In this world of social media and crowd-sourced content, the customers’ focus follows closely behind the wavefront of twitter trends and viral videos. It’s become super-saturated with not just two, but ten alternatives to nearly every brand in the global collective marketplace. In some verticals, there are literally thousands of companies trying to sell you the same shit. This effect is magnified in the App Store economy, where the cost to maintain a business supplying apps and updates is less than a parking ticket*.
The result: the $0.99 barrier.
Charging a non-zero price has become a deal-breaker to some customers. They’ve grown to expect the highest production value, and they don’t want to pay for it. Why? Because of the attitudes of the developers. It’s so easy to build and publish an app that every future-minded, entrepreneurial, and/or greedy developer is throwing down $99/yr to take a chance at the big payoff. Driven partly by the overabundance of apps and by the desperation of developers to beat everyone’s prices, the sticker price has dropped to zero.
In a market of free apps, quality is king.
How do you guarantee quality? Do you have some policy that all code is tested thoroughly? No. Do you hire the best designers and developers in the industry? No. Well, if you have the budget, fuck yeah, but most of us don’t. The path to quality is to develop a close relationship with the user community, to elicit feedback that isn’t just “your shit sucks. i hate your family.” or other such useless nonsense, and to respond to that feedback to improve the user experience. Listen to what the people want. Then give them what they want. It’s basically that simple.
The critical factor in all this is having a user community. You can’t have a user community until you start telling people about your product and making it available for them to use. My first and only rule of app publishing is “if you think it’s not ready, publish it.” Obviously, it needs to be functional and free of any known defects. The point here is that you could spend an eternity at version zero, working in a vacuum toward that first big event, hoping your app makes sense to the user, or you could spend a finite amount of time iterating little improvements in response to feedback from your active user community.
The simple truth is that in two years, we’ll all look back on today and think how fortunate we were to have the opportunity to be a part of such a fantastic technological and economic marvel as the App Store. The last thing on our minds will be how foolish we were to publish so early, with such a raw and unrefined product. After all, by then, we will have refined the product so far that it’ll sell itself and we’ll be making money for nothing.
* Many developers have full-time jobs at other companies, so the labor cost to produce an app is not factored in here. The intent is to convey the vanishingly small cost of digital order fulfillment and content delivery infrastructure, when compared to that of tangible goods.