“A surge in the use of mobile applications is opening the door to an entirely new way for companies to present their brands to consumers via their phones”
~ Colin Gibbs, GigaOm
“There is a major opportunity here for apps and brands to own consumer engagement everywhere and gather highly valuable targeting information about consumers”
~ Kate Imbach, Mashable
"This is now a mass-market phenomenon, which has opened up new and more direct routes to consumers for brands”
~ Guillaume Arth, Vision Mobile
“Apps now require significant marketing support in order to ensure that mobile users can find them”
~ Noah Elkin, iMedia Connection
For the past 2 months we have been marketing a great iOS application. To see what results our actions are achieving means keeping a constant eye on sales numbers. We eagerly check Flurry each morning for new user data, then verify this with actual download stats once these are published a few hours later. A few days ago we saw a sudden spike on Flurry which set the pulse racing a little, and we impatiently waited for the download numbers to confirm this. The actual sales figures however were steady at the normal level. It was the same situation the next day, a spike on Flurry yet plateaued on real sales. There was only one explanation for this discrepancy: piracy.
Unfortunately the way things are today we knew it was never a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Still, it is always a disappointing moment to have this confirmed. With premium products there are always going to be some who are unwilling to pay, but can anything be done to fight this? Trying to tackle piracy head on, as we have seen in the music world, is an uphill struggle and mostly a losing battle.
The app in question had been over a year in development - blood, sweat and tears are all in there. Your typical jail-breaker is probably more tech savvy than the average user, and this may mean a greater appreciation of what it actually takes to craft such a compelling and complex app. No doubt some of the audience would be developers themselves so one would hope there would be a level of empathy and understanding in this community. Could it be worthwhile trying to communicate directly with those currently getting a free ride and appealing to their conscience? The jury is still out on this.
If one things sure though this whole situation has made the developers really focused on delivering regular, quality updates. Because pirated apps can’t be updated, frequently adding desirable features which pirates can’t easily gain access to, seems the best strategy to combat this. Many developers follow a philosophy of rapid iteration, with some even publishing timelines on product websites detailing the planned rollout of additional functionality. The promise of all these new features can be a strong deterrent for anyone who really loves an application and wants to be running the latest version in all its glory.
With Apple not offering any means to “try before you buy” perhaps some use piracy as a work around for this. Post plundering they may legally re-download the apps they like and wish to support, after having sampled the goods. Alas, this is probably just wishful thinking; it is hard trying to find any upside.
If a pirate is a big fan of an app yet still unwilling to pay, we hope they will at least tell others who might do so just how good they think it is. The network effect of having a bunch of new users may at least be a small silver lining.
I recently read an article on Mashable introducing Binpress, a source code marketplace for web developers, leading me to consider the viability of such a service for the mobile app space. The practice is commonplace in many traditional coding communities, but has thus far mostly eluded mobile platforms. This is surprising, given the fact that a marketplace like this could:
a) provide developers with an alternative means of monetizing their work
b) reduce development hours if existing, low-cost code modules could be licensed to include in suitable projects.
Developers who have not been enamoured with the commercial success of their apps could further exploit these existing resources by selling certain code elements. If the demand was strong enough some might even focus specifically on developing components or framework apps, without ever publishing a product to one of the app stores. Many companies offer their third party APIs to developers but they don’t get access to the code. This is fine if the item provides the exact solution that a project requires but not if tinkering under the bonnet is needed.
Making certain components available at a cost is something a few developers have explored on their own websites (eg. Plausible Labs) and I’m sure it’s something many others have toyed with (Matt Gemmell ponders on this idea here). What is really needed however is a marketplace like Binpress that aggregates and categorises quality code and UI elements from a variety of sources.
Is anyone attempting this?
-Code Canyon, which primarily covers web formats, also has a mobile section with about 30 items on offer at the time of writing.
-App discovery site iPhone Application List also offers “an open marketplace to buy or sell apps and underlying technology”, where mostly completed apps can be purchased or licensed for further development.
-Swappz provides a place for developers to buy and sell app rights using an auction format, though has thus far seen little activity.
-For the sake of completeness, another site called App Sources also aims to be an app code marketplace but currently has a grand total of 1 item up for sale.
For any of these to really take off they will need to beef up their product offering. Developers must feel confident of finding something relevant to their requirements for them to bother browsing. Including existing open source components would be one way to achieve greater product depth.
Essentially for this to take off the value offered must outweigh the downsides such as needing to modify off-the-shelf offerings to a project’s particular needs and having to figure out someone else’s code in order to do so. This reason alone may put off some coders. Also, in a marketplace where achieving originality is an increasingly hard feat, developers may feel starting from scratch is necessary to successfully differentiate a product.
Despite this, if the components on offer fulfil generic needs, and can be adapted to individual requirements, a resource like this would provide valuable shortcuts for time-pressured programmers. Therefore we feel there is definitely a market for this. With its potential to provide another way to monetize apps we will be keenly observing how this corner of the industry develops.