Brand Power

In the late 1970s, when Hewlett-Packard wrote the HP-12c, copyright laws were different. If a company or individual didn’t expressly exert their right then the code was freely available for anyone to use. To copyright software, the copyright notice had to appear visibly to the user on the device and it must be noted in the source code. HP failed to do this with their calculators.

What has transpired over the years is a plethora of HP scientific and financial calculator emulators based on the late-70s products, that actually use HP’s original source code. These emulators have been released for every platform you could possibly think of, including at least four HP-12c emulators for the iPhone.

Because there is little difference between these various 12c emulators in the App Store, the Hewlett-Packard official version released last week and the “knock-offs”, I have watched these apps with great interest. It has proven to be an amazing lesson on the power of brand.

The most expensive of these products pre-HP release was the most popular, peaking in the high-20s for Finance Top Paid Apps. The developer was charging $19.99 for it. When HP came on the scene a week or so ago, with a $14.99 price point, the knock-off apps dropped like a rock while HP sky-rocketed, topping out at #1 in Finance Top Paid Apps. (The knock-offs have since recovered somewhat with much lower prices.) No multi-featured calculator product, in the six months I’ve been watching, has been ranked higher than 11 before the official HP-12c release, and that was a $0.99 application.

What has struck me is the power of the brand. Again, there is no discernible difference between HP’s version of the 12c and the knock-offs yet HP was able to run them off. Second, I’m amazed at the power of this ancient brand. It has been able to propel it to the top of the Finance category when far more interesting products have never gotten as close.

And the buzz for the HP-12c has been fantastic. Before HP released the 12c, most of the calculator conversation on the web had been about the built-in calculator’s ability to be turned into a scientific calculator by turning the device sideways. (Or, more worrying, the propensity of iPhone users trying to dial with their calculator.)

While I’m not convinced that brand building happens in the App Store, I am convinced that a powerful brand makes all the difference. The question I ask myself, of course, is how do I build such a powerful brand with FastFigures? Working on this and other questions as you read.

 

[Note 1: I convinced HP to develop the 12c emulator for iPhone. I was not involved with the development and never asked for nor received compensation for my consulting time with HP. If, however, HP wants to throw some money my way, I’d be happy to take it.]

[Note 2: In case you are wondering, HP’s release of the 12c has not had a negative impact on my sales. FastFigures is not an emulator but instead takes a fresh and truely smartphone look at calculating on the go. If anything our Top Paid position has actually improved over this time period.]

FastFigures v2: From Good to Great

Version 1.0 is always so hard. When we wrote version 1.0 of FastFigures Finance Calculator and released it in February, we really didn’t know what we were doing. We were trying to figure out everything from what Objective-C is all about to how to make the user interface do the things we want it to do. Even worse, we hadn’t used the iPhone enough to have a clear understanding of how we should interact with it.

So we create and change and throw out and create some more and over the course of a few months — from November to February — we refine it enough to have something decent. Decent, mind you. Not great, but good.

Should we continue on for another month or two and keep creating and changing and throwing out until we approach great? Of course. Would it have been better if we could roll out a beta program to a few hundred, get their input, and keep refining until we are closer to great than good? Yes.

But after four or five months of staring at the same code, good feels good enough. So we shipped. And the response was solid. In the first few months, we sold a few thousand units, tried to manage the unmanageable (Top Paid position and search), and learned a ton from talking with and listening to customers who were using it every day in the field.

And with a break, we were ready for our next try. We took all those suggestions and all that feedback, took our new-found experience with iPhone development, boiled it down to a couple of things that we could do in a few months, and got to work. What did we add to FastFigures version 2? The following, all focused on speed, accuracy and ease-of-use:

  • Pop-up editors for improved data entry in the templates
  • Start-up options to get you where you want to go quicker
  • Faster navigation to the calculator
  • Improved button sizes and layouts for easier data entry in the calculator and templates
  • Memory locations and constants
  • Integrated help

In general, the application feels more like an iPhone application, it acts the way I’d expect, and I’ve already heard from a number of customers who dropped their other products to solely use FastFigures. We didn’t ship ‘good’ this time. We waited for great.

And now, with the learning curve behind us and the core in place, we can really get to work. The plans are exciting: template creation, add-ons, saving data, syncing to the web site, report generation… I can’t wait to get started.

Smart Thinking Destroyed By iPhone Gold Rush

There are a couple of trends in mobile software development that I don’t understand: 1) the over-focus on iPhone and 2) the over-emphasis on locally-running (native) applications.

iPhone or Die
On point #1, don’t get me wrong. I use an iPhone, it’s a great product and platform and clearly has mental share in the market. But it’s 10% of the smartphone customers. RIM has twice the market share with BlackBerry; Symbian four times that sell in plus a large installed base.

Maybe Yahoo! isn’t the best example, as it’s a consumer-oriented service, but apparently they have stopped developing a BlackBerry app to focus on their iPhone app. Is that a reasonable decision? Maybe. If I’m deciding, though, I look at who my customers are first. Making an enterprise or government sale? Better focus on BlackBerry first. Apple’s App Store isn’t even set up to handle large corporate purchases. Are your customers mainly in Europe? Better focus on Symbian, which is dominating the EU.

What’s a Website?
The second trend that’s bothering me is the plethora of websites pretending to be applications. The most amazing thing about the iPhone is the web browser. And yet all these sites are making native applications that are nothing more than a web site. The data still has to be downloaded to make them work, so it’s not like “offline” has any meaning to them.

Do I really need a Wikipedia app? A Google app? A Netflix app? All they do is connect me back to the web site anyway. Heck, if Twitter had a half-decent interface then I’d use their website instead. I’d much rather see time spent on making these websites really mobile-enabled. For a great example, check out ESPN’s mobile site. They’ve done an incredible job of making it look-and-feel iPhone while keeping it on the web.

Building an iPhone Business

Introduction

A week ago I was asked to give a presentation to a local meet-up mobile group called Mobile Portland about my 12 years in mobile and how that relates to the iPhone App Store. I decided to focus this on some conclusions I came to regarding building an iPhone business instead of being specific to Infinity Softworks.

I then gave the same presentation earlier this week at OTBC, a local tech incubator that I’ve been involved with the past few years, for a Lunch-and-Learn. In total over 100 saw my presentation in person or streamed across the web.

I’ve included both the slides and video here for your review. I think I’m taking a very realistic look at the challenges. Most of the popular press and blogs have been so overwhelmingly positive about the App Store and its impact for developers. But the make-up of the App Store is far more complicated than that for the vast majority of us, and the opportunities have morphed substantially over the last nine months.

I hope this helps you with your business decisions, giving you a little more insight into the opportunities and challenges with Apple’s App Store itself. My goal was to analyze this from a business perspective. Obviously my own experiences influence the slides but feel that the presentation is broader than any one company’s experience.

Video

This video was shot with the second presentation at OTBC. The first half, 27 minutes, is my presentation. The second half is Q&A.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2091237&dest=-1]

You can see it here if you can’t see the embedded video:http://blip.tv/file/2080839/

Slides

If you’d prefer to peruse the slides instead, please keep in mind that the video tells a much fuller story than the slides do: