Monday, March 9, 2009

(Prē)dicting Palm success: better app store

What really concern a big guy like Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Windows Mobile competing with Apple’s iPhone & RIM’s BlackBerry? It’s not the handsets themselves that worries him, let’s just hear what he said during a midyear update with analysts on last Tuesday:

"The truth of the matter is all the consumer market mojo is with Apple and to a lesser extent BlackBerry. And yet, the real market momentum with operators and the real market momentum with device manufacturers seems to primarily be with Windows Mobile and Android.”

Steve Ballmer went on explaining the real competition in mobile market is occurring on two fronts: first, is selling mobile-related software independently from the hardware, like what Apple is doing with its App Store. Second; is a combination of software, hardware, and services bundled together, like the iPhone & BlackBerry smartphones.

And seems like Palm investor Roger McNamee is agreeing with what Microsoft CEO has said above, the co-founder of Elevation Partners also believes creating the “coolest product” is not far away from the potential great new webOS™ (which is come bundled with the Prē™):

”Palm’s newer operating system will give it an edge. The underlying technology for Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry is about 13 years old, while the technology behind the iPhone goes back almost nine years.”

But to talk about how good the webOS™ is too early to tell, since the Prē™ has not launched yet and Palm is still keeping the webOS™ SDK in a close circle for certain software developers only. So let’s take a better look at what will come along automatically in it, when the Prē™ is finally launched: App Catalog. The App Catalog is Palm answer to the famously growing Apple’s App Store, and the upcoming BlackBerry’s App World. You must be familiar with the first one: App Store, especially for you iPhone owners. But for the latter: App World, is making quite a buzz around the blogosphere, and of course for the BlackBerry users who are most excited to hear the news.

But why I’m talking about the App Catalog instead of the Prē™ itself? Because apart from the obvious fact that the abundant of both illegal & legal apps is what make so many (jailbroken) iPhone out there, a report from Global Intelligence Alliance Group (GIA) also indicates that the iPhone is leading in the mobile market thanks to the apps. GIA’s study analyzed application stores from six different retailers including Apple, Nokia, Google, Microsoft, Research in Motion (aka Blackberry), and Palm. Here’s the snipped report taken from Macworld article:

According to GIA, Apple scored nine points, followed by Google and Nokia in second place with seven points apiece. Windows came next with a score of six, and RIM and Palm rounded out the list with scores of five and three points respectively. GIA says Apple’s success is due to its ground-shaking concept that a smart phone is not just a piece of hardware with a bunch of features, but a software platform that embraces third-party applications developed from both corporations and start-ups.

Apple’s iPhone indeed has set a high standard for other smartphones to look up to with its integrated App Store, a user friendly ecosystem from purchasing and download to installing apps into the iPhone. RIM’s newly announced own app store called App World is also trying to achieve what Apple’s App Store has got today, although RIM sets out with a different approach to do that.

Even though RIM’s App World is still in the process to launch, there are interesting lessons which can be taken for Palm to learn before its own App Catalog is ready for Prē™ launch, including from the success and the not so successful actions of Apple’s App Store.

Pre lies down
Better quality of the apps

Just at the beginning of this year, Apple proudly announced that its App Store reached a milestone of 15,000 available apps. And recently that number has grown into 25,000 according to, a website that keeps a running count of all the new applications that are released on the App Store. But does the monstrous figure of apps available in App Store guarantee the quality of the apps themselves?

According to the a trend InStat; iPhone users tend to download an average of five apps each time they make a visit. Sounds good? Well, not exactly because according to Pinch Media, a company which analyzed over 30 million downloads from Apple's App Store: just 30% of people who buy an iPhone application actually use it the day after it was purchased. And after 20 days, less than 5% are actively using the app. These reports show how easy App Store visitors to jump from one app to another, trying out the cheap priced apps and even the free ones.

The good front side of App Store got an ugly side on the back, this happened because of the App Store’s own ecosystem. What Palm can do to avoid that? The answers are listed below, let’s check them out.

Better pricing

Pre light on tablePinch Media CEO Greg Yardley has his own advice for the apps to retain an audience over time, as snipped from C|Net’s Apple blog: His advice for developers is to get your money up front, and charge something for your application rather than trying to depend on a free/ad-subsidized model, because the number of people viewing those ads will plummet the day after the application lands on their iPhones.

