Escape the crowded app store.

Matthew Nolan on

I realized this morning that putting an app the App Store is a lot like waiting for a train in the basement of New York’s Grand Central Station. It’s crowded. You have to pay to be there. It’s hard for the outside world to find you. And you’re subject to the rules of a ambivalent bureaucracy, of which you have no control.

When I’m beginning a project with a client, the first think I like to talk about is their growth strategy. It’s the most important aspect of their project. It doesn’t matter if they’re working on something which will cure sadness if the world can’t find it.

There are currently over one million apps in the Apple app store, and only the most popular turn up on top of search. Your app has a far greater chance at survival out in the far expansions of the open web. The wild open web provides far more opportunities to attract users than an app locked in a propriety store.

Because of bureaucratic release steps of the app store, it’s difficult keeping up with customers needs. Native apps have a huge problem with user retention. As recently reported in Techcrunch, Shows that anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of all downloaded apps are used once and then eventually deleted by users.. I think the app store creates a barrier between companies and their customers.

I’d like to run through some of the well known pros and cons with releasing in the app store, and highlight why releasing in the open web is the best way to go.

App Store Pros

  • App Payment, hosting, and update-delivery (and notification) are all handled by the store.
  • You have some slight chance of being “featured” by Apple, resulting in more sales.
  • If you’re fortunate enough to land on a “top selling” list, that’s a success feedback look which results in more sales.
  • Native apps on iOS offer access to some APIs which are not yet available through the browser. This is in my opinion is the sole reason to ever consider building something strictly native

App Store Cons

  • It’s expensive. It costs 30% in the App Store. While the app store is a quality experience, that’s a lot of money to anyone’s metric.
  • Apple can be very slow to approve apps. At the time of this writing, it can take up to 6 days for approval. That’s not exactly inline with how a modern, agile software teams thinks or ships.
  • It’s impossible to quickly issue updates, or to provide customer-specific patches or versions in a reasonable way. Creating an ad-hoc build for a customer’s own device is still a nasty, multi-step, fiddly process, even with things like TestFlight. There’s a big technical/perceptual barrier there.
  • It’s impossible to quickly issue updates, or to provide customer-specific patches or versions in a reliable way. Creating one off builds for demonstrations can be a complicated and delicate process.
  • It’s difficult to address consumer concerns in a positive way. Issuing refunds or service patches can be next to impossible.
  • You’re not directly connected to your customers. The App Store is essentially designed to be a reseller kiosk where you buy then leave. You loose a lot op opportunities for marking, upsell, and product feedback.
  • After months of work, there is still no guarantee your app will get approved for the store. I’ve had clients who had to go back and change fundamental pieces of their product which ended up adding weeks to the project
  • You can’t offer paid upgrades. The Freemium business model has been a proven cornerstone for tech startups to monetize.
  • . The app store model is “buy once and receive free upgrades forever”

  • You can’t offer demo versions. This isn’t in line with how customers have grown used to using technology.
  • There’s a strict limit on the number of promo codes you can issue for each version of an app, limiting your ability to convert previous non-App Store customers, to support journalistic requests for licenses, or to have giveaways.

Of course you’re not tied to the app store. By simply releasing your project as a web app, you can have a far better experience.

Why the open web?

  • You have full control of payment structure. You can release for free, and pay to upgrade (freemium), or pay to play ala app store. Of course if you go this route, you also don’t have to cough up the 30% fee Apple charges.
  • You have the benefit be being discoverable via organic search (i.e. Google).
  • Infinite entry points to your app. Imagine where YouTube would be if their content was locked in an app and user’s couldn’t embed it elsewhere on the web
  • You can release continuously. If you find a bug, you can release a fix that day. Want to roll out your new feature to your test group? No problem
  • You can address customer needs immediately and directly
  • No comments below your app. I once had a client who (was pretty sure) he was getting trolled by one of his competitors in the app store comment section
  • You can offer super premium features
  • You don’t get censored by Apple. I have a client working on a Poker social app which Apple considered gambling.
  • You can respond to customer issues privately
  • No limitation on discounts, coupons, promo codes, etc.
  • There is no one size fits all solution. For a startup or someone on a budget, I would advice them to release to the open web as it’s a more practical use of their money and provides previously mentioned advantages in terms of growth.

    If you have the budget to release on every platform, just do that. I was working with a client on a new product who had a big budget. The client happens to be one of the largest companies in the world and they have the recourses to simply blanket the market on every platform.

    The app stores had an important place in history. They helped expand the smartphone user base. Because of the aforementioned problems, and the massive growth of open web technologies like HTML5, I think the open web is a great choice for companies trying to make an impact.

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