AppNation: App Rock Stars and the Platform Problem

Apr 29, 2011

This is a continuation of my previous AppNation Day 1 post: What Trip Hawkins and Investors had to say at the AppNation Conference.

App Rock Stars

The next panel that I caught featured developers behind several hugely successful apps.  I have to admit, even after downloading several hundred apps and games personally, there were a few I hadn’t heard of.  Why that is interesting – some of the panelists’ apps have surpassed the hundred million download mark.  Pretty amazing.  The discussion was pretty conversational and the panelists had a lot of similar experiences to share.  These were the highlights that I caught:

  • Berkeley Melagon of DistinctDev, creator of “The Moron Test” app: We spend about 50% of our time on development and [game] content, the rest is on brand building and marketing.  Expect to treat your game as a service, you will need to iterate
  • Thomas Chung from The Playforge, makers of “Zombie Farm“, shed some light on to the “free” app/game model – like all objectives, it’s about penetration – gaining the user base to upsell full games/apps or to cross-promote other apps
  • A few of the developers shared that they were expanding their brands beyond the apps into licensing (particularly those spinning off toy products from games).  Although Angry Birds wasn’t cited as an example in this specific conversation (but did come up in many others throughout the day), I immediately thought of the awesome plushies!
  • All developers easily responded that iOS is their number one target and a few stated that the Apple ecosystem has worked well for them.  Several, however, did state that they also have apps on Android, but brought up the often heard complaint about the Android app store ecosystem fragmentation.  They also added that flow of converting users from free apps to paid apps is much more of a challenge on Android.

So Many Platforms

What I liked about this panel was the range of speakers that participated and a perspective broader than gaming.  The panel was moderated by Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies and included Brandon Lucas from BET Mobile, Hardie Tankersley from Fox Broadcasting, Mahi de Silva from Opera Software and Tyler Lesssard from RIM (makers of BlackBerry and the just released PlayBook tablet).

Bajarin opened the dialogue with a critical point, “People are going to the closest ‘screen’ to get content from the cloud.”  Hardie, agreeing that not all screens are the same, stated that “people still get content many ways such as free broadcast, iTunes, Netflix, and (even still) hardcover books.”  The challenge for networks like Fox is managing each platform in its own way.  He added that Fox is trying out content interaction with tablets while watching TV and that everyone is still experimenting.

Lucas reminded the audience that one needs to not forget about your specific audience needs.  With a background point that the BET audience “were early adopters of technology like the T-Mobile Sidekick” (referring to it as the poor man’s BlackBerry!), he says that they are very focused on mobile apps for feature and smart phones.  Like Hardie, Brandon says the BET is concentrating on viewer interaction with their broadcast content – to the point where they have “tune in” campaigns from their apps that prompt  users to immediately tune in specific shows being broadcast for interactive experiences.

EVP Of Consumer Mobile for the Opera Browser, de Silva brought back the discussion started by Trip Hawkins in the opening keynote – the browser could and should be the primary way that users interact with content and apps.  He cited a statistic indicating over 100M users using Opera Mini/Mobile browser on handsets. (Here is one post that backs that stat).  de Silva’s point is to not overlook being platform agnostic by supporting web technologies in your app deployment and even development of lightweight apps that run directly in a browser.  It certainly sounded like Opera’s long-term objective.  To this point, de Silva announced the Opera Appcelerate app store developer program.

RIM VP of BlackBerry Alliances and Developer Relations, Tyler Lessard, brought a unique perspective from a less crowed app ecosystem (vs. iOS and Android). BlackBerry is taking a strong position of embracing technologies that work across platforms including HTML5 and Flash to give developers more freedom of tools to create apps.  In conjunction to that, he offered that the BlackBerry platform supplies ability to integrate with native device functionality, such as the widely used secure BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service.  Lessard’s welcoming invitation to developers reminded me of Aydin Senkut’s advice from an earlier Investor Panel about being a category leader.  If you are a developer, now is a great time to think about building that “killer app” for BlackBerry, while its landscape is less crowded.

In conclusion, the panelist agreed that developers need to look beyond just the U.S. There are different ecosystems around the world and outside of the U.S., there are still lots of opportunities to partner with distribution channels like carriers.

Lucas summed it up nicely, though: “Just deliver something incredible.”

I spent a little bit of time on the Expo floor and wish I could have spent more time to sit in on a few power sessions and Day 2 presentations.

However, I plan to keep an eye on AppNation’s new app and tech blog where it intends to continuing building its brand as an authoritative resource.  Be sure to check it out at