While Apple sets 99 cent for the minimum-paid app, RIM makes $2.99 as the minimum price for paid apps. One may argue that Apple was trying to create a fast track to App Store and draw buyers/users as many as possible with 99 cent price tag, this works, I mean look at the fact: Apple said that in January 2009 there are over 500 million apps downloaded from App Store. But another good argument is: how can users expect good quality apps from such measly price tag?

For instance, Palm and Windows Mobile users are accustomed to pay above $10 in order to get useful apps. And this probably is what in RIM’s mind; higher prices mean more for developers to receive, since creating a good app requires a lot of efforts and time, and money too. RIM’s audience is mostly business users who prefer real app which delivers, they’ll even willing to pay for more expensive apps rather than the cheap ones, so App World pricing model might work just fine for BlackBerry environment. Palm need to target which audience model for App Catalog.

Try before you buy option

Apple doesn’t allow trial time for users to try the apps, this way users are forced to take the plunge, and in the end users will endlessly drown in the vast sea of crap apps. With plenty of free apps and cheap priced apps lying around, users are more likely to waste most of their time to search and buying unnecessary apps rather than the right ones for their needs.

Yes, App World also offer free apps but since RIM makes the software devs to pay $200 in front before submitting their apps, you can bet there’ll be only a small handful of free apps. But the best part: less crap apps.

Pre in comparisons Better friend to soft devs

Previously I’ve wrote a post about how software devs are beginning to find out how hard it is to create apps for iPhone, one is because there are many limitations with the current iPhone SDK, in particular is the multi-tasking limitation. Although we shouldn't forget that the Sprin'ts Palm Prē™ also has its own limitation in term of multitasking. Secondly, Apple is known for the lack of communication with iPhone software devs.

While Michael Bettiol from BGR says RIM is a paranoid company and does not give developers too much access to the API out of fear that the security of the device, OS or servers will be compromised. We are yet to know if RIM will act like Apple when it comes to developing apps for BlackBerry, hopefully Palm will not.

Better transparent system

Another strange behavior from Apple is on how the company approve and reject certain apps from App Store, sometimes Apple rejected an app then later changed its mind and allowed it to enter. And vice versa. Software devs have been complaining about transparency issue in App Store policy, and also about more detailed fee sharing of sold apps.

And to shed a bit of light on the anecdotal App Store approval system, Patrick J from JAiB heard this from a very reliable source, someone who has successful apps in the App Store:

”According to a ‘two-managerial layers up from the demo floor’ Apple App Store representative I spoke with at WWDC, Apple has an entire team of application reviewers. Each one make their accept/reject decision based in part on their subjective opinion of what is appropriate. I asked if they have any sort of guidelines they use which they could provide to developers – a list of dirty words, forbidden topics, etc. – to which the representative replied that no, each reviewer makes their own decision about what gets approved. As a result, they couldn’t even guess at what would or wouldn’t get through the store.” ~LOL~

Better reliable reviews

For you who often visit the App Store and take a look at the apps you find interesting, you must be well acquainted with trash comments and reviews in there. At first Apple allowed non-customers to post reviews, creating huge numbers of review for single app and thus confuse potential buyers or even scare away App Store visitors. Customers who hate a certain developer can post devastating comments to destroy the developer’s reputation.

This situation has gotten out of hand, unreliable reviews flooded App Store. In the end, iPhone users are looking for reviews outside the App Store itself, and even buying the apps from other websites rather from iTunes.

And for software devs, this kinda situation can only get worse because they can’t response directly to the consumers’ complaints, and must wait for Apple to deal with a review which can take forever. A tarnished reputation is less likely to attract new buyers.

Pre right angleApple finally purged those non-customer reviews and changed the policy, reviews are coming from users who have bought/downloaded the apps. According to MacRumors; several long standing apps have seen dramatic decreases in their review counts. SEGA's Super Monkey Ball count dropped from 4197 reviews down to 3710 while Namco's Pac Man dropped from 395 to 122.

Customer reviews can also be used to promote apps, both users and software devs can enjoy the benefit of honest reviews. But unfortunately for Apple, the Pinch Media CEO Greg Yardley said; "The App Store fails as a promotional mechanism. There's only so much screen real estate." Can Palm create a healthy environment in App Catalog?

Palm is still mixing the right ingredients into the App Catalog, and with the time of Prē™ release date is getting near, let’s all hope Palm will be able to pull off a better app store than iPhone’s or BlackBerry’s or Android’s. Fingers crossed…

Sources are from:

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