Mobile app developers are looking to games, social-networking sites and lifestyle-related software to gain a foothold in the burgeoning mobile app market, according to industry watchers.
Lai Kok Fung, co-founder and CEO of BuzzCity, a mobile advertising company with insight into the region's app landscape, said that games, business applications and lifestyle, which includes social media, are the top areas that developers in the Asia-Pacific region are looking to innovate in.
He noted in his e-mail that games remain "the most popular form of apps downloaded and used by consumers" and these include apps with themes of "adventure, sports and fantasy". Business apps, such as mobile banking and inventory management, help extend the reach of businesses and allow them to serve their customers more effectively, he added.
Additionally, lifestyle apps that tap on social-networking sites and location-aware features exploit the "always-with-me" feature of mobile phones and are well-received by users.
Drilling down further, Lai observed that in countries such as India, apps relating to sports, racing and games with themes of action and adventure are the top three most popular apps. Users in the Philippines, on the other hand, are more interested in arcade games, sports and apps that stream movies and television programs.
In Brunei, software looking into the country's food and beverage industry as well as Islam-centric apps are hot favorites among developers, said Nicky Wong, founder of Infindo. The company focuses on mobile app and platform development and is based in the country.
He explained in his e-mail that Brunei is an Islamic country and developers are leveraging the country's primary religion to promote their wares and give the local IT sector a shot in the arm. Bruneians are also food lovers, which is why apps that provide reviews on the best food joints are warmly received, added Wong.
Meanwhile, a Singapore-based mobile developer said that social media apps leveraging location-based features, as well as games, are key focus areas for his company XVision.
Johnny Lim, the company's founder, pointed to one of the firm's latest offerings--Apple's iOS-based Flood Alert app--as an example of software that pushes "customized, relevant information" to mobile devices, which he said is what local users are asking for.
Platforms of choice
He also said the company is currently developing only for the Apple iOS platform, although the founder added that there are plans to create apps for Android OS since this is a "growing platform".
"A popular iOS app can get you S$100,000 (US$73,670) per month easily. That's lucrative," said Lim.
Infindo's Wong agreed with Lim, saying that "smartphones are hot in Brunei, particularly Apple's iPhones". The other platform developers are looking to include Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry, Google's mobile Android OS and J2ME.
J2ME-based handsets, as well as Symbian phones, are still "very prevalent" in the region, added BuzzCity's Lai, who urged developers wanting to have their apps exposed to a "large audience" to create content for these platforms.
He also pointed out that even though the iPhone is getting "a lot of press [attention]" and is popular in urbanized centers such as Singapore, the Apple device's reach is "still limited". Android-based smartphones, on the other hand, are "catching up", with many new and affordable handsets being released.
As for Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform, Lai was dismissive about the platform's importance. "Forget about Windows because there is little presence of [the OS] on mobile handsets, now and in the foreseeable future [when Windows Phone 7 is launched]," he stated.
App distribution woes
That aside, the BuzzCity CEO said developers who can only succeed if their software gets into the hands of consumers are facing app distribution challenges.
"There was a time when gatekeepers such as mobile operators [would] decide which apps get the most promotion on their portal [and have the power to] make or break an app," Lai noted. "The power has now moved to Apple and its [closed] iPhone [ecosystem]."
Ryan Wuerch, chairman and CEO of Motricity, added to Lai's point. He told ZDNet Asia in a separate interview that previously, it was easy for developers to make money in the early days of Apple's App Store as there was less competition to get consumers to use their software. Now, however, it is increasing difficult for consumers to filter through the "hundreds of thousands" of apps to find the ones that are relevant.
An earlier report featuring a survey conducted by BuzzCity reinforces Wuerch's view. The online study, which polled 1,400 users from 10 countries globally, found that 13 percent of respondents did not download games or applications on their mobile phones because they were unable to find what they wanted.
To overcome this challenge, the executive suggested that developers work with third-party platform providers such as Motricity to better understand users' consumption and spending patterns based on their past purchases. This would allow them to tailor their apps to target a specific market need, said Wuerch.