Embeddable, interactive iOS app previews using App.io

App.io (which used to be Kickfolio) allows users to create interactive previews of your iPhone and iPad apps. Not sure exactly how its working but pretty darn cool. Check out Airbnb example below:

I think this will be overkill for a lot of apps where simple screenshots will work, but it’s amazing tech and would be useful for certain types of apps that might need a little more in-depth explanation/preview before a person is willing to plunk down 2 bucks.

I would not recommend using App.io if you’ve got a free app. Get those potential customers to the App Store as quickly as possible to download your app and that can be the “demo”. I will be trying App.io out soon, as much to see how it works as anything and will post my thoughts about it afterwards.

RIM Reveals Blackberry 10

RIM has finally shown off the long awaited (and delayed) Blackberry 10 and the interface looks like a mix of a little Windows Metro, a little WebOS, and even a little Facebook thrown in for good measure. Overall it looks like there are some solid ideas and a heavy reliance on gestures, but based on the limited reveal it’s hard to tell how well it’s all coming together.

Check out a video overview of Blackberry 10 from The Verge below:

It’s still a ways from launch but right now the home screen tiles, messaging, and phone calls all have different feeling UIs and seem like they could each be from a different operating system. The camera app certainly has a lot of “wow factor.” The reliance on gestures is also interesting, as a tech geek it appeals to me but studies show the average user has an incredibly difficult time with gesture based interfaces and gesture discoverability is low.

From a development side of thing, Blackberry 10 will support apps developed with C/C++ but is also pushing their WebWorks SDK hard. WebWorks will allow devs to build apps that integrate with core Blackberry functionality using web technologies such as HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. If WebWorks works as advertised it could lower the barrier of entry and help bring app developers aboard that would otherwise ignore the platform.

Blackberry 10 is awfully late to the party. With WebOS already dead and Windows Phone struggling to make a sales dent, will BB10 be able to be keep up at all with iPhone and Android? It’s going to take great software, hardware, app and media ecosystem, and a whole lot of marketing to spur renewed interest from either consumers or app developers. They’ve got a long way to go and good interface ideas won’t be enough.

Measuring Android Version Fragmentation

android-fragmentationandroid-fragmentation
Comparing Android version market share and adoption rates over time.

Android fragmentation is a dirty little buzzword you’ve likely heard everywhere from Angry Birds to Steve Jobs and probably in strategy meetings with us here at MarketNet about that big app idea your company has.

Just what exactly is fragmentation and how big of a problem is it for Android and your project? Chris Sauve at pxldot has done a great job summarizing and charting the issue on his blog post Android Measuring Stick.

One of the best things about Google’s Android operating system is that it’s open source and available for other developers and device manufacturers to pretty much do whatever they’d like with it. That means we can get cool things like fitness accessories and Fossil watches powered by Android, but it also means that there’s no one true version of Android out there that to develop for.

Right now there are three versions of Android still out there in numbers large enough to require support, and that’s ignoring the brand new Android 4.0 (also called Ice Cream Sandwich) that was released in November and is currently running on about 1% of Android devices. It’s easy to predict that in just a month or two there will be four versions of Android out there, each with huge numbers of users. Even if version 2.1 (Eclair) is “only” at a 7.6% share, with the number of total Android devices out there numbering in the hundreds of millions that is a lot of potential customers you could be turning away if your site or app doesn’t work with that version. Add in the diversity of screen sizes available and you’re starting to understand what a difficult and important issue market fragmentation can be for a mobile project.

Mobile Users Don’t Do That

There are many common misconceptions about mobile web and app design. The most pervasive of these usually center around assumptions about where, when, and how people use mobile devices. Making any assumptions about what your visitors will or won’t do just because they’re on a mobile device will have you headed down the wrong path.

“Mobile users won’t want to do that, they’re ‘on the go’ and will be in a hurry or want a quick distraction.”

Mobile user experience expert Stephanie Rieger has written a great blog post busting some of those myths about the “typical” mobile user. People don’t just use their smartphones while on the go. They use them throughout their daily lives. They use them in quick bursts and for long stretches of engaged reading. They use them while distracted by the TV, traffic, the kids, or by nothing at all. Assuming your mobile visitors will always want to do less on your site just because of the device they’re using is a huge (and common) mistake.

Of course a good number of users will be looking to get in and back out accomplishing their task as quickly as possible. Your mobile experience (and your desktop site too by the way) should feature these common tasks and make them as easy as possible to use. But that doesn’t mean you should remove content or features that some of your best users are interested in.

As Stephanie puts it in her article, if a user is willing to suffer through a complex or broken feature on their tiny screen they’re either desperate or one of your power users. Two groups that have higher conversion rates than most. Don’t prevent them from doing what they want to do by removing the complicated feature from your mobile site, make it easier to accomplish.

The Difference Between the Top 10 iPhone & Android Applications

Maybe the best example of the differences between iPhone users and Android users is the difference between the top apps for the respective devices. Here are the lists of top apps from Retrevo:

Top 10 iOS Apps
  1. Angry Birds
  2. Angry Birds Rio
  3. Tiny Wings
  4. Fruit Ninja
  5. Where’s Waldo?
  6. Tetris
  7. Words With Friends
  8. The Sims 3
  9. Cut The Rope
  10. Plants Vs. Zombies
Top 10 Android Apps
  1. Beautiful Widget
  2. Rom Manager *Premium*
  3. Root Explorer
  4. Fruit Ninja
  5. Better Keyboard
  6. Robo Defense
  7. SetCPU
  8. Weatherbug Elite
  9. Titanium Backup Pro
  10. Power AMP *Full Version*

As much as Android fans love to tout how customizable their phones are, I think the fact that the top apps are almost all ways to change CPU settings, manage RAR archives, and other random hardware tweaks is a little crazy. I’m not sure what a normal Android user thinks when they first check the app store and sees this kind of stuff.

