Art of the start: Tips for App developers (tip one, use iOS)

I've spent time at a start-up tech business event and it's delivered a host of handy tips and ideas for people attempting to grab a slice of Apple [AAPL] and the wider evolving mobile ecosystem.

[ABOVE: Start-ups? What did Steve say? Some more advice.]

Start here

Regular Appleholic readers might be interested in a nugget from the event: In a straw poll of mobile deployment the 100 start up types gathered for the panel discussions revealed their mobile platforms: most were on iPhone, many on Android, and one was on BlackBerry. The tech support guy used a Windows phone.

There were some interesting speakers:

Chillingo turned up to run an angel investor's panel; Bardowl talked about its spoken audiobooks app for iPhone; Appamondo spoke about running a business solely from a mobile device; Pocket App chatted to attendees on the perils and the pitfalls of mobilizing content…

You get the drift, of course: successful businesses pitched their story to a room full of aspiring talent hoping to learn something valuable to kick-start your own success.

When it came to apps, the lesson's clear: if you don’t have a reason to make an app your investment's going to be more effective if you pump it into ensuring you deliver great Web-based experiences suitable for all browsers, platforms and devices.

Not only this, but if you hope to make money from you app, iOS is the only way to go. "Android users don't even want to spend 99-cents on an app on Google Play," said Bardowl's Chris Book. "If you want to make money with an app then iTunes is the place to go."

That's the way it is: Developers on other platforms do make money, but it's not through their apps: some are paid to port apps, others profit from the user information their apps gather, some perhaps make a few bucks from in-app sales. That's a reality, and while there may be a few other ways to monetize these things, to pretend reality for app developers is any different is delusional.

Moving on, there were a few great tips for start-ups in the mobile space. Some are just common sense, others a little more complex, so for brevity I've summarized a few of them here:

Content is king

Content is the new word people use for creative ideas expressed online. While David Byrne may warn that the Internet will ultimately devour all content and make the content industry impossible, what's key is that engaging and original content is a driving force for online trafficking.

So what's that? Paul Swaddle, CEO PocketApp puts it like this: "The best content is content that's relevant to the user."

How might you decide this? Ask people: focus groups, Twitter, online surveys -- even site demographics can tell you where the best part of your traffic's coming from. If you are a start-up or even an existing business, just how closely do you watch your existing traffic patterns? Where do you gather your traffic from? Might this be what your existing customers/users seek?

There's also a trend toward user-generated content. Sure, there's problems with this when it comes to keeping an eye on that content to ensure it isn’t libelous, mercenary, malware-ridden or horribly mean, but those problems with curation can still lead to user engagement and stronger, better sales.

Content is also collaborative. These days it's not enough for a startup to simply speak to its customers and potential customers online in one direction, they need to get into the notion of communication. The mobile space is deeply personal and there's lots of opportunity for direct discussion with your audience. We've entered a two-way dialog.

What about mobile? No matter how you look at it, mobile is a growing segment of online consumption. The old days of tacking on a mobile presence are gone, these days it's good to launch any new venture with mobile in mind from the get-go.

How might this be articulated? Let me count the ways…but one way might be to rely on richly visual expressions tied to deeply unique words, video and other creative expressions, startup people heard yesterday. That focus on simplicity is good design of course, just ask Jony Ive…

Not only this, but it makes huge sense to ensure consistency across different platforms, browsers and beyond. Cash-strapped start ups need to be ready to ask friends to check their online presences using a plethora of different devices before launch. Consistent presentation of content is crucial. The online world is unforgiving -- a slow load time is a lower read time, for any page online.

Chillingo says go go go

The Chillingo session yielded a few nuggets for any app developer, who should look to consider:

  • Is the idea original?
  • What else could it do? In app digital goods? Offline sales?
  • Is the idea focused, simple and appealing?
  • What's in your name? Did you run a Web search on your product/business name before launch? If not, why not?
  • Have you considered the costs and the opportunity of localization? Different countries have different likes and needs -- might you capitalize on that potential by focusing on these when you do localize for different markets?
  • What are the mechanics of your app? Do you have something unique?
  • All the biggest-earning games need arena play, Chillingo pointed out.
  • If you are making a game, is it sufficiently challenging?

The key take away for any developer hoping to make a few bucks on the mobile platforms is that they need commitment if they're going to get the rep and/or the funding. No one likes to return to an app they've spent a few dollars on six months later to find it's no longer under development. If you're in the business of app development, you need to commit to the long haul if you want your solution -- and your reputation -- to come out on top.

The vision thing

Another key take away from the event was the focus on the strength of your business message. It's about building a vision people can believe in -- this isn't just about marketing your business/brand, it's about giving you and your staff something to strive for.

That vision thing -- best espoused by Steve Jobs -- is everything: it transforms the hard work of work to the hard work of world changing. You, your staff and your potential customers will respond to this, if it's the right message.

Finally app developers have a real opportunity to analyst "The Funnel".

In these terms it's what happens when people think about downloading your app: do they quit before they download it all? Do they quit on registration? Or do they quit because the app takes so long to download they never quite get around to using it? If you're paying attention to use habits, you can save a ton in marketing just by making it easier for customers to progress to actually using your app.

It seems there's a lot to think about if you happen to be an app developer. Turns out it's not just coding after all. And it's pretty hard work.

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