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App updates dependent on use, interest

Developers more likely to provide regular, substantial improvements to existing apps if software used for branding and marketing purposes or has strong consumer interest, industry insiders say.

Mobile app developers are more inclined to update existing software if there is strong consumer interest or the platform it is published on is growing. Additionally, apps that are used for marketing or branding will also see frequent refreshes as brand owners look to actively engage users, note industry insiders.

Phillip Gronvold, manager of product development at Opera Software, shared that while there are many considerations to look into when developing and maintaining apps, one of the most important factors is the number of users tapping the mobile platform on which the app is published.

"While each developer will have his own cost-benefit analysis, the basic question that all developers need to answer with regard to app sustainability is, 'Will there be enough users on the platform to continue my business model?'," Gronvold said in an e-mail.

Opera Software has an Opera Mini app for Apple's iOS platform, while its full-fledged browser app Opera Mobile is available on Nokie Symbian- and Google Android-powered devices, all of which were introduced between 2009 and 2010.

He added that for developers working on iOS or Android platforms, the consideration would be "easy to justify" given the size and relative maturity of these ecosystems. It is more difficult to gauge the tipping point for developers to drop Microsoft's Windows Mobile or Symbian, or when they should start developing for new operating systems such as Windows Phone, Hewlett-Packard's WebOS and Intel-led MeeGo, he noted.

App updates need business case
Singapore-based Android developer, Chua Ziyong, pointed out that for companies and developers intent on making money through apps, creating and maintaining mobile apps follows a strict cost-reward analysis.

"Maintaining an app requires resources and time so there has to be rewards for developers to justify the cost, or else there is no reason to update the software," Chua said.

Zen Ho, a Singapore-based iOS independent developer who published the top-selling Metronome: Tempo app, noted that "it's all about the money" with regard to his decision to update or end support for his apps.

He told ZDNet Asia in an interview that there were many times when he considered moving on to developing other apps, but was "pulled back" to focus his efforts on existing apps because of the consistent revenue generated by these apps. This, Ho added, would be the case for most indie developers who have limited resources.

"As long as the apps continue to bring in a certain level of revenue, and users are sending in their feedback to improve the features within the app, then I will provide software updates," he said.

Ho's sentiments were echoed by Giordano Contestabile, senior director of product and business strategy of mobile at PopCap Games. In his e-mail, the executive told ZDNet Asia the main considerations behind updating an app are centered on "where the app is in its lifecycle, whether the update would make sense product-wise, and if there is customer demand for it".

Contestabile did point out that there will be cases when a developer does not believe further updates are required or would benefit the product, and decides to end support for the app. This also applies when the developer has a follow-up release or a new iteration in the pipeline, he added.

For games in particular, he said the refresh rate depends on the nature of the product.

A premium game that is mostly based on a single-player experience, for example, would benefit from more infrequent but significant updates as this would give the developer an opportunity to orchestrate promotional campaigns and generate a significant amount of player attention. This, in turn, drives sales and boosts chart rankings, Contestabile noted.

On the other hand, social games that are based on a "connected experience" and monetized mainly through in-app purchases, would benefit from more frequent updates in most cases.

He explained that this is because customer engagement over time is "paramount", and providing new ways for users to interact with the game and managing the players' lifecycles are central to the business model.

Keeping active profile
According to Gronvold, keeping to a development roadmap to provide a steady stream of updates will also help to ensure developers' presence remains active in the app ecosystem.

"Without relatively frequent updates, a developer is at risk of being perceived as not being involved in a specific app store [or ecosystem]," he said.

Chua added that for companies that develop apps for branding or marketing purposes, providing consistent refreshes should be placed ahead of cost-reward considerations.