The End Is Near (For Free Mobile Apps)

the_endCan an app really be described as “free” when a user racks up thousands of dollars’ worth of in-app purchases? The vast majority of app developers say yes. The European Commission says no. Guess who’s winning that argument?

Henceforth, any app that incudes in-app purchases can no longer be labeled as free – at least in the European Union. To get you up-to-speed on this topic (it seems likely such a decision could be coming to America in the very near future) we wanted to explore the motivation for this ruling; why it was made; who it helps and how it changes things for Apple and Google going forward.

As of now, you can actually find “free” mobile-apps in the Google Play or iTunes store that require an in-app purchase to unlock or use the app. So in other words, these apps are not free at all. Only apps with optional in-app purchase can now be called “free.”

The EU wants Google and Apple to re-label the former so that consumers can distinguish between the two. Calling these apps “free” leads to the “extortion” of kids who are not old enough to make purchasing decisions, so say the courts.

As we’ve seen, when kids are the driving force behind the mobile-app economy, claiming that your app is free can come at a high cost to the parents of these young consumers. After a multitude of complaints from parents receiving hefty bills from unexpected in-app purchases their kids, the European Commission called on tech giants Google and Apple to comply with their new in-app laws.

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Mobile App Retention Rates: 5 Key Takeaways from the Swrve Report

takeawayIt’s easy to say  that brands should do their best to make a great first impression with users when it comes to their mobile apps. But without concrete proof in the form of hard numbers and statistics, it’s just that – all talk.

Perhaps this is what motivated mobile marketing firm Swrve, who recently conducted a 31-day study in May 2014, which analyzed a total of 50 different mobile apps, and targeted the activity of tens of millions of users and billions of mobile events. The report evaluates the retention-rates, engagement levels and social sharing metrics of these users.

If you read the report in its entirety – which we highly suggest that you do – you’ll come across a number of eye-popping conclusions, some more intuitive than others. That said, here were our five key takeaways:

#1 Takeaway: 24% of apps installed are used once, never to be touched again.
This is a sobering fact for most app-developers looking to engage their customer. The Swrve study found that the first 60 seconds of a user’s mobile-app experience will tell a lot about the frequency at which that app is used again.

As more time passes from that initial point of interaction with the app, session use rapidly declines. In fact, around 25% of users are active 24 – 48 hours after their first session. That percentage drops to 13%, 7 days later. An app’s ability to bring the user back within a short period of time is a huge factor in developing a valuable relationship with your customer.

#2 Takeaway. 75% of apps are used at least 7x a month.
Apps used for retail purposes will likely get less use than a social media app or a gaming app, for example. But as a general rule of thumb, if your app isn’t being opened at least 7 times per month, there are engagement opportunities that you’re missing.

#3 Takeaway. 37% click-through rate for campaigns using in-app messages.
37% is an impressive percentage, and apparently a great strategy to get your user to click through and engage with your app. Consider this number compared to the 0.6% click-through rate that most campaigns see when using push notifications.

According to a Forbes article written on the report, the Swrve’s data suggests that this is the most effective method of engagement.

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The (App) Development of Today’s Youth

kids_on_mobileApp store success is predicated on several factors, one of which is strict adherence to the old axiom: “Know thy user.” In other words, if you want your app to gain traction, you must understand your target audience and develop according to their preferences (and pet peeves). After all, an app can’t please everyone.

So who should you be targeting? Well, judging by a recent USA Today article, the answer is pretty clear: Kids and teens.

According to a report by Arbitron and Edison Research, 60% of Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 own a smartphone. Believe it or not, that figure is actually higher than those over the age of 45. That’s right, it turns out that kids are the driving force behind the apps economy.

So what does this mean for app developers? Should it alter your approach? If so, in what ways? Let’s take a closer look at some the implications and takeaways:

Raised By Tech
Unlike most us “old people”, this demographic has probably never watched a VHS, never owned an Atari or known the pains of a skipping Discman. Instead, it is smartphones, tablets and the accompanying apps that are second nature to them. This audience has been raised in a society that revolves around technology; they would have difficultly picturing a life without it (insert confused look here).

