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March 15, 2011

A matter of quality

It’s a well-known story. In July 2008, Apple launches the App Store and everything really changes. An assay wouldn’t be enough to take a deeper dive into all aspects (mobile revolution / software-centric model / walled garden / user-focused experience / “right combo of empathy, vision and dictatorship”1 / …). What I want to talk about is a little consideration about mobile software development up to date.

It is fairly obvious, but should be noted that the scenario has changed. Four years ago there was a whole prairie to conquer and colonize. Once created the platform, Apple unveiled an uncontaminated new Wild West. Colonization and gold rush started.

A key point to highlight is that any developer — big, medium and small software companies, independent developers, students, nerds, spare-time developers, etc — can seek his fortune. Everyone has the same opportunities because the distribution channel is the same for all. Ironically a rigid centralized control has imposed an almost “democratic” system. Every developer can distribute his work in a way only giant companies could. Today the App Store gives them access to 150 million potential devices, 200 million iTunes credit card pool, a simple payment processing system, and all the hosting, bandwidth, transaction, delivery, reporting, and several incredibly valuable assets: marketing Apple provides, the App Store’s ease of use and its huge visibility. All included in a simple 30% fee2. But I have digressed too far.

The matter under discussion is that the scenario was a Wild West for each pioneer regardless of the resources, a Wild West without existing competitors (Indians), a brand new market with an explosive consumer demand. In this situation it does not matter HOW, but WHEN you hit the App Store. In this situation your intention matters more that the way in which you put it into practice. It was a gold rush.

Now, let’s get back to the present day. First of all, mobile software development is not a easy game. Many are convinced that the App Store is El Dorado and an app is a little more than an idea. Some success stories do not mean that everyone has become millionaires. “Some” means “a few” cases in thousands. And even when an app looks like an overnight success from the outside it always has years of working away unnoticed preceding it. Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game that they made. Once there was the Plato’s doctrine of ideas, today the development doctrine of ideas. All ideas suck, because they are just ideas. They’re worth nothing. Ideas are just a multiplier of execution.

Secondly (and mainly), there is no longer a borderless prairie, but a borderless metropolis. Buildings and skyscrapers are everywhere (more than 370,000 active apps and about 80,000 unique active publishers). It’s very difficult to find a building plot. Once there was a dozen of review blogs, today tens of thousands (as a parallel business). Once there was an enthusiastic user, today an exigent user who doesn’t care to bet on you and wait until your app improves. Given the way Apple’s ranking algorithm works, the launch (first four day period) is crazy crucial, that means you’ve gotta have a big launch, which means you’ve gotta have a big build-up3.

Now it does matter HOW you hit the App Store. Now it does matter how much carefully and attention to detail you put into execution. It’s a matter of quality. Nothing happens overnight, so you need patience, competence, passion and determination to keep going4.

That’s why software companies increasingly now dominate the ‘Top 200′ lists. Mobile development is not a game. It takes time and resources. It requires different skills (from psychology to engineering). It’s a matter of quality, a matter of high-profile skills, a matter of hard work.


1 https://twitter.com/mattgemmell
2 http://www.tipb.com/2011/02/16/apples-subscription-service-good-bad-ugly/
3 http://tapity.com/iphone-app-design/the-3-ingredients-of-successful-iphone-apps/
4 http://rizergames.com/blog/2011/03/25/coffee-with-johnny-two-shoes/

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