I’ve just come back from a brilliant event produced by AdMob. They’ve recently launched a new offering for developers — The AdMob Download Exchange. The concept being that you can trade traffic on your iPhone App with other developers — like a Link Exchange — to promote your applications. Here’s a quick graphic to illustrate:
Of course AdMob are also hugely active in the application monetisation space with well over 1,000 iPhone applications carrying AdMob inventory. What’s good to know is that in many cases, AdMob is writing cheques (or ‘checks’) in excess of $10k+ to a lot of developers. (Indeed, some of the more popular apps are knocking back hundreds of thousands in AdMob revenue.)
So this evening’s event was both an introduction to AdMob’s iPhone related services, a panel discussion on the hot topic du jour (iPhone App Discoverability) as well as the opportunity for developers to network with each other.
The panel featured the following luminaries:
Here’s a pic:
The always reliable and informed Richard Wong (far right in the blue shirt), General Partner of Accel Partners was moderator. If, by the way, you’ve come up with a genius mobile service, you should be talking with Richard. Right now. They’re hunting.
My evening began on the boulevards of San Mateo — a rather picturesque series of boutique shops and pizza restaurants (I think I walked by about 10 pizza outlets on the walk from the station). I used the always reliable Google Maps on my N95 8GB to navigate the 10 minute walk from station to venue. (In a show of solidarity I thought I should bring my UK iPhone to the event — but in an uncharacteristic effort to avoid being nailed for £7/meg in data from o2 UK, I’ve had it set to Airplane mode, so I’ve been using my TMO USA sim in my N95.)
I arrived about 15 minutes early so the Benjamin Franklin Hotel wasn’t quite ready. I spotted a chap standing outside with his iPhone and I theorised he might well be one of the 150 developers attending the event. I struck up a conversation. Turns out that the chap — Steffen Frost has been working with iPhone app development since May 2007. He came up with the concept 1st of May 2007 and had $100k+ seed funding within two weeks. Nice. His product? Carticipate. They’ve basically fixed car-trip-sharing by iPhone.
“Show me!” I said as he described the concept. Within seconds he was showing the functions. You can browse the trips already being made in your area and ask to ride-share. Or if you’re heading somewhere yourself, you can advertise your trip and see if anyone else wants to join you. Smart. They’ve had some substantial interest from a lot of big companies wanting to sanitise their employee commuting traffic (amongst other applications).
“What’s your next platform?” I asked Steffen, “After iPhone?”
“Android,” he replied. “How about Nokia?” I asked.
Suffice to say he was severely unimpressed by the current Nokia offering.
That wasn’t a unique viewpoint. I’ll come to that later.
The venue opened a few minutes later so Steffen and I popped in. Jeff from 148apps, (the iPhone review site) had written his Twitter ID on his label — so I promptly copied and began marching around the room thrusting my hand out and asking questions left, right and centre.
Goodness me it’s iPhone, iPhone, iPhone. Obviously this was an iPhone developer meetup — but I was fascinated to see how insular, how wholly-iPhone the development community is here in Silicon Valley.
“What’s your next platform?” I asked another developer.
“Er… probably Android,” he replied, after a bit of thought.
“Right… and, after that?” I prompted.
“Well,…” he replied, the conversation trailing off to the point that we both stood there in silence for a few seconds.
I remembered myself and spluttered out “Blackberry?”
“Well…” he replied again. A nice way of saying no.
“What about Ovi?” I asked. Hopeful. I was expecting either a venomous “GET OUT” or a knowing nod.
“Ovi? What’s that?” he looked at me confused.
“Er, the Nokia offering — their app store?”
He and his two colleagues who’d now joined us looked horrified. As though I’d taken their iPhone and nailed it to the wall.
“Nohhhkeeaaaa?” They asked. I’m sure their minds were drifting to the $29.99 bollocks-handsets they see on display in the mobile operator stores. The rubbish ones — the glorified mobile telephones complete with alarm clocks. (Think the Nokia 2100 series).
“Er LIKE NO,” said the chap’s colleague, as the other two nodded vigorously.
I thought I’d try out a killer stat on them.
“So 17m iPhones on the planet — Nokia reckons they’ll have the Ovi Store on 400m handsets by the end of 2010.” (I was paraphrasing — this is more or less accurate.)
It’s a fascinating experience walking amongst these developers. They’re the cream of the cream. They’re the Stanford drop-outs (or not – “I did my first and second degrees at Stanford” said one chap”). They’re conditioned by the Silicon Valley mentality to think big, BIG BIG. This is where the innovation is. It’s easy to see why the Valley is the centre of everything.
At least it’s the centre of iPhone development.
There’s only so much you can do when you’re sat in a dark office in London waiting for the ‘your app has been accepted’ email from Apple. Compare that to one panelist’s throwaway comment, “We’re really tight with the Apple guys.”
And tight is good. Tight is the way ahead. Almost every chap I met has a friend-of-a-friend who works at Apple. Or knows a ‘guy’ at Google. Or whose dorm mate knocked out a $10k/day Chess app for the iPhone.
As I walked around the venue, I bumped into Omar, AdMob’s founder. I’m still ridiculously embarrassed — I haven’t got over sitting next to Omar in a dinner in San Francisco last September and asking him ‘what he did at AdMob’ only to find out he was the founder. OH THAT OMAR!
