I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with appbackr last week, one of the few startups in the app development space doing anything interesting and truly beneficial. A purely narcissistic meeting, and a chance for a beer from a friend, I’ve been desperately seeking services that make it easy to develop on mobile devices.
While the Android’s open platform makes it easy for anyone with a rotary dial phone to compete with Apple, the various form factors make developing for mobile little less complex than it was pre-iPhone. For a couple years, we lived in a promised land for mobile, where everyone could develop for the iPhone and ensure a bright future as a mobile business, service, and world. Alas it didn’t last, and won’t return, we’re forever a nation which we’ll be forced to create dozens of experiences for mobile devices, first thanks to the wireless providers who bickered over networks and operating systems only to be crushed by Apple, but now one in which the behemoth of the internet challenges the innovator of the device. Or are we?
Determined to find a better way, I spent a lot of time lately with Widgetbox, yes the company which years ago fostered a market for website widgets before apps were a twinkle in our eyes. Widgetbox originally provided turn key widgets for blogs and websites for everything from RSS readers that would display content on your site, to video, to polls and slideshows. Alas, WordPress and plugins would soon rule the space and Widgetbox turned it’s attention to providing the same turnkey functionality to Mobile.
While Widgetbox Mobile provides an exceptional platform on which to create a simple mobile app for your business, it is, at the end of the day, a simple app. An RSS reader, integration of twitter, a video feed from your YouTube channel. It is, exactly what you need to put your voice / your marketing / your personal brand on a mobile device. In a word, it bakes your site into a mobile format, making it easy to digest. Which is why I’m increasingly frustrated with the recommendation du jour as I continue to plead with peers for suggestions: appbaker.
A more recent entry into this fray, appbaker provides a more enterprise-like user experience, creating the illusion of a B2B service to contrast WidgetBox’s consumer like feel. Yet appbaker, best I can tell, is by and large the same app production service available from WidgetBox. Again, a great service to turn a blog, video site, or marketing campaign in to a mobile app, but not mobile app development. Alas (no more “Alas” – I promise).
Brilliantly, Widgetbox evolved again, to ClickTurn, one of the most innovative developments in ad platforms in recent history; turning it’s easy to use widget platform to an incredibly interactive and insightful ad format and making it easy for advertisers and brands to truly build an experience within a display ad. Leaving the mobile app development space to the same open source industry that gobbled up plugins (don’t worry, the list of startups getting funded to create a mobile app for your site is still surprisingly endless in spite of the lack of demand or business model), I’m again left wondering, isn’t there an option for sophisticated mobile app development??
Friday last week I caught up with good friend who has been helping appbackr find it’s place. Finally, an innovation in app development, winner of the PayPal X Developer Challenge, appbackr (not baker!) is the first wholesale marketplace for iPhone and iPad apps enabling developers to offer apps in bulk at wholesale prices. The answer to my quest? Perhaps.
The idea is simple and revolutionary, though confusing (how exactly do you buy an app in bulk? and why?). With appbackr, developers offer supporters (wholesale buyers) the spread on the actual price of an app and a wholesale purchase of a bulk of the app before it’s sold to consumers. The developer pockets cash early, by way of the support of the wholesale buyer, and can spend the early investment to further develop the app, market the idea, or add resources to the team. Where it gets confusing is the wholesale analogy (which, I confess, I just used to explain the whole idea); in this case, the wholesale buyer isn’t in business with the developer to profit from the relationship as is the convention – the apps aren’t, in turn, sold at a greater margin than that at which the wholesale buyer made the purchase, well, they are, but not such that the buyer profits – the wholesale buyer is backing, supporting the development of an app, by buying some early and recovering part of their investment as the app sells. More so an investor, the purchaser of the apps infuses capital to the developer and assumes a stake in their success; benefiting as the app is sold through the App Store.
Perhaps not the answer to my prayers but imagine the business opportunity before appbackr. Developers need money while we, on the business side, have ideas and marketing experience to bring to market. appbackr is defining, creating, and filling a market gap by bringing together mobile resources here-to-now foreign to one another. The idea holds the promise of a better app economy; one in which developers are better rewarded for solid ideas (do we really need hundreds of thousands of apps?? Are most of them any good?) and business markets can drive app development.
Today, developers post their apps on appbackr to seek support from wholesale buyers. Consider if appbackr reversed their user experience from one on which developers post their apps so supporters can make the bulk purchases, to one in which every app is available for bulk purchase, leaving developers to come claim their bulk orders. Not only would it create a tremendous SEO (a listing for every app) and viral (what developer wouldn’t come check out their page on appbackr) vacuum to their service, it would foster the development of better apps; enabling those with financial resources to reward that which they like and ignore annoying apps that cheat their way to the top of the app store (yes, I’m a little bitter about some apps I’ve tried). The challenge before appbackr is to more effectively close that gap, bringing together not just developers in need of money but money in need of developers.
Until they do, and until the model fulfills my long standing dream of a service that makes it easy to bring innovative mobile app ideas to market (okay, that might be giving my ideas too much credit), appbackr is a brilliant resource for developers. To kick things off, they are giving away iPads and thousands of dollars to give it a go. I hope everyone does, for the good of mobile.
Now… who’s the candlestick maker in my analogy?