Category Archives: apps

Apps as disposable media

Famed 1990s’ bubble analyst Mary Meeker is out with her annual digital media forecast, and one of her jaw-dropping findings is that Apple users now download a collective 46 million apps each day. At first, reading this, you go “yay, apps!” And then you pause. “Crap. That’s a lot of apps. How can people use so many of those software-ish things?”

And that is the problem. Apps are no longer software; they have become commoditized, fly-by-night media. Apple has, by our estimates, 300 million current iTunes accounts with registered credit cards. If you divide 300 million users into the 16.8 billion apps downloaded each year, each Apple user grabs 56 apps annually — or about one per week per consumer.

No one uses 56 apps. Which means apps are disposable. Instead of a software portal (each app-maker’s dream) or new platform (you want your app to become the next Foursquare yes!), apps are now just a media slot — easily seen, quickly forgotten, like a TV commercial or banner ad flashing by in the night.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build an app. Instead, it means you need to launch 100 of them. Apps get noticed — users love to download them after all — but their lifecycle is short. So go build an app. Then forget it, because next week you’ll need to build another.

The design that may keep the web alive

Is the web dying? And if so, will something else replace it?

Pew has a new report out that goes beyond the usual “99% of Americans use mobile phone” surveys to interview experts in digital media about whether the web is going away. For years now, you see, prognosticators such as Josh Bernoff and Chris Anderson have suggested the 1990s web browser interface is being killed by one-touch apps and a splintered gadget ecosystem.

Back in March 2010, I wrote in Businessweek that yes, Apple, Amazon and Google were deliberately selling iPads, Kindles and Droid phones that won’t talk to each other, so they can ensnare their users in content sales. I noted:

A battle looms, and it’s not about selling new gadgets — it’s about using devices to lock you into a content ecosystem. In an ironic evolution of the World Wide Web that once promised consistent access to all of the globe’s information, corporate giants are now striving to wall off sections of content and charge you for access.

So back to Pew’s report. There is huge evidence the “appification” trend will continue; by 2016 there will be 10 billion mobile Internet devices on the planet, 1.4 per human, and Apple and Google mobile audiences have downloaded 35 billion apps to date. Most damning toward the old web, Pew notes that by 2015 sales of smartphones and tablets will outpace those of computers by 4 to 1. It sounds like the web must fade, and that Steve Jobs was right when he compared computers to old dusty pickup trucks, once favored but now replaced by shiny new tablet wheels.


Something else is going on, something that may keep the web alive. If you’ve played with Google+ or Twitter recently, you’re seeing fluid interfaces that must make Microsoft’s software dev teams uncomfortable. Web page designs are morphing into app-like ease. Apple’s latest operating system captures swooping trackpad gestures that merge computers with tablet UX. Microsoft is launching a new OS that combines old Windows folder hierarchies with tablet touch features.

Software and web windows and one-touch apps are becoming all the same thing.

Paul Gardner-Stephen, a telecommunications fellow at Flinders University, told Pew that “HTML5 and other technologies will continue to blur the line between web and app, until the average end user would have difficulty assessing the meaning of this question.” William Schrader, founder of PSINet, said something even smarter — that apps eventually will recognize screen size and slide into large or small formats accordingly.

But the biggest idea for a web that survives came from Harvard professor Susan Crawford, who noted “apps are like cable channels — closed, proprietary, and cleaned up experiences … I don’t want the world of the web to end like this.” Consumers may rebel when they realize they can’t play Flash video on Apple mobile devices because Apple wants to sell them videos its own way.

We can already see signs that the closed app world is reopening. Amazon offers a free Kindle app on Apple iPads, and Apple accepts the app because the utility of allowing the huge Amazon giant in outweighs the dissatisfaction of grumpy tablet consumers blocked from buying readable books.

Apps may be forced to open up, because open systems create better experiences for consumers, and that stimulates demand.

If you step back, today’s closed system designs are pretty gnarly. Twitter redesigns itself constantly, and it’s a mess. (Great, this week you type your tweets into the left side of the layout!) Every app unfolds with different visual standards. Dan Lyons, the brilliant mind behind Fake Steve Jobs, once wrote in a post called “Does nobody care that Facebook looks like ass?” that “I look at Facebook and I feel the way I imagine I.M. Pei must feel when he looks at some giant public housing project. You just sit there going, Why? Why do this? Why make it so ugly when just for a tiny bit more effort you could make it, if not beautiful, at least not horrific?”