For developers, this is good news – it reduces the learning curve required to acquaint one’s self with the basic features and controls of an application. In other words, this group is far less likely to complain about usability. This gives developers the opportunity to experiment with new UIs, new layouts and other ideas that the older generation tends to complain about.

Buyer Beware
Of course, since this group has not yet reached the age adulthood, they are legally not allowed to make purchasing decisions. This is a lesson that the tech giants have recently learned the hard way. We made a note of this week in our post, The High Cost of “Free” Mobile Apps:

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Upcoming Webinar and Dashboard Demo, Oh My!

applause_logo_250wideJoin Us Wednesday, July 30th for “Optimizing Your Apps For Peak Performance”

When faced with slow load times or crashes, many customers will abandon your app or website entirely for a competitor. So how can you be sure your app can handle surges and bottlenecks in advance of unexpected spikes in traffic?

Join Tim Barnes, Senior Sales Engineer at Applause, on Wednesday, July 30th at 1PM EST, to discover why today’s modern apps economy requires a new recipe for success and why all winning apps are load tested.

Hear about the load testing services Applause offers to ensure your app can handle your biggest day.

  • Discover how load testing can find performance bottlenecks before your users do, saving them from experiences that fall short of their lofty expectations.
  • Learn how to get started with load testing and how Applause arms companies with managed services that encompasses a premier testing platform, experts, scripts, reports and actionable recommendations you need to deliver apps that win.
  • Explore how your business can strategically partner with Applause to achieve app quality as defined by your users.

Register for the webinar now!

Join us Wednesday, July 23rd for a 360° App Quality Dashboard Demonstration

Want to learn more about what a true holistic approach to 360App Quality is?

Join Ted Weil, Product Marketing Manager at Applause, next Wednesday July 23rd at 1PM EST, for a look at the tools that have been helping top developers and brands deliver winning user experiences—our App Quality Dashboard, Mobile SDK and Mobile App Analytics.

Sign up now to learn how Applause can help you deliver amazing digital experiences.

Make sure to continue to check the blog for information on additional webinars and demonstrations.

5 Benefits of Using Social Media in an Agile Environment

Social-Media-DevelopmentAgile software development relies on internal collaboration between cross-functional teams to deliver a finished product. In the absence of a linear plan, projects evolve incrementally based on the rich interaction and ideas of other team members. Of course, you probably already know this. Agile 101.

What you might not know is the degree to which social media has enhanced the methodology in recent years. Indeed, dev teams across the globe are rapidly discovering the benefits of various social media tools; how they create an internal collaborative environment where compatibility, sharing, brainstorming and analysis is made even easier.

In other words, like everything that social media touches, it is shaping way software is produced. If you’ve yet to leverage such tools in your agile approach, here are five key benefits that might convince you to do so:

#1. Continuous Delivery.

To stay competitive, continuous delivery is integral to success. Social media tools make this possible by providing a space for product managers, release mangers, IT managers, testers, etc. to congregate and frame a conversation around code and builds.

In the past, tools between different departments were disconnected and developers had to switch platforms to get work done quickly and continuously – not so anymore. As Konrad Lagarde, manager of partner integrations for IBM’s SmartCloud Social Business, puts it: “You’re breaking down the barriers between these teams that were passing things over the fence before. Now everybody’s in it together.”

#2. Collaborative code exchange

Not only did the way we share and review code change, but the desire to keep it a secret has changed as well.

Developers used to go to lengths to conceal and protect their IP’s and the code they’re developing. Now, developers want to share their codes, allow others to use it, and often keep them simple so that others can expand on it. New software development platform GitHub, for example, provides an outlet for collaborative code exchange, all so the code can be augmented even further.

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Avoid These Top Coding Mistakes

Avoid-These-MistakesSoftware developers are typically very meticulous when coding, but when things go wrong the results can be disastrous.

