockbuster. I don’t think the leadership of Blockbuster understood why the public stopped renting videos until it was too late. Plain and simple, people rather get a video rental from the comfort of their home (be it streaming or through the mail). It’s the user experience, stupid.

By Rich Foreman, CEO / Apptology and Director of Startup Grind Sacramento. Rich co-authored the book Tap into the Mobile Economy and his blog has been listed in the Top 20 Mobile Marketing Blogs of 2014. Follow Rich on Twitter at @ApptologyCEO or attend a Startup Grind Sacramento Event.

Keys to Success for Great Entrepreneurs: Learn from the Best

jeffburtonI was fortunate to watch Jeff Hoffman, a successful serial entrepreneur, who co-founded Priceline. make a short but powerful presentation at the Startup Grind Global Event where he gave great advice to entrepreneurs. Here are some of the key points from his presentation:

  • Solve real problems
  • Don’t chase money, chase excellence; Money follows excellence
  • Win a gold medal at one thing: “Be the best damn something in the world and everything will happen.”
  • Build a great team
  • Get out of your office and be where your customers are
  • Find your Golden Purpose which is the intersection of “the thing you’re best at,” “the thing you love,” and “something the world values.”

If you have the time, I encourage you to watch his presentation. It’s about 10 minutes long but very insightful.

By Rich Foreman, CEO / Apptology and Director of Startup Grind Sacramento. Rich co-authored the book Tap into the Mobile Economy and his blog has been listed in the Top 20 Mobile Marketing Blogs of 2014. Follow Rich on Twitter at@ApptologyCEO or attend a Startup Grind Sacramento Event.

9 Factors for Hiring the Perfect Mobile App Developer

9 Factors in Evaluating a Developer

Over the years, we have had several clients that have come to us asking to either fix or complete an app from another developer. One client had spent over $50 k with another developer and had nothing to show for it. For all of you that are looking to hire a mobile app developer, this post will go over several factors you should consider when evaluating a developer.

Mobile App Developer Factor #1 The Source Code / Ownership:

An easy way to weed out a developer is to find out what their policy is on the ownership of the source code and intellectual property upon completion of the project. If they won’t release and / or make a claim, keep moving. I discuss the source code issue more in this post.

Mobile App Developer Factor #2 Technical Capabilities:

Is the developer you’re looking at technically capable of completing your project? In your evaluation, realize that it takes a team. So for example, the a complex app development project will have:

  • iOS Developer
  • Android Developer
  • Backend Developer
  • U/X Designer
  • Project Architect
  • Project Manager

7834833

Image Source: Goforthapps

Be cognizant that it’s very hard for one person to do everything and you may need to hire multiple developers with different disciplines or go with a development team that has all the capabilities you’re looking for. For better communication, the ideal situation is where all the developers are under one roof so that problems can be solved quickly.

Mobile App Developer Factor #3: Portfolio

Ask to look at the developer’s portfolio. Download their apps. Evaluate their body of work. What you see is probably a good indication of what kind of app the developer can create for you.

Mobile App Developer Factor #4: References

Ask for a list of references from your developer and take the time to contact them. Some good questions to ask them:

  • Did they have a good process?
  • Were they responsive? How was the communication?
  • Were they helpful with other issues like setting up an iOS account?
  • How was the quality of the work?
  • How well did they resolve problems?

app-developer

Image Source: JCount

Another great place to check their reference is to see if they are accredited by the Better Business Bureau. For example, Apptology’s BBB rating is summarized here. If they are a BBB member, this also gives you a venue to handle disputes. If the developer wants to keep an A rating with the BBB, they are forced to address your dispute.

Mobile App Developer Factor #5: What If You Got Hit By A Bus?

Ask your developer what happens if their main developer got hit by a bus. I know it’s a strange question but it’s important. I had a client that was developing an app and the developer they were working with just disappeared. He didn’t answer any emails and phone calls for a couple of weeks and they were forced to find another developer because they were hitting a deadline. It turned out that their developer had a DUI and was in jail for a few weeks. So, if you ask the “Bus” question, hopefully the developer will have some sort of backup plan for you.

