Designing the Perfect Mobile Application Store


I briefly touched on application stores as part of my last post, Creating a Better BlackBerry Experience. After re-reading the post and reflecting on some of the comments, I felt that a more in-depth follow-up was required to discuss why the overarching design of a mobile application store is paramount to its adoption, usability and ultimately, success.

This post will focus on how I believe the design of BlackBerry App World (“BBAW”) can be improved for both enterprises and consumers.

BlackBerry App World for Enterprises

When BBAW was first released, many BES-connected users had problems downloading applications due to permission-based issues. RIM can’t do much to change corporate policies, but RIM can implement a highly-anticipated BBAW for the enterprise. I am proposing that RIM creates an enterprise app store, similar to the app store announced by MobileIron in December 2009. MobileIron’s enterprise app store allows enterprises to create a repository of approved content and apps, which employees can then download and use with the full blessing of IT. In addition, an enterprise can create device or employee categories with permissions for certain types of content. As mentioned by Kevin Fitchard of Connected Planet, “Salesmen, for instance, would find Salesforce.com’s app in their approved storefront, while a field engineer would not. Both field engineers and salesman could have access to vehicle navigation services, and while a desk jockey might be able to download that same application, the company could set usage restrictions limiting when he or she could use it (say, business trips) or require the employee to pay the monthly service fee in a separately generated bill.” To me, this concept sounds like an app store that would help RIM sell more BlackBerry devices to enterprises, help IT administrators and make employees more productive (and happy) when mobile. Obviously, a more tidy billing mechanism will have to be in place, since I’d reckon the majority of enterprise won’t want to pay via PayPal.

BlackBerry App World for Consumers

In creating v2.0 of BBAW, RIM has a lot of work to do. My last post discusses a few elements that need improvement including the billing systems, pre-loads and fewer bugs. I’d like to add a few more points to the discussion. To begin with, the billing system needs to be more dynamic and allow customers to attach credit cards to their profile for frictionless billing. The billing systems should also be flexible enough to power additional business models for application developers including subscription billing and in-application micro-transactions. Why not bring the minimum price-point to $0.99 as well?

Steven Berkovitz chimed-in to mention that with BES 5.0, there’s a full-blown web version of desktop manager; it uses an ActiveX control to connect to your Blackberry for operations requiring a physical connection and personal data is sync’d over-the-air (“OTA”). However, this functionality doesn’t yet extend to previously installed, licensed and configured applications. As a consumer, wouldn’t it be nice to buy your next BlackBerry, insert your SIM card, load your user profile from within an OTA-driven application and click “Restore Profile” to then have your data, applications (auto-detect new BlackBerry OS and download proper build for the new device) and configuration settings loaded onto your new device OTA? That is one step towards a BlackBerry device that can compete with future iPhone models in delivering the experience sought after by the ever-smarter and bells-and-whistles-seeking consumer today.

Many users are also confused by not being able to find certain apps in BBAW that show up for their friends or colleagues. By design, RIM only shows its users the apps available for their device. In a future version of BBAW, it would be nice to show users all the apps and allow users to be notified (by push, email, SMS, etc…) when the app is launched for their specific OS and device model. This could also give developers a sense of what devices are generating the most demand for their product so that they could focus their development efforts on the makes/models and locations that are going to yield that greatest financial rewards or user adoption.

Ubiquitous Access

BBAW needs to come pre-loaded on all (new) handsets. End of story. In cases where mobile carriers have a contractually dominant position over RIM on controlling content or applications available to mobile devices, RIM should provide those carriers with sufficient access and privileges to formally reject specific applications for use by their subscribers for their own reasons. In concert with these changes, RIM should enter into a formal revenue sharing agreement with carriers so that revenues generated from application one-time sales, subscriptions and micro-transactions can be shared. Once these deals are signed, RIM (or the mobile carrier) should push App World down to all BlackBerry devices. IMHO, this would be a win-win-win scenario for RIM, carriers and consumers.

