Sunday, January 18, 2009

The bleak side of developing iPhone apps, will Palm copy the same mistake?

What’s the bleak side of developing apps for one of the most interesting mobile platforms in the world today? Is there even the opposite side of having your apps prep & ready to be downloaded at Apple’s App Store? You may ask these questions spontaneously, especially after you heard great news surrounding Apple’s idea to centralized the distribution of apps for iPhone that stepped forward any other mobile competitors out there.

Just in case you haven’t heard it yet, Apple has recently announced they had hit a milestone this weekend that its App Store now has 15,000 apps available for download and that customers have downloaded over 500 million apps from there. Sammy has posted up the news here at PalmAddict. All of these amazing figures are reached after App Store opened just over six months ago on July 11, 2008. The numbers speak for themselves.

In another inspiring success story about App Store is when groups of software developers consist of 22-year-old kids are earning (more/less) $10,000 alone in a month for making unique entertainment apps for iPhone platform, one in particular is the iSteam app which has been downloaded over 1 million times so far in two-weeks and overtake other similar apps such as iBeer, iFart, Pull My finger, Ocarina, Whoopies Cushion and Zephyr to become #1 entertainment application in the App Store.

It’s surprising alright for the 99 cents worth app can grow a money tree for you in only a matter of weeks, not too shabby eh? Make you aghast how far developing apps for iPhone can take you to.

Jailbroke_robThe seemingly alluring condition of making easy big revenue from simple idea for iPhone apps, is drawing more and more software developers to flood the App Store with more vulgar-daring crap apps like iBoobs and grosser apps than iFart or Pull My Finger. App Store visitors are forced to swim in the dark water, since the amount of crap apps has already reaching to the neck limit. Or are we drown already?

That is one point of view to take a look from users, but it’s one different field of game for software developers. Take for an instance Peter Tenereillo, who make an app called Trapster and learned that even though it has a user base of about 350,000, that may sound like a lot of people, but it isn’t for him when Tenereillo interviewed by Bill Snyder from InfoWorld. “You don’t make money [with ads] when you have a base of 350,000,” he says. Trapster is a free app, so it doesn’t generate any revenue for right now.

Trapster is an on-line service that helps to alert users with GPS-enabled device when they’re approaching located speed traps around the city, for more info you can read my previous post about this service.

A competing app called NMobile even had to cut prices on Apple’s App Store from $9.99 to 99 cents to stay afloat in the game, while Trapster’s strategy is still aiming for bigger audience of users from other platforms including Symbian, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry before making an acceptable return profit. This shows how hard it is even for free apps to gain iPhone users’ interest, the underlined lesson: lots of iPhone users, but no revenues.

The other challenge to develop apps for iPhone is the limitations in the phone itself that makes it harder to deliver greater and better apps. As we’ve understand before that iPhone is limited to launch an app at a time, so users need to run Trapster on while driving or they won’t get the alert. This is just one example related to the aforementioned app, you know there are few others that you’ve been dying to have in your iPhone like cut & paste feature.

Jailbroken_iphone_logoAnd a Macworld poster named HobbesDoo has pointed out nicely the drawbacks of developing apps for iPhone platform: “First there is the App Store's black hole effect, where your application can get lost among tons of others and it can be very difficult to find what you're looking for. Then there is the insane pricing wars, where developers are expected to pretty much give away for free or for almost nothing the fruit of their hard work. Last, but not least, there is the current threat of piracy. Now not only you're supposed to give you app away for free or for almost nothing, but you have to deal with people pirating your application and distributing it for free.”

The two first points have been discussed above, and currently the piracy of iPhone apps is now on the rise, and has caused software developers to rethink back their strategies on how to offer the apps to users.

Christopher Kemsley, an electrical engineering student who's trying to pay his way through college made an Annoy-A-Teen app that sells for 99 cents in App Store. "I made, in a month, about the same amount of money as professionals I know in high-tech jobs" from sales of the app, he said on Friday. But now you can get the app for free at a pirate site.