Mobile App Developer Factor #6: Development Process

My undergraduate degree was in Industrial Engineering so I am a stickler about process. That said, when evaluating a developer; ask them about their development process. Some questions to ask:

  • How and when do you provide feedback?
  • How are scope changes handled?
  • Is there a project manager that you work with?
  • Are there regular project meetings?
  • How is communication handled?
  • What types of project management tools are used?
  • How is quality assurance (QA handled)?

In evaluating their development process, see where you fit in. Where do you fit in the design and approval process? What you don’t want is to work with a development team that goes away for 3 months and comes back with crap.

mobile-apps-development

Image Source: Appectual 

Mobile App Developer Factor #7: Maintenance Plan / Upgrades

All the major platforms upgrade their software roughly once a quarter. Unfortunately, these upgrades may actually break your app. When I first developed my app, Apple just released iOS 4 and our app was developed on an older SDK. To our horror we found that half the sound files on our app didn’t work and we had to spend the weekend troubleshooting the problems generated by the upgrade.

So, when choosing a developer, ask them how they handle maintenance. Also, your app should always be evolving. Make sure you also ask them how they handle upgrades.

Mobile App Developer Factor 8: Warranty

Ask your developer if they will warranty their work in writing. So, after the project is delivered and submitted to the various App Store, ask what happens if a bug is discovered? To be fair, the warranty can only be applied to the specific version of the SDK that the app was developed on. As discussed in the previous section, the developer really can’t be responsible for issues caused by an upgrade to the Operating System.

mobile-app-development-costs

Image Source: searlesgraphics

Mobile App Developer Factor #9: Pricing

I saved this for last. I’m not going to go with the cliché that you get what you pay for. I think you can find a quality developer that is still cost effective (shameless plug: like us). I had a client that revealed that the bids for her project ranged from $7 K to $50 K. I personally would throw out the high bid. I’ve heard some vendors just throw out large quotes to weed out their prospects. If there is a bid that is dramatically low, my gut is that they didn’t understand the scope. However, before throwing them out, talk to them first as they may have a template or process that gives them some sort of advantage.

Hopefully, this gives you some food for thought in evaluating developers for your project. If you want to evaluate how much your app will cost to develop as a whole, check out this informative blog now! 

 

By Rich Foreman, CEO / Apptology and Director of Startup Grind Sacramento. Rich co-authored the book Tap into the Mobile Economy and his blog has been listed in the Top 20 Mobile Marketing Blogs of 2014. Follow Rich on Twitter at @ApptologyCEO or attend a Startup Grind Sacramento Event.

3 Steps to Develop Your Mobile App Idea

You’ve been thinking about an idea that you think can be the next Uber for weeks. So what do you do? Here are three steps you can take that will help you develop your idea.

1. Research Your Mobile App Idea:

The first thing you want to do with your idea is to research it. I had a client that spent a considerable amount of time having me do an NDA dance before speaking with me. Once we finally started talking, I quickly did a search on the Apple App Store and found there were over 25 similar apps listed; he quickly lost interest in pursuing this project.

Keep in mind that it’s not the end of the world if you find another app that does what you’re trying to accomplish. You just have to figure out how to make your app better. Remember, before Google there was Yahoo; Before Facebook, there was MySpace. It’s not so much who goes to market first, but rather who executes best.

In doing your research, you need to also look at the market potential. For example, let’s say you had an app that was geared for veterinarians. A quick Google search shows that there are 90,000 veterinarians in the U.S. Now, you just identified your market potential.

Developing-Your-Mobile-App

Image Source: AppsCollections

2. Create Storyboard for Your Mobile App:

Now it’s time to put your idea down on paper and develop a storyboard (or wireframe). This is where the rubber hits the road and you put yourself in the shoes of the user. For instance, what’s the first thing they see once they launch your app? The first screen takes you to the main menu; the user taps the top button, where does it take the user? And so on.

To create our wireframes, our designers use a design tool called Balsamiq. I send our clients a PowerPoint template where they can either use PowerPoint’s drawing tools or they can even print it out and hand draw it.

