AP Mobile launched in July 2008, and the app from The Associated Press is currently available on 14 platforms, with a goal of 18-20 by year-end. Some 1,200 U.S. publishers provide content on a hyperlocal basis, and the app has been downloaded 3.5 million times.
AP acting global director Michael Boord discussed how the news organization deals with targeting its app toward the various mobile platforms in a panel during mediabistro.com‘s Think Mobile conference Thursday morning at Comix in New York, Mobile App Platform Survey: Is It All About the iPhone?
Boord’s list of things to decide while outlining a mobile strategy included: whether the app should be free or paid; what level of customer support to provide; touch, non-touch, or both; how to ensure a reliable network connection; whether and how to include ads; whether to offer offline functionality (such as local storage); whether to allow linking out with the app in the background; marketing; distribution (U.S. or global); and whether to launch an app or a widget.
On the mobile market in general, Boord pointed out:
Smart phones currently only make up 36 percent of the U.S. market. You shouldn’t necessarily ignore feature phones. It’s a huge piece of the pie. That 64 percent feature-phone share is not going to zero overnight.
iPhone only makes up 20 percent of the smart-phone market — 20 percent of that 36 percent in the United States.
If you’re thinking about doing global, you can’t ignore Nokia. Symian has a 47 percent market share. Nokia is the big dog and still will be the big dog for a long time. They have more than 1 billion handsets out there. Apple’s nowhere near that.
On the benefits of working with the iPhone:
There are two primary reasons for iPhone winning out, at least today: the App Store, and the standard form factor. I have one form factor for iPhone, and I have five form factors for BlackBerry that I have to develop for. Which do you think is easier?
On average, the iPhone user has 37 apps — much higher than any other platform.
Boord listed advantages of the Apple App Store as compared with the BlackBerry App World, including: iTunes is preloaded while App World is not; iTunes is easier to navigate; it is easier to install apps via iTunes, while BlackBerry is “not as intuitive, not as easy to use”; and apps from iTunes live in its content-management system, while BlackBerry apps are device-only.
As for some of the pitfalls of working with the iPhone, he mentioned that while Apple dominates in terms of store size, it also presents the challenge of competing against 160,000 other apps for attention, adding that iPhone app prices are dropping to basement levels and asking, “How do you make yourself discoverable in this space? Apple still makes up a small piece of the pie. Explore a multiplatform approach. They (Apple) want a big cut. Their risk is distributed and limited, yours isn’t.”
Touching on other platforms, Boord said:
Last year, Windows Mobile was dead. Are they now a real player in this space again? If you wrote them off, now you have to start thinking about doing it again. (Microsoft is implementing a) standard application store, limiting form factors, introducing hardware minimums, and relying heavily on Silverlight.
It costs more to develop on BlackBerry than iPhone. If you look at the current BlackBerry app, it’s well behind in features and functionality. We are working to get that up to par with iPhone and Android.
A lot of people are looking toward HTML 5. I still think it’s a few years away in terms of acceptance.