Hobnob to get apps noticed

App developers looking to get the word out on their software should prioritize networking with app stores and influential blogs, say industry voices.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor on

Despite the Web's global reach, developers should still connect with people and a variety of different networks online to get the word out on their apps, say industry voices.

Singapore-based Joash Chee, who has developed a set of iPhone-based music apps such as Chordica and Mozart to Infinity, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that it is a big challenge getting noticed within the 140,000 apps on Apple's store. This is both by the users and by Apple itself which frequently posts notable apps to its front page.

Chee has his apps listed on Apple's App Store, as well as on SingTel's locally-focused aggregator, called the SingTel App Zone.

Likening the official App Store to a "hypermarket", he said: "[Apple] will put your apps on the shelves, but may have no inclination to make them visible or promote them."

Developers have been flocking to the iPhone platform because of its high download traffic. According to a January Gartner report, 99.4 percent of all mobile app sales in 2009 were on the iPhone. Apple announced in the same month the total number of downloads on the App Store hit three billion since its inception in June 2008.

Getting spotted by the Cupertino company has spelt huge returns for developers. In a September blog post, the makers of BillMinder said sales of their app went from an average of 100 copies a day to over 1,200 each day, after the app was spotted and featured by Apple within its App Store.

Chee said developers should try to pursue Apple directly for results, and indicated that he has worked with the company's regional technology evangelist on getting his app marketed.

He has employed a similar route in liasing with SingTel, with some success. "It is critically important to know and partner with people as much as possible."

He added that reaching out to be featured on local and device-centric blogs could prove helpful in raising visibility. Developers could also consider paying for ads on such sites which have a loyal following, he said.

Full-time app makers who are invested in selling their wares should also contemplate hiring a marketing person or team, and look for marketing opportunities via partnerships, said Chee.

SingTel's App Zone, launched last July, pledges to undertake the marketing effort for developers, for a cut of the app profits. The mobile store is accessible from mobile devices and through desktop browsers, and caters to a variety of device platforms.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, a SingTel spokesperson said its store held "over 1,000" apps across platforms, with Java and Symbian applications enjoying more downloads because of the higher number of phones capable of running them.

The spokesperson declined to share revenue breakdown figures, but said SingTel is "open to discussion with app developers".

The Singapore telco added that the store aims to reach out to its 3.2 million postpaid and prepaid customers in Singapore, and was set up to address growing demand for apps across various mobile platforms.

At the time of writing, the store listed nine unique iPhone apps on its site, and 13 on Apple's App Store.

SingTel has said in other reports, the App Zone's value proposition is to allow users to be billed for apps through their monthly statements, without the need for a credit card. The telco may reach out to users through SMS and e-mail alerts, as well as pre-loading the App Zone application on handsets it sells.

Chee said revenue sharing could be seen as the cost a developer would otherwise have to undertake to execute his own marketing efforts.

Bernard Leong, a partner at Singapore VC firm Thymos Capital, said via e-mail that local stores may be suitable for apps which have a strong indigenous flavor.

While all game developers should publish their apps on the OS makers' official app stores which have critical mass, local context is key to whether developers should focus on local app aggregators or not, said Leong.

He highlighted the example of a Singapore-based Mahjong game app which is selling well locally. Developers of such apps should get listed in local stores, he said.

Additional methods of distribution include niche stores for further reach, mobile social networks such as OpenFeint, as well as getting apps featured on blogs or game-oriented sites, he added.

Third-party mobile stores have also touted their position as an alternative route to market, away from proprietary channels.

In an earlier interview with ZDNet Asia, Handango said developers have been looking to third-party stores like itself to access users, and to ensure developers' apps stay listed and accessible, in the event of a proprietary store delisting apps.

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