The advantage of creating a storyboard are:

  • It helps develop your idea
  • You have something to show as you try to recruit people or investors
  • Provides direction for your development team

storyboard-login

Image Source: spordipartner

3. Develop Mobile App Business Plan:

After you’ve done the research and developed a storyboard, if you decide you have something viable, you need to put together a business plan. After you’ve followed these 3 steps diligently, I suggest reading the 5 Challenges of a Startup Appreneur to know what you’re up against and strategize accordingly. Good luck on your start up journey as you recruit co-founders, get funding, etc.

 

By Rich Foreman, CEO / Apptology and Director of Startup Grind Sacramento. Rich co-authored the book Tap into the Mobile Economy and his blog has been listed in the Top 20 Mobile Marketing Blogs of 2014. Follow Rich on Twitter at @ApptologyCEO or attend a Startup Grind Sacramento Event.

5 Recommend Christmas Apps for Kids

There are hundreds of Christmas apps on the app store. Here are 5 Christmas apps for kids that I recommend. I downloaded several apps and looked at them from a parent’s point of view to see if there was anything objectionable. I then had my own children play them to see if they actually liked them. I hope your kids find them enjoyable as well.

Elfyourself The concept is simple, take headshots of friends and family and place them on dancing elves. My kids absolutely love this app and spent hours making dancing elf videos and just laughing up a storm. There a few in-app purchases where you can purchase additional dancing scenes and they are worth it (but not necessary).

.

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas This is an interactive of eBook of the Christmas classic by Dr. Seuss. This book has two modes which give you the option of reading to your child or it can self-narrate. I’m used to seeing the television version and I forgot how charming the “print” version actually is.

.

.

Bogga Christmas Tree This is a mellow app that allows your child to decorate a virtual Christmas tree with everything from choosing the topper, lights, garland, and ornaments. My daughter has already asked to play this several times after she first tried it.

.

.

 

Sago Mini Music Box This is a gentle interactive game with a few cute animals including a Christmas mouse. My daughter was laughing constantly while playing this which caught the attention of my son who then wanted to play also. The good thing is that they could both play simultaneously.

.

.

Where is Santa – Santa Tracker I pretty much just use this app on Christmas Eve day to help build the excitement of Christmas. I’ll launch the app several times a day to show my kids where Santa is in the world. The counts down to when Santa is expected to visit our house. There’s a free and paid version. The free version has a banner ad that doesn’t interfere with the app.

 

The Irony of Apple Pay: Apple’s Need to Support Android

A year ago, I wrote a post basically predicting the demise of NFC (Near Field Communication) because there was no support for it on the iPhone 5s/5c . My contention is that if you had to choose a short range mobile protocol, you need to pick one that has the broadest support.

Well, to my surprise, with the iPhone 6 and 6 plus, Apple now supports NFC, so I pretty much have to eat my words. However, there’s a twist. The Cult of Mac has confirmed from Apple that NFC functionality is locked out to developers and is to only be used for their new Apple Pay mobile payment system. So, those mobile payment systems, eager to leverage the iPhone 6/6 plus’ NFC capability, are left out in the cold.

I don’t foresee Apple opening NFC’s capability anytime soon. For Apple Pay’s plan of world domination, they do not want the iPhone to work with other NFC enabled payment systems. It’s Apple flexing their monopolistic power of their platform. I do, however, predict lawsuits from other mobile payment systems to try to force Apple to provide access to the NFC functionality.

Ironically, for Apple Pay to be successful, it will have to support the Android platform. If you are a retailer, you’re going to choose a payment solution that works for all (or most) platforms (iPhones only made up 11.7% of the smartphones shipped in Q2 2014). Fortunately, for Apple, many of the Android devices out there support NFC. Although I find it hard to fathom, to make Apple Pay ubiquitous, Apple may have to swallow their pride and develop their first Android app. To their credit, they’ve had to make similar decisions in the past when they developed iTunes support for Windows (Steve Jobs was actually opposed to this). It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

The Internet of Things…What is that exactly?

The Internet of Things or IoT is a topic that’s been buzzing in Silicon Valley Startups. So what is it? …and what’s the big deal? For those of you don’t know, read on (those of you that are well versed in this, may skip this post).