I found Omar in good spirits. He was on his way up to commence proceedings. It says a lot when the CEO and founder of AdMob took the time to pop along and introduce the event. He outlined his company’s commitment to mobile developers and platforms such as the iPhone before swiftly handing over to colleague Mike for a quick AdMob FAQ, namely:
Q: Can I monetise my app with AdMob?
A: Yes. Lots of people are already (1,000+ apps using AdMob).
Q: How much money can I make?
A: It’s very dependent on the application and it’s use case, but, for the sake of argument, assume $0.15 net revenue per customer.
The audience sat in silence, gobbling up the information as Mike delivered it. It was very smart to give some basic revenue examples. Some apps are clearly making a heck of a lot more than $0.15 per customer, but if you’re looking for a ready reckoner of what you might be able to achieve, having this information is really valuable.
Next? The panel. It would be fair to represent the panel as iPhone Developer Rockstars. They’re operating in the mythical space of more or less continual Top-50 App Store billing. As I sat taking in the panel debate I was mentally calculating just how many application downloads the four guys accounted for. If you’re looking for confirmation of rockstar status, witness this panelist quote:
“We worked out the other day that one of our applications has been played by our users for 2,000 man years so far,”
Moderator Richard Wong did a super job of asking a series of pertinent questions to the panel around the issue of application discovery. Once you’ve got your app accepted, do you blow a load of money (on, for example, AdMob) to get your app discovered on the launch day? Or do you play a longer game? Can you really monetise with ads? (Yes).
One point I really liked was, I think, made by Ben Lewis of TapJoy. He explained that customers had emailed in saying they were finding it difficult getting above level 30 in one of their games. So they responded by making levels 30-40 easier. In doing so, they found that their ad-impressions flew off the charts. If you’re displaying ads at the end of levels, it makes sense to ensure that the majority of users can progress to an array of levels.
Panelist Ben caused me to rethink my stance on Apple’s micropayments. if you recall, Apple’s next OS version, 3.0, introduces the capacity to extract micropayments from consumers using your applications. Ben commented that whilst a 30% revenue share for the hosting of the App Store, credit card processing and so on was fair enough, taking the exact same share for micropayments ‘just wasn’t cricket’, as we say in Britain. The point being that Apple aren’t doing any more work, other than the transaction processing.
Now to the good stuff.
For months — possibly even years — I’ve been banging on about the iPhone platform finally unlocking the opportunity for developers. Not everyone has been agreeing with me. Indeed quite a few purists in Europe have continued to assert the apparent superiority of the Symbian/Nokia platform for development. And whilst there’s certainly an argument to be had there, it’s — fundamentally — all about money. And there’s a reason Silicon Valley is going nuts for mobile. (Where ‘mobile’ equals ‘iPhone’). It’s the 800 million iPhone downloads, 70% of which are revenue generating. It’s the fact that you can, theoretically, become a millionaire overnight by developing a successful iPhone application, even though there are only 17m iPhones in existence.
So having been a diehard make-it-easy-for-developers chap, it was rather exciting to be surrounded by a few hundred of the Valley’s iPhone geniuses.
Panel questions arrived. I’d already been mentally willing Richard to pick me when he eventually opened the panel up to audience questions.
“Right, any quest..” he began. I shot up my hand.
“Ewan!” he said.
“Hi, I’d like to ask you about…”
I was getting stuck in.
“Wait a moment Ewan, introduce yourself for the audience,” prompted Richard.
I couldn’t wait to ask my question.
“Given that Nokia expects to have their Ovi store on 400m handsets by the end of 2010, are you looking to develop for that platform?”
The moment I mentioned ‘Nokia’ I could feel the audience bristle.
One of the chaps on the panel looked at me — that ‘what the fluck’ look.
“Er, no,” he said.
He passed the microphone.
“No,” said the next chap.
“Er, we’re thinking about it,” said another.
“Errrr NO,” said the next.
I felt like a pariah as the panel began to dissect their reasoning. The path to cash is unclear. It’s a massively fragmented handset population. It’s not centrally controlled and beautiful like the App Store. The Ovi Store doesn’t appear to be that ‘easy’ to work with. The capabilities of the development platform are unknown (at least within the Valley)… and so on.
Judging by the response of the audience and the other developers I spoke to after the panel, the ambivalence to Nokia’s Ovi offering — and the offerings of the other manufacturers — is echoed across the Valley.
Blackberry was mentioned once or twice. Surprising, given the amount of Blackberries in use across the States. But when you consider that a whopping amount of devices are corporate devices that are locked to prevent downloads — and that Blackberry App World isn’t pre-installed as yet — you can see why it’s getting little attention from this community.
Another surprise was the lack of Windows Marketplace discussion. Yes this was an iPhone developer meetup but you’d expect — or at least I expected — most developers to be reasonably platform agnostic or at least looking at other possibilities. Out of the 150 developers there, a show of hands revealed only one chap who had worked on the Windows platform.
This will change. Effort is driven by monetisation. If Ovi, Blackberry and Windows Mobile deliver on their promise, I’m sure the majority will give them the time of day. But right now it’s iPhone, iPhone, iPhone and I don’t blame them.