Is the tech press needed anymore? (how Apple iPhone apps take off now)

November 29, 2010 | Robert Scoble

Datapoint one: John Gruber is noting that Android doesn’t have very many of the industry’s best apps.

Datapoint two. Starbucks CIO says that he’s forced to use HTML 5 to support Apple iOS users, because they represent the majority of folks using mobile devices in their stores.

Datapoint three. SlideRocket is forced into HTML5 land (they used to be all Flash) because of pressure from iOS users.

Datapoint four. Instagram got 100,000 users in less than a week (now rumors are that they’ve gotten more than a million users in first month).

Datapoint five. Mobile app developer HighFive Labs (they’ve built 15 apps, including Mario Batali Cooks) tells me they are staying iPhone only for a while.

Datapoint six. Just yesterday Sam Feuer, CEO of MindSmack, told me his app, FastMall, was just put to the top of Apple’s iTunes store and is getting overwhelming demand. When I interviewed him a few weeks ago he told me he already had 250,000 downloads just because he was included in the featured list on the store.

I’m featuring FastMall’s video on this post (watch the video of its CEO in its New York headquarters), because he is at the top of the iTunes Shopping recommendations and because his app will help you get around shopping malls. I’ve used it a few times already to find out where to park nearest stores I need to visit and also to know how to find the store I need inside a mall.

Add into this lots of other anecdotes from companies like Zagat (they say iPhones are outselling all other platforms), Sephora (its webmaster told me that 80% of all mobile app users who come into their stores are using iOS devices), eBay (its mobile chief told me most of the mobile commerce done is on iOS devices), OpenTable (its mobile chief told me most of the restaurant reservations it’s seeing done on mobile devices are being made on iOS devices), AngryBirds (charges for app on iPhone, but giving it away on Android), and PayPal (investing heavily in apps to “bump” money from person-to-person). I could keep going, but there’s somethings going on here which are worth talking about.

1. There’s a common belief that Apple users are buying apps, while Android and other platform users aren’t.

2. There’s a common belief that Apple users are trying more apps per device.

3. There’s a common belief that Apple users are “better” for monetizing, because they are spending more money per device at retail.

4. There’s a common belief that Apple’s platform is best to develop on. Yes, some, like Swype, are on Android, not on Apple. I interviewed them here and their new keyboard is remarkable. What you didn’t see in the interview is that they told me off camera that they really wanted to be on Apple devices and they showed me it working on both iPhones and iPads, but are kept from shipping by Apple.

5. There’s a common belief amongst app developers that Apple’s iPad is going to be untouched in next six months.

6. There’s an understanding that Android is selling more units, but those users are less likely to buy apps, less likely to try apps, and that they have fewer methods of virally pushing apps. iOS, on the other hand has several systems to help you discover apps. My favorite is Chomp, interview here, but the others are quite good too, like Appsfire, and Appolicious. Android has GetJar, but that’s not an Android-only store.

7. App developers tell me they like being featured in Steve Jobs’ keynotes, on Apple in-store advertising and demo stations, and on commercials. That’s a stick that other platforms can’t offer developers.

So, what’s up with the headline I picked for this blog?

I’m noticing that lots of app developers are seeing HUGE adoptions without being pushed ANYWHERE but on Apple’s iTunes app store. That’s how MyTown got so big. It’s also how Instagram got so popular so fast. FastMall’s CEO told me that’s where almost all of its users came from.

Do app developers need the press anymore?

They tell me yes, but not for the reason you might think.

What’s the reason? Well, they suspect that Apple’s team is watching the press for which apps get discussed and hyped up. Apps that get hyped up in the press get added to the feature list more often than apps that don’t, although, like with MyTown, that’s not always true. Press reports might be just one datapoint amongst several that they use to decide between apps to feature. FastMall, for instance, was featured on the front page of the New York Times’ technology section, but I think that happened only after Apple featured it. So, is the press leading, or following, Apple?

More interestingly, though, is the common belief amongst app developers that they’ll only get featured on iTunes if they remain supporting Apple’s platform only. Can the press counteract that? Sometimes, like when Angry Birds became so popular that even Android users heard about it. Instagram is using a different method to get “escape velocity:” each photo tweeted links back to Instagram and, also, users like me are pushing it everywhere. I’ve heard from a lot of Android users that Instagram sucks because it’s iPhone-only. Those vocal users, though, will be first to download it when it comes out on Android and will be first to say “yeah, Instagram finally got a clue and ported to Android.”

The other thing I’m noticing, by using services like Chomp, is that the tech press doesn’t really matter in my own app choices anymore. What does? My friends who try out apps and push them into my view. That’s the new tech press and influencers and app developers need to be aware of how to influence these networks.

So, what do you think? Do you look at the tech press for help picking out apps? Or do you just look at the featured list on iTunes, or maybe use an app-discovery service like Chomp, Appolicious, Appsfire, or GetJar?

This post originally appeared on Scobleizer on November 20, 2010.

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