Application development for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is becoming big business, with the market hitting an estimated value of $20.5 billion last year.
In Australia, start-ups are eagerly jumping on the bandwagon, with high hopes of the likes of goCatch, an app that allows people to track and book nearby taxis.
The Federal Government has even got in on the act, shelling out $40,000 for an app designed to aid small businesses.
It isn’t just app developers that are cashing in either – a variety of businesses are adding apps to their offering in the hope of raising market awareness or driving sales.
But if you’re aiming to give your start-up a presence in Apple’s App Store or on the Android platform, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are several huge potential pitfalls.
It almost went horribly wrong for Michael Salmon and Francesco Fiorenza, founders of Sydney dating website AussieMen.
The duo has built a thriving website that has become a market leader since it launched in 2008. Last year, they decided it was time to create a complementary app for the App Store, only to find themselves stymied by Apple.
“We applied for the app, they asked some questions about the site and the payment gateway and then, two weeks later, they rejected it,” says Salmon.
“They said that the images on the site were unsuitable for the App Store. We did know that they have very strict rules on adult content, but we have our own restrictions on the pictures people can post in their profiles.”
“We got rejected for shots of people with their t-shirts off in footy shorts. This was considered pornographic.”
“We could’ve re-rated all 350,000 pictures we have on the site, but that would’ve taken forever. It’s an issue that a lot of dating sites from around the world, as well as a lot of websites with plenty of images, have with Apple.”
Getting turned down for inappropriate content was just one problem the business faced. Salmon says that Apple’s payment model – in which the tech giant takes 30% of revenue made through apps in its App Store – was also problematic.
“We have 150,000 members and already have our own payment system but Apple said ‘no, you’ll have to use our payment system,’” he explains.
“If you are launching an app with a brand new site, it’s logical to take on Apple’s system, but we can’t just overnight give up 30% of our revenue.”
“The site is so much more in-depth than the app so the danger was that people would all pay though the app, get all the benefits of the site and we’d get 70% of it.”
Salmon had other concerns over the app process too, such as the updates that force users to re-download the whole app again, rather than for bugs and updates to be automatically sorted out.
The rise of the web app
The solution? To create a web-based app, a fix that Salmon says increasing numbers of new businesses are turning to.
“The main benefits that are driving companies to web-based apps are the ease and cost,” he explains.
“You have one technology and one platform, whereas if you made an app for Apple, Microsoft, Android and BlackBerry – that’s four different programmes right there. Francesco (who is AussieMen’s technical chief) would’ve taken six to nine months to learn the technology for each, rather than spend six months on just one app.”
“With a web-based app, you make it once and put a wrap on it so that it can go into the relevant app store, which takes about 30 minutes.”
“We now have an HTML 5 website that works just like an app – it’s geo-coded so it can tell where you are. You can’t tell the difference between it and an app. Plus, you can use it on any device.”
Salmon says that start-ups should think carefully about their app strategy, rather than blindly follow everyone else.
“You need to consider your whole business model – if you need a global audience, the App Store is critical,” he says. “But if you have any concerns about censorship, you‘ve got to take that into consideration.”
“Think about how it fits into your business. Will you want 30% going to Apple for that audience? If you have a button that takes you from the app to your site to fulfil the payment part, can you cope with 100,000 people coming at once?”