What is the Internet of Things?

Most of us first connected to the Internet with a computer. As time progressed, the next device most of us have connected to Internet was a cell phone. Now, we have figured out that we can connect almost anything to the Internet. Televisions, game consoles, refrigerators, parking meters, and so on. What can be connected is limited only by the imagination and this is described as the “Internet of Things.” (Kevin Ashton is given credit for coining the term in his 2009 article, “The Internet of Things”).

What’s the Big Deal?

The Internet of Things can potentially provide us with the ability to monitor and control devices on a large scale where in the past; it’s been a manual process. A good example is a smart thermostat. With a smart thermostat, you can get the output and control remotely from a computer or smart phone. Big deal. You can get up from the couch, see what the temperature is and change it by hand. But imagine if you are a facility manager and you have to manage 100 buildings. This then becomes quite a chore. With a smart thermostat system, you can get the temperature readings and control all the thermostats from a web interface without getting out of your chair. But let’s take this example a little further. Let’s say that all the smart thermostats are providing various bits of data and that data is collected in the cloud. From this data, analytics can be provided and you can then determine the optimal temperature settings based on usage and utilities cost and thereby save money.

Some other places that IoT can be seen are with wearables, connected cars, manufacturing and agriculture. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, recently predicted that by 2020, there will be 50 Billion connected devices which will create $19 Trillion in economic benefit and value.

So, hopefully, you’ve learned enough from this post to comment intelligently when the subject comes up at the next Silicon Valley cocktail party or it’s piqued your attention for you to do more research. In either case, I hope you can see that the IoT will be the next big thing.

 

 

A Tale of Two App Stores: Google Play vs. Apple App Store

Apple’s App Store and Google Play have a review processes that are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Google Play is often described as the Wild West. Typically, we will submit an app to Google Play and after an hour, we’ll be able to find it published on Google Play. There is no human involvement in the review process. This leaves for a lot of freedom and unfortunately a lot of abuse. Virus Shield was a top paid app on Google Play that cost $4 and sold 10,000 downloads. In reality, the app was a fake and did nothing. What’s worse, is that there’s an estimated 42,000 Android apps with malware on Google Play.

In contrast, the Apple App Store has an extensive review process that actually involves a human reviewer. An app typically sits in a queue for two weeks before it gets reviewed. If approved by the reviewer, that app takes a day to get published on the Apple App store. If the app gets rejected, the path to getting approved just got longer (and some apps don’t ever get approved).

I recommend that anyone that wants to get an app published become familiar with the App Store Review Guidelines before developing an app. In general, much of it is common sense (i.e. no porn) but there also are a few specific guidelines that deny specific types of apps like fart apps or DUI checkpoint apps. Knowing the guidelines can save you a lot of heartache. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of Apple rejecting your app, and the reason is unclear, my advice is to request a phone call with the reviewer. From our experience, the reasons for a rejection are typically canned responses. When you meet with a reviewer to discuss their rationale, they may give a better explanation on why your app was rejected and perhaps some suggestions.

As a developer, I love the ease of being able to publish on Google Play. As a consumer, I appreciate the quality control and confidence of apps published on the Apple App Store. In Q2, Apple and Android phones combined made up 96% of the smartphones shipped. So, if you are developing an app, you really should support both iPhone and Android and consequently be familiar with the policies of the respective app stores.

4 Ways to Make Money from a “Free” App

It seems counter intuitive that a free app is the best way to generate revenue.  When advising clients who intend to make money from their app, I recommend they don’t charge for the app.  In my opinion, the price of an app often becomes a barrier for people to download it.  For example, we had a client that had a successful app and it was getting thousands of downloads a week.  As soon as they charged 99 cents for it, the app dropped to a meager 40 downloads per week.  So how do you make money from a free app?  That’s the multiple billion dollar question.  I’ll cover 4 ways to generate revenue from a “free” app:

In-App Purchase:   the In-App purchase is what is described as the “freemium” model.  The app is free but there is an opportunity for the user to purchase additional services.  In terms of generating revenue from the app store, this is the biggie.  If you look at the top 20 grossing apps in the Apple App Store, all of them are free and use Apple’s In-App purchase mechanism (note:  Apple retains 30% of the revenue generated from this mechanism).    Some examples of In-App purchases are:

