Mobile

6 ways the Five Horsemen of Tech can build better app ecosystems

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Rob Weber is senior vice president of new products and cofounder of W3i.

In the tech community, it’s becoming apparent that there are five powerhouses, or “horsemen,” that will shape the future of technology: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Samsung.

One common thread between these companies is that they’ve all cited the importance of mobile in their strategies. One of the most vital components of having a strong mobile strategy is creating a thriving developer ecosystem—no matter how great your platform is, if there are no good apps it’s probably not going to fare well.

That’s why it’s a little surprising these magnates of mobile are falling short in some areas where they could be helping developers to create a stronger app ecosystem. Here are six ways that the horsemen can help change that.

1. No More Guessing Games: Clearer Criteria for How to Get Featured

Features can make or break a developer. For example, on Google Play, our partner SkyVu saw a 1,899 percent jump in DAUs after a holiday feature last December. So how do developers get a feature on various platforms? The answer usually lies somewhere between wishing and praying. Developers are often left clueless as to what criteria are used to pick games for the sought-after feature. Is there a Magic 8 Ball in the basement of Apple? Does Google have a dartboard with a bunch of games on it? There’s no direct communication with developers in this process. Without clear, strong criteria, there’s been a lot of speculation from developers as to how to secure a feature but nothing concrete. Giving developers an idea of how to get featured will both build stronger relationships between developers and platforms and give developers a better idea what kind of apps the horsemen are looking for.

 Horseman that does this the best: None

2. Brother, Can You Spare An Ad? Provide Better Paid Media Opportunities for App Developers

A simple rule for the horsemen to remember is that if you can help developers make money, you’ll build stronger relationships with them. One of the most immediate ways to help developers generate revenue is to make it easy and worthwhile for them to advertise their apps. Facebook has rich profiles of who its users are, which is a great asset to generate revenue through advertising. Facebook has also created significant opportunities for developers to get paid to advertise with them. On the flip side, Apple has not delivered any way to advertise in iTunes or the App Store. By building out programs for developers to advertise their apps, all the horsemen can build stronger app ecosystems.

Horseman that does this the best: Facebook

3. Lend a Hand: Create Funding Programs for Developers

This one is also fairly obvious. On one hand, you have large thriving companies generating billions of dollars in revenue every year. On the other hand, you have an app market that gets more cutthroat every day and is filled with bootstrapped developers struggling to stay competitive. All of the horsemen should be creating sizable developer funds to help them build the teams and infrastructure they need to make great apps. Such funds would also encourage developers to leverage the horsemen’s technology and make something innovative on their platform. Samsung is a great example of this. With their recently announced $100 million Samsung Catalyst Fund, Samsung will expand their brand, work with great developers, and help build their app ecosystem as clarified at the recent Dive Into Media conference.

Horseman that does this the best: Samsung*
*Full disclosure, the Chairman of our board at W3i Young Sohn is President and Chief Strategy Officer at Samsung, and is involved in overseeing Samsung’s fund.,.

4. More Money, Fewer Problems: Build Stronger Billing Systems

In line with rule #2, horsemen need to give developers the means to be profitable on their platforms. Whether their apps are premium, freemium or subscription-based, developers need strong billing systems to thrive in app ecosystems. An example of how not to do this came from Apple in 2011. When Big Fish Games said they’d released a subscription-based game app on iOS, Apple swiftly removed it from the App Store shortly after the announcement, with no explanation. Although other apps on iOS are using Apple’s subscription billing, Apple has apparently blocked game apps from utilizing subscription billing. Facebook was also notorious for forcing developers to use Facebook Credits in their apps. Facebook has since backed down after some significant developer criticism. Developers understand they’ll need to share revenue to have an app on a platform, but it is the platform’s responsibility to make sure billing is easy, effective and consistent for developers.

Horseman that does this the best: Amazon

5. Increase Social Integration: Eliminate Friction by Tying to Social Networks Like Facebook and Twitter

Like it or not, social is going to be a huge part of apps and gaming from this point onward. The fact that PS4’s controller has a “share” button should tell everyone which way the wind is blowing. As such, the horsemen need to offer social tie-in services to bring large social networks to apps. Apple took a big step in this direction with its most recent software release that stores Facebook and Twitter log-ins at an operating system level. There are also interesting third party services available, like Hook Mobile, that allow users to communicate with text messages to play games with their friends.

Horseman that does this the best: Apple

6. Buy the First Round: Give Away More Virtual Currency

As any developer will tell you, one of the biggest bottlenecks in any freemium app is getting users to make that first purchase. Whether it’s a virtual hat for their avatar or a new virtual weapon, the first purchase is usually the most elusive one. As such, the horsemen need to make it easier to train users to buying in-app goods. The most obvious way to do this is to put more money into gift cards and virtual currency. Amazon recently announced they’d be giving away tens of millions of Amazon Coins, their virtual currency. The real benefit here is that it will get users accustomed to spending said coins and hopefully give its virtual economy a jumpstart.

Horseman that does this the best: Amazon

Rob WeberRob Weber has been a successful entrepreneur since the age of 16 when he, along with his brothers, launched their first e-marketing business. By the age of 20 the Weber brothers had turned their basement endeavors into a multi-million dollar business called Freeze.com. As CEO of Freeze.com, Rob saw the enormous potential in advertiser-sponsored content and pivoted the company to capitalize on this trend. The company was newly branded W3i. Rob has keynoted at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat conference and works hand-in-hand with hundreds of developers who are always looking for new ways to make their apps profitable.

Photo: Phil Aaronson/Flickr

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