There are a few common mistakes that developers should avoid. As Paul Rubens in CIO says, once the following bad coding practices are eliminated your work will be much easier and productive:

Typos in Your Code

These are surprisingly common, and they are maddening because they have nothing to do with your programming skill. Even so, a misspelled variable name or function name can wreak havoc on your code. What’s more, they may not be easy to spot.

What’s the solution? Working in a good integrated development environment (IDE) or even a programmer-specific text editor can reduce spelling errors significantly. Another thing you can do: Deliberately choose variable and function names that are easy to spell and, therefore, easy to spot when they have been misspelled. Avoid words such asreceive, which easily be misspelled recieve without being obvious.

Failing to Indent or Format Your Code

Indenting and otherwise formatting your code makes it easier to understand at a glance and, therefore, spot mistakes. It also makes it far easier for other people to maintain your code, as it’s presented in a consistent fashion.

If you use an IDE that doesn’t automatically format your code, consider running it through a code beautifier such as Uncrustify, which will format it consistently according to the rules you configure.

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IBM Reinforces MobileFirst

inAppBugReportA report released today by Forrester Research’s Michael Facemire and Jeffrey S. Hammond looks at IBM’s efforts to revolutionize mobile quality at the enterprise level. The report, entitled “IBM Reinforces MobileFirst,” examines the current state of the IBM MobileFirst initiative, and shares the authors’ insights as to where they feel IBM will take the initiative over the next 12 months.

As you may recall, just last week we announced that we are collaborating with IBM on mobile app quality solutions. Facemire and Hammond cite one example of that collaboration on page 3 of their report, under a section entitled “The Proof Is In The Pudding.” They mention IBM’s current offerings and services including (sans links) Mobile Quality Assurance, powered by Applause technology.”

As we noted in last week’s announcement, we have worked closely with IBM’s MobileFirst and Rational Software technology teams to develop solutions and we’ll be collaborating on thought leadership activities to advance the market’s knowledge around the value of user-centric app quality across the software development lifecycle.

Hammond and Facemire’s full report provides great insight into IBM’s MobileFirst Initiative, now and moving forward. The report is available for purchase on the Forrester website.


Wearable Tech: 6 Trends to Watch

iwatch-iphone-smart-watch-newWearable devices: Everyone’s aware of them, but not everybody’s wearing them. Not yet at least.

Right now, wearable apps are in their infancy – a honeymoon phase of sorts, where the novelty has yet to wear off and where all apps are basically seen as equals. Of course, as more apps hit the market (and as competition heats up) it’s only a matter of time before the highest quality wearables apps rise to the top and leave their inferior foes in the dust.

Those who have followed this trend closely are well aware of this emerging wearable reality. But for those who aren’t, we wanted to give you a quick look at some recent news and how it could impact your own app development efforts.

#1. Google Introduces More Than 20 free Apps for Android Wear.
Google, an emerging leader in the wearable realm, just released over 20 free apps for Android Wear in the Google Play store. Some of them include familiar apps like Lyft, Pintrest, Gmail, and American Airlines. Less familiar, yet skillfully marketed, ones include Onefootball Brasil – World Cup, which allows users to get real-time coverage, game schedules, follow interviews and more.

But in Google’s effort to be the go-to provider for wearable devices, they may have missed a major flaw for their paid wearable apps…

#2. Google’s Paid App Problem.
Currently, there is no such thing as a wearable app that doesn’t require a smartphone component. To use Google’s Samsung Gear Live or the LG watch for example, users must download the Android Wear app to their phones and then sync it with their wearable device.

And according to a recent report, the paid Android apps aren’t working due to the encryption key which blocks the encryption key from getting passed to the watch. You can start using the free ones, just not the paid apps. Not the biggest obstacle of course – Google always issues a fast fix for problems like this – but it’s definitely worth noting.

