A conversation with Luis A. Gutierrez, the author of the first comprehensive book about the history and development of Apps.
The Creativity Post: You have just published the first and only comprehensive book about Apps “Super Apps. History of Apple’s App Store & Guide to Marketing Your App”. What inspired you to write about the subject?
Luis A. Gutierrez: As I was in the process of winding down the sale of my website, AppPicker.com, I began to think about what I wanted to do next. Around that time a friend’s brother had released a very innovative app but there didn’t seem to be a marketing plan in place other than haphazardly “getting the word out”. It dawned on me then I had spent several years carefully watching every day the evolution of the App Store including the various marketing techniques app makers use to peddle their new apps. Although I was very much aware of these techniques, this knowledge isn’t possessed by the vast majority of app makers. App makers spend a lot of time focused on creating their apps but very little time thinking about how to market them. Throw in the fact there are hundreds of thousands of app makers globally and the opportunity to deliver a book to help them successfully market their apps became apparent to me.
But this book won’t just appeal to app makers. It will also appeal to folks in general since I also wrote about the App Store’s history filled with interesting stories about super apps like Instagram, Angry Birds and Words With Friends and super flops like Color and Pepsi’s debacle with their AMP Up Before You Score app.
The Creativity Post: What are the most basic “do’s and don'ts “ for those who want to launch a successful App?
Luis A. Gutierrez: The most basic “do” is that a successful marketing plan involves effort before, during and after launch. That is, do plan to spend as much time marketing an app as it took to create it. The vast majority of apps will never be successful no matter how much marketing muscle are behind them. However, a thoughtful marketing campaign is a precondition for all successful apps.
Some of the practical advice the book offers include creating a variety of information channels such as a website, Twitter account and Facebook page. These outlets can be used before, during and after launch to generate publicity. In addition, the book talks about the advantages of partnering with app publishers such as Chillingo and how to leverage tools like promo codes.
There are many basic “don’ts” but one particular one is to not pay for an app to be reviewed. Plenty of companies exist who will write a review for a fee but using them I think serves to undermine the credibility of the app maker and their app. Plus it doesn’t give the app maker the honest feedback they need to improve their app or build a better new one in the future.
The Creativity Post: In Supper Apps you write about both: the super Apps and the “spectacular flops”. What is the most common mistake leading to “crush and burn” in the highly competitive App World.?
Luis A. Gutierrez: One of the most common mistakes, particularly for cutting edge apps, is not creating and using collateral material effectively to properly describe their products and head off any potential damaging misconceptions. In the book, for example, I write how many app makers poorly describe their app in the App Store and further hurt themselves by not generating a video trailer or demo video to post on YouTube. I describe the key elements to writing an effective app description and the resources available to generate a solid video. Lastly, I run through examples of apps who crashed and burned because of missteps in these key areas including perhaps most famously the Color app.
The Creativity Post: What tools do you find the most helpful in App promotion?
Luis A. Gutierrez: The book enumerates a bunch of tools to successfully promote apps but one of my favorites are promo codes. Promo codes are redeemable in the App Store to download a specific app for free. Apple gives away a number of promo codes to app makers whenever they release an app to be used, not surprisingly, to promote their apps.
Promo codes are great because they can be used, for instance, to conduct giveaway contests on Twitter to generate buzz for apps both before and after release. Promo codes can also be offered to technology blogs so they can review your app. I list in the book all the important app-centric technology blogs app makers should contact so they can hopefully write reviews about their apps.
The Creativity Post: What helps more in launching a successful app: solid research and familiarity with the rules, or a strong “gut feeling”... one might say “an instinct”? Or, to put it differently, do you think that in the future App production will be dominated by highly specialized companies fully dedicated to perfecting the art of App development and marketing? Or, we will still see successful Apps popping out of nowhere?
Luis A. Gutierrez: The most successful apps are those who introduce trailblazing features and capabilities all as a result of someone’s vision. We have to remember the App Store has only been around for less than four years and we are just at the beginning of the app era. Although there has been a tremendous amount of innovation with apps, its a drop in the bucket compared to what we will see over the next five years.
One of the chapters in the book, Innovative Apps, covers some of the most cutting edge apps the App Store has seen. For example, Word Lens is a super app because it visually translates words from one language to another. All you need to do is open the app and point your iOS device’s camera viewer at a restaurant’s menu in French, for example, and abra cadabra, the words magically turn into their English equivalents.
One of the book’s central arguments is that the app phenomena would never have happened if it were not for the radical re-engineering and re-design Apple introduced when it unveiled iPhone to the world in early 2007. The iPhone’s touchscreen, multi-touch technology, built-in three-axis accelerometer, and geographical location capability all set the stage for apps to take advantage of these features previously unavailable in a smartphone. In order for the app revolution to maintain its momentum, hardware makers will need to continue to introduce new capabilities so app makers can build cutting edge apps on top of them.
I fully expect the most innovative apps to continue to come from the lone developer or small development teams as opposed to traditional corporations. The great thing about the App Store is anyone with an idea can put out an app. If you don’t have the technical skills to build it yourself, you can hire an app development company. The cost of capital to build an app is not prohibitive. All it takes is a great idea, rolling up your sleeves and making it happen.
I don’t think a corporation can consistently dream up innovative apps who will one day become super apps. Quite to the contrary, corporations will build themselves around super apps developed by the lone developer or small development team. We’ve seen this scenario happen many times with companies such as Instagram who started off as apps and grew up to become serious enterprises.
The Creativity Post: We have to ask: what is you favorite App?
Luis A. Gutierrez: As you may have guessed based on my response to the previous question, I really like the Word Lens app. I think the technology is awesome and the problem it solves is universal. Couple the Word Lens app with a wearable device like the prototype Google recently unveiled called Project Glass and you begin to see the cool new things in store for us in the very near future. My other favorite app is Tiny Wings which is a great little game to waste away a few minutes here and there in a fun way.