If you were RIM, how would you design BlackBerry App World v2.0?

Virtual Goods: Market, Types, User Psychology


Virtual Goods have begun to penetrate social networks like Facebook and mobile applications like Tap Tap Revenge (by Tapulous) and I Am T-Pain (by Smule). They have spread like wildfire, with game developers itching to better understand the economics of virtual goods and the psychology of gamers. This post will explore the rapid market growth, types of virtual goods, user psychology and steps to launching virtual goods in your application or game.

Market Growth

The estimated market size has gone from a nascent space in 2008 to approximately $500 million (Aug. 2009; Source: Viximo) to over $1 billion by end 2009 (Oct. 2009; VentureBeat) only 2 months later. If you are at all surprised by this vast market size, you should know that the Asian virtual goods market is seven times bigger than US (estimated at $7 billion for 2009).

Zynga, one of the leading social games companies, launched a game called Farmville in June 2009, and has already become the most popular game application on Facebook with 62.4 million active users as of October 29, 2009 and will easily break through $150 million in 2009 revenue.

Types of Virtual Goods

Developers are very creative. So far, the types of virtual goods can largely be placed into 2 buckets:

  1. Decorative Goods: Do not affect game statistics / game play (e.g. avatars)
  2. Functional Goods: Affect game statistics / game play (e.g. Farmville tractors — did you know users bought 800,000 of them yesterday)

Since functional goods affect game play activities, game developers should give users the ability to either earn these items/goods through game play or provide a shortcut in acquiring them with a virtual currency. Functional goods can be managed to have low or high value price points; generally, the value of these functional goods can be set by carefully managing and understanding scarcity. Ensure to have some items that are very common (Developers: ensure to “prime the pump” by getting users familiar with using some free and low-cost items), and some that are very rare and expensive.

While A/B testing how much users will pay for items, understand that as the aggregate number of social interactions per user increases within an application, each rare item’s value will proportionately increase for those users. Another consideration while establishing demand for your virtual goods is whether or not you need a secondary market where users can sell, trade or profit from their virtual goods (See more from Bill Grosso’s presentation on Managing a Virtual Economy).

There are many reasons why a user would pay more for certain items. Let’s try to better understand game user psychology.

Psychology of Purchasing Virtual Goods

Users will buy virtual goods for many different reasons. Buying decisions will be based on a number of factors including user motivation, several forms of influence, boredom and competitiveness. If you’re a developer, think carefully about users of your applications: Why would they want to buy a virtual good within your application? What added value would they receive? Which other people would see they bought this good, and could they benefit as well? Below, I outline a number of different reasons why users choose to purchase virtual goods:

  • People are impatient (time = money) and want to advance through game play more quickly
  • People are competitive and want to get ahead (of friends, peers, the world)
  • People want to express themselves in unique ways (akin to the culture of decorating cell phones in Japan)
  • People want to feel good about themselves (donating to charity and publicizing)
  • Gifting allows people to foster and maintain existing relationships with others in an increasingly electronic world
  • Gifting allows people to create new relationships
  • People will return gifts due to the rule of reciprocation (influence), which prompts us to repay what someone has given us
  • Provenance (e.g. did a famous user own this item in the past?)
  • Branding (virtual goods branded by real-world companies)
  • Rarity (scarcity)

5 Key Steps for Launching Virtual Goods

In a presentation by Amy Jo Kim, CEO of Shufflebrain, about why and how virtual goods work, she outlined 5 steps for launching virtual goods.

  1. Create meaningful content
  2. Prime the pump with free goods or currency
  3. Create demand for premium content
  4. Offer fresh content at a range of price points
  5. Make it easy to purchase currency

There are many different companies that offer solutions to help with your virtual currency. If you’re looking for good vendors, try: PayPal, Gambit, boku, Zorg or $uperRewards.

Why are your users buying your goods? How did you generate interest or scarcity in your application? Please share your story and learnings about user psychology and buying decisions in the comments area below.