It’s not just Kemsley’s app which got pirated, James Bossert; the developer of the Whack 'em All iPhone game, told CNET News that he will be releasing an ad-supported free version of his game after finding that it had been pirated. An alleged pirate told Bossert in an e-mail that apps wouldn't get pirated if people were able to try out trial versions of the programs before having to shell out any money. Kemsley also plans to offer a limited free demo version of his app, but he remarked: “Crackers shouldn't be able to dictate or force us to have a trial version.”

Comment posters and especially hackers are usually used acerbic words that can left behind a scar deep enough to wound you if you’re not careful to filter them out, like this one who posted a comment on Palm’s App Catalog feedback: "Anarchy! We want Anarchy. We don't want anyone to tell us what or how we can do anything. The only rule is NO RULES. We want you to distribute our apps, but we don't want to pay for it!!!! Nothing, nada, zilch. And we want the ability to JAILBREAK! Wheeeeeee!!!!!!" ~LOL~

Palm_pre_face_smallThat particular comment is one of plenty feedbacks that Palm got when asking for input from developers on how Palm’s own application store (known now as Palm App Catalog) should work. Andrew Shebanow who is working on a third-party application distribution system for Palm's new operating system, threw out a few questions in his blog, such as: how should application updating and installation work; should Palm offer payment processing or leave it to third parties; should application trials be available; and how should Palm handle featured applications.

The feedbacks were so overwhelming, therefore Shebanow had to removed the post and replaced it with another post saying that the discussion about how the app store should work will be allowed to continue, but at Palm's new developer blog.

But not all of the comments were bad, instead there were many of the feedbacks showed excitement on Palm’s willingness to ask for input, like this one person who wrote: "I love your openess with this matter. I wish Apple allowed posts like these."

Most of the advices and feedbacks were comparing what Palm should and shouldn’t do from Apple’s App Store, because no matter how revolutionary is the App Store for mobile world and community/users, it has downsides too. Here are three important notes gathered by Nancy Gohring from PC World:

  • In App Store, developers have to pay US$100 to join the developers' program; people in the Palm App Catalog feedback suggested that Palm's program should be free.
  • Another request was for the Palm store to allow trial downloads so that users can be sure they want an application before paying for it. The iPhone App Store doesn't have a mechanism for allowing trials.
  • One person suggested that Palm rank applications by quality as a way to make it easier for users to find good applications. That could solve a new problem with the iPhone store where it's grown difficult to find great applications since there are now over 10,000 available.

It’s very hard to keep up the apps with the latest features that meet with users’ demands, or with the latest trends around. But to become the best, to stand out from the crowds of apps that have similar function, software developers must able to sacrifice time and resources to make their apps better through short time. But that’s the price of being the best, meaning you’ll have the best app which leads to higher revenues.

Iphone_apps_colors_1And so that’s what Atebit’s Tweetie author Loren Brichter did. In order to compete with the likes of world phenomenon and app juggernaut iFart Mobile, he made his app as the world’s first combination Twitter client, fart-sound generator, and flashlight.

Jason Snell from Macworld reported that the real money feature is what Atebits calls PEE, short (sort of) for App Store Popularity Enhancer. Turn on Tweetie’s special Popularity Enhancer feature and a Flashlight button is added to Tweetie’s interface.

It’s still far to know how Palm is going to put those good advices and feedbacks into good use, since Palm is still keep silent and has revealed only minor details about its planned application store. Although it’s safe to say, that this post is not to scare off and make a mockery out of Apple’s App Store; but instead hopefully this post will help software developers and especially Palm to see the obstacles which lie ahead on the road. And perhaps Apple will open up an ear to listen to the cries of software developers on its App Store policy…

So Palm, what’s your game plan? What’s your next move? Remember, it only takes two steps to tango. ;-)

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