  • Unlocking “Pro” Version of the App:  This is typically a try it before you buy it model and there are several variations of this including:
    • Unlocking features of the app
    • Allowing the app to work after a trial period
    • Disabling ads
    • Some combination of the above
  • Purchase of virtual goods:  This is where you buy virtual goods with hard Clash of Clans Gem Boxcurrency.  Typically it’s used for games.  For example, Clash of Clans is currently the highest grossing app.  In this free app, you can buy a treasure chest of gems for the bargain price of $99.99.
  • Content:  The app has additional content like a song, video, story, game level, etc.
  • Subscriptions:  Typically used in content app like Zinio or for magazine apps in Apple’s Newsstand.  When the user buys the app, there’s typically some sample content and the user has the option of subscribing for additional content for some set amount of time.  Another example of a subscription can be seen in Pandora where you can upgrade to Pandora One for $3.99 / month.

Mobile Advertising:  The Mobile Ad Market is projected to reach $31.5 Billion this year alone.  Consequently, many mobile ad companies have sprouted with various revenue models.  Mobile Advertising can be used in conjunction with apps that have in-app purchase and consequently allows a free app to generate revenue even if the user doesn’t make any in-app purchases.

Deliver Service / Product:  This is where the free app is essentially a vehicle for the user to purchase a product or service.  Notable examples include:

  • Uber:  from this app, a user can request and pay for a ride sharing service.  Uber’s valuation at the time of this writing is $17 Billion.
  • Doctors on Demand:  this app allows a user to get a consultation from a licensed physician through a video conference for $40 for 15 minutes
  • Amazon:  this is pretty straight forward.   You can use the Amazon app to purchase pretty much anything that’s available through amazon.com

I would like to point out that if the app is to be used to purchase goods or services, you cannot use Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism, and you’ll have to use another mobile commerce vendor like PayPal or Authorized.net.

User Acquisition:  The poster child for this model is Whatsapp which was acquired by Facebook for a staggering $19 Billion.  On the surface, Whatsapp has no revenue model.  They don’t really have a subscription revenue model nor do they have mobile ads.  What they do have is a lot of users; 500 million by some estimates with 18 billion transactions a day.  Snapchat is also following the user acquisition model with no apparent revenue.  They have a reported 30 million users with a valuation of $10 Billion.  I think the model is get the users, monetize later; be it big data, advertising or something else.

Hopefully, after reading this post, you get the idea that if you want to develop an app for profit, “free” is the way to go.

Who Owns the Source Code?

Source CodeA client had developed an app and asked us to do some minor work on their existing app. I told him that we would need access to the source code so the client went back to the original developer to get the source code only to find that the developer claimed the source code as his intellectual property and refused to provide it. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve seen this source code ownership issue. Here are some of the implications of not having the source code to your app:

  • You are forever tied to the developer. Any modification, bug fix, or upgrade has to go through that developer. This is problematic because the developer could raise the price of development and is problematic if that developer becomes sick, busy with other projects, etc.
  • Raising funds or selling your project becomes more difficult because there’s a question of who owns the intellectual property.

Common Law

(Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer; if this is a concern, please get good legal counsel). In general, the author of content owns the copyright. In the case of a software developer, it’s the person physically typing on the key board to create the code. An exception occurs under the “Work for Hire” doctrine where the work is developed by an employee with the scope of their employment. However, when contractors are used, this becomes a little more unclear.

Personal Opinion

If I hire someone to buy a house, at the end of the project, I want the keys to it. In a similar fashion, if I pay someone to develop an app for me, I would expect to have the source code upon completion. At Apptology, this is our general policy. The exception is when we develop an app based off one of our templates. In which case, the template is our intellectual property.

Recommendations

If you are having an app developed by a contractor, have an open discussion about the source code ownership as part of the vetting process. If you don’t agree with their source code policy, move on. If you decide to go with that developer, make sure the ownership of the source code is spelled out in the contract.