Walled gardens and poor UX designs are inefficient. Inefficiency is the signal for competitors to do something new to gain business. So in the deepest of ironies, the profit motive will keep the web open and alive. Something new will emerge, and it will look a bit like the old web and somewhat like a polished app. It will fluidly fill screens of all sizes. And it will be beautiful, because the ugly competitive forces of our world demand it.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Linda Cronin

MTV uses app as microcampaign, not channel

Here’s a secret your digital shop won’t tell you: Most iPhone and Droid apps are used only a handful of times before being quickly forgotten. Pinch Media recently studied 30 million app downloads and found that after 24 hours, only 20% of users tapped the app again, and after three months only 1% of users continued to engage. What’s a poor marketer who wants fame on a handset to do?

Rather than fight it, we’ve suggested using apps as a new content inventory — a toss-away campaign element that can be followed with future apps, just as TV spots or print ads are rotated out with new creative. MTV is doing just this with an updated app tied to tonight’s 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Grab the new MTV app and you’ll get an “all-new VMA-exclusive section” with red-carpet and backstage clips. MTV scores two points, one for making its app a microcampaign with a short shelf life, and two for tapping into the concurrent media usage habit of consumers who check other devices while watching TV. If MTV convinces you to play with your smart phone during commercial breaks, you may not change the dial — helping ratings and those silly ads across all the device channels break through your cortex.

Toyota spills social media to build target list

Clever. Toyota has released an iPhone app and microsite encouraging you to “drive with a glass of water,” in this case a virtual glass inside your phone that will spill water based on how aggressively you gas your car. At face value it encourages consumers to learn to drive more cautiously to save up to 10% of their fuel consumption. The app also self-identifies any consumers who are worried about efficient transportation, dare we say for future non-social-media targeting with ads for Priuses? Run the app, and Toyota now has your phone number; the company can do a reverse append to get your mailing address, and is potentially collecting data on how far and fast you drive. Next week, check your mail.

What we like about this campaign is it combines the fleeting interest of social media and mobile apps — where most apps become unused after 48 hours — with a hook that tags potential customers for future remarketing elsewhere. If that sounds Orwellian, please don’t buy anything at retail stores, because they’ve been reusing your data for nearly a century.

Via Branislav Peric.

We’ll take whatever she is wearing

Play me.

So say you’re surfing the web and see a jacket that looks cool. Could be on anyone — a Facebook friend’s photo, a model over at, a CNN photo of a prime minister. Westfield’s “fashion detector” lets you match the clothing image to any similar brands at its nearest mall location. Not enough? The app works on your iPhone, too, so you can surreptitiously snap photos of attractive lasses walking down the street to find the same short skirt for your wife. Or something like that.

Clever use of image matching and applications to drive impulse purchases. Well played, Westfield.

Via Ads of the World.

An end to the Hot Waitress Index

Our favorite economist Jodi Beggs points out many “indicators” of recession are sexist, the result of male-skewing humor from the men who dominate the dismal economic science. We’ve had the skirt-length indicator, lipstick measures, and our favorite, the Hot Waitress Index — you know, the idea that pretty women lose jobs in real estate or sales when bubbles collapse and so are forced to serve food at the local bar. The prettier your waitress, the worse the economy.

Sexist stereotyping? You bet. So the Puma sports brand is playfully fighting back with the PUMA Index, a stock ticker for cell phones showing models — male or female — who take off their clothes when the Dow goes down. Sure, you can pick a girl, but the default image on the app is a buff guy cranking weights, ready to drop his jeans. Economists, hope for a rally.

Image: Scott Eklund

iPhone apps: Losing users within 30 days?

Speaking of iPhone apps, Pinch Media recently tracked 30 million application downloads and found a startling fall-off among users. Apple has had more than 1 billion of these tiny software launch buttons downloaded to iPhones, but it turns out most users quickly forget about them.

Pinch Media found that only 20% of people continue to use a free application after the first day, and three months after the download fewer than 1% of users continue to tap the app. This doesn’t bode well for companies hoping to profit from advertising run on free apps — ads on iPhone apps run $0.50 to $2.00 CPM (cost per thousand impressions), and Pinch estimates that with only 80 average sessions per user, application makers would have to charge at least $8.75 CPM to break even.

To be fair, iPhone apps likely follow a classic Pareto skew where a handful — news, weather, maps — get used far more than others. Or perhaps iPhones were made for calling people after all.

Via TechCrunch.