#3. Microsoft is Changing Their Strategy.
On the surface (pardon the pun), Microsoft’s smartwatch platform is very much like all the other wearable platforms. A closer look however, reveals one major difference. Their new wearable device still relies on a smartphone to operate, but it doesn’t matter which one and can be something other than the device maker’s smartphone platform.

In other words, Microsoft’s wearables will work will Android, iPhone and Windows Phone all at once. This is huge considering the limited compatibility of every other platform.

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The High Cost of “Free” Mobile Apps

bouton free download“Long story short, we hear a story too good to be true… it ain’t.” – Lt. Aldo Raine, Inglorious Bastards

If you want to succeed in the apps economy, all signs point towards making your apps free of charge. This is confirmed by numerous research studies, countless tech pundits and of course, billions of app consumers themselves. But it would be a mistake – a very big mistake – to assume that free apps are without costs.

When we talk about the cost of free apps, as we’re about to do, it’s important to remember that we’re not just referring to the financial cost – and we’re not just focusing on consumers. In fact, there are three primary groups affected by this cost: brands, consumers and the app store themselves. So in today’s post, I wanted to quickly examine the costs (both financial and otherwise) for each of these groups:

The Cost to Brands: Most apps are designed to support a business goal. An ecommerce app, for instance, will be leaned on to increase retail sales. A media app will be used to increase viewership. In some cases, the app itself is the sole source of revenue. So when these brands make their apps “free” they must find other ways to monetize without sacrificing the user experience. In most cases, this is done through in-app purchases and advertising. The problem for brands is that consumers have expressed their collective distaste for mobile advertisements. And when it comes to in-app purchases, it’s only a matter of time before some of that money will have to be refunded (more on this in a moment).

Owen Mahoney, the chief executive of Nexon and the father of micropayments, summed up this problem nicely in a recent quote, saying: “The No. 1 job is not to monetize. It’s to keep the user coming back for years or months on end.” He might be right about that, but monetization is still an objective. For brands, therefore, it’s an opportunity cost between a better user experience versus higher app revenues.

The Cost to App Stores: Without free apps, there’s no way that the various app stores would have collective downloads in the billions. It’s a model that has benefitted these entities tremendously. That said, the cost of these free apps has recently come back to bite them. Amazon, like Apple before it, is now battling the FTC – in a very public lawsuit – over its policy towards in-app purchases made by children without their parent’s permission:

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QA: A View From the Inside

1010241_37447337Though we don’t talk about it as often as we should, Applause has helped a number of leading game developers deliver amazing user experiences to their customers. Developers like, Zynga and Ubisoft all turned to Applause to extend and enhance the power of their own internal QA teams in order to leverage the best of both testing worlds, in-house and in-the-wild, to deliver 360o App Quality™ to their customers.

With the end goal being awesome games that users immediately fall in love with, these developers understand the need to make their delivered experiences as engaging and flawless as possible out of the gate. In the mobile app ecosystem, first impressions are crucial and second chances few. And it only takes a few disappointed customers who take the time to post reviews about their experiences to tank the adoption of any new release.

Caleb Wheeler, Senior QA Tester at Proletariat Games, recently posted a fantastic insider’s viewpoint on how essential QA is, to driving a successful release, and kicking off what is hopefully a long and successful product lifecycle.  His article, “QT With QA”, makes a number of great points. But one of the most poignant neatly sums up how a single bad release can snowball:

Shipping a buggy game can lead to negative reviews, which can lead to poor sales, which can lead to layoffs or even studio closures.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an established AAA development studio, or an indie getting ready to release their first game. Quality matters. End-users expect it and they talk about it when they get it, and when they don’t. And that affects sales. The traditional groupthink about QA needs to evolve because of it. QA isn’t a cost center, it’s a revenue driver to which ROI can be attached. Game developers who embrace that the game app ecosystem isn’t going to grow any less hostile or less competitive, and that app quality has become an incredibly powerful differentiator and influencer, stand a much better chance of thriving. While those that don’t, are more likely to make like a snowman in summer.