Bypass Lane: Skip the concessions line with an app

Bypass Lane is a service that lets you use your phone to order food and then skip the concessions line at ballparks. It’s a great looking app and well designed website too. There’s an HTML5 web app along with native apps for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. I originally saw it advertised at the Ballpark in Arlington. I didn’t get to try the app at the game (the service isn’t available up in the cheap seats) but it seems like a great idea to avoid long lines at a big game.

Think Apps are All That Matters for Mobile? Think Again.

The buzz out there now is all about apps. Whether it’s for iPhone or Android, you can’t visit Yahoo.com or watch the local news without hearing all about the latest, greatest mobile app. Dedicated apps that users install from app stores have a lot of advantages and there are some out there we all can’t live without, but you can’t ignore the mobile web.

Two apps that are on most every smartphone user’s home screen are Twitter and Facebook. They’re two of the best designed apps out there and both have been in the top 25 free apps in the iTunes App Store consistently since launch. Knowing that you might think Facebook and Twitter users always take advantage of those great apps when they’re on the go, but the numbers say otherwise. Based on numbers aggregated by Luke Wroblewski, mobile usage of the top two social juggernauts continues to explode and much of it is on the mobile version of their websites:

  • 50% of the more than 500 million active Facebook users currently access Facebook through their mobile devices (250M) compared to 25% a year ago (100M out of 400M). 33% of Facebook posts are sent via mobile devices. (source)
  • Facebook’s top mobile client is m.facebook.com (Facebook’s mobile Web site) with 18% of total new Facebook posts. Android, iPhone, and Blackberry are next each with about 4% of total new Facebook posts. (source)
  • 50% of total active Twitter users are on multiple platforms (mobile) compared to 25% a year ago. 40% of all tweets are sent via mobile. (source)
  • Twitter’s top mobile client is m.twitter.com (Twitter’s mobile Web site) with 14% of total unique users. SMS is next with 8% of total unique users. Then Twitter for iPhone (8%) followed by Twitter for Blackberry (7%). (source)

For both sites, a much higher percentage of people are using the mobile website than any particular mobile app. On Twitter, even SMS is still ahead of the iPhone and Blackberry apps. Whether it’s because they’re on older phones or because they’re following links in an email or a search result (remember that links don’t open apps), it’s clear that just because you offer an app doesn’t mean your mobile web presence is any less important.

Will Apple’s New App Store Subscriptions Force Mobile Development Towards HTML5?

We knew it would be coming when News Corp’s The Daily debuted with it’s in-app subscription model, but this week Apple officially detailed their new subscription service for all iOS app publishers. The new policies allow users to sign up for weekly, monthly, or yearly subscriptions and they can easily pay via the same App Store billing system they used to grab Angry Birds. Apple will handle all the payments and management of the subscriptions and users can go to a single place to cancel any subscriptions they have purchased.

Wow. This is great news… isn’t it?

Turns out it may not be that simple.

Yes, Apple is making it easy to get your subscription content into the App Store and in front of those millions of potential customers, but they’re going to take the same 30% cut they do from any other App Store transaction. And there are also some huge caveats that are making many developers very upset. Check out these two excerpts from Apple’s announcement:

All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app.

And also…

…publishers may no longer provide links in their apps (to a web site, for example) which allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.

Essentially, that means you can no longer link to your subscription options online and if you offer a subscription service elsewhere you must also offer it from within the app. And give 30% to Apple every time a payment is processed.

30% on the initial sale of an app is fair. Apple has built the store, provided the marketplace, and given developers access to millions of consumers. With subscriptions, they are acting as little more than a payment gateway. It is up to the developer of the app to create the subscription features, develop the extra content, communicate to the user that they exist, and then finally convince them to sign up. Apple has no role in converting an app user into a premium subscriber. Even PayPal’s high transaction fees are less than 3% on most transactions. Apple wants 27% more than that just to process your payments.

They’re also not going to let you tell users subscriptions are available elsewhere. The press release stated that if you do offer subscriptions on your website you are required to also offer them from within the app so Apple can get their share. For many SaaS companies, it may not be a sustainable business model if you’re having to give away that much of each sale. Especially when your service is primarily web-based and the iOS app is just a tool for existing customers.

Think about companies such as 37signals who have been thriving for years selling subscription services online. Is there anyone out there looking at the App Store first when evaluating large, full featured project management tools? An iPhone app doesn’t help them sell more subscriptions. It’s just a viewer and a way to do simple tasks in a service you already pay for.

Even more confusing, 37signals and many other companies offer APIs which allow third party companies to develop sites and programs that access their data. There are at least 11 iPhone apps currently available for 37signals’ Basecamp, none of which are actually from 37signals and therefore have no right or ability to sell subscriptions to the service. But Apple’s new rules say that these apps must include a way for Apple to sell an in-app subscription in order to be approved. The new rules are just too broad to be fairly applied in every single case.

Will these changes force some developers to decide against offering iOS versions of their apps? If a service already has a large customer base and doesn’t need Apple’s marketing help, does it make more sense for them to develop their mobile apps in HTML5? Developing with HTML5 would save money on cross-platform development while they also maintain complete control over their subscription revenue. That’s exactly the direction 37signals went earlier this month when they launched a non-native, brand new mobile web app for Basecamp even before these new rules were public.

Overall, the whole thing is clear as mud. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the new rules may raise possible antitrust issues. Apple needs to quickly clarify and possibly amend the new policies and explain when they apply, or they will soon be facing a backlash from the very developers whose work has made the iPhone and iPad a monumental success.