Monday, December 3, 2012

Panel Discussion: "How do users find my app?"

Thanks to Lars Erik Holmquist from Yahoo Labs I had the opportunity to host a panel on “The curse of choice – how do users find your apps” at Siggraph Asia 2012. Together with my follow colleagues from previous Research in the Large workshop Henriette Cramer, FrankBentley and Niels Henze, and with Jaden Choi from TGrape we had an interesting discussion on apps. 

Nan Zhong, master student at ETH Zurich, opened the panel with a general introduction to the head and longtail nature of markets (slides). Head markets follow the so-called Pareto-principle which builds upon the fact that shelf space is usually limited, such that the merchant has to choose wisely which products to put on displays. The general rule is that only 20% out of all products generated a 80% of total revenue, thus niche products have a hard chance to appear on the shelf. Opposite to that are longtail markets which generated most of the revenue out of a huge variety of less popular niche products. However, this is only possible in digital markets were shelf-space is virtually unlimited and transaction costs of managing all these products can be kept low. Nan investigated [1] the nature of the Google Play market based on data-set of Appaware and – surprisingly – found: in contrast to most other digital markets (Netflix, amazon…), Google play is a clear Head market with even stronger characteristics than traditional retail. Thus, Nan’s conclusion was that developers should clearly focus on developing blockbuster. Furthermore, he found that the average capacity of users to install apps is limited by average to 40 apps. This means an app has to be really good in order to make it most user’s phone. What’s more, only 28% of all users would download not more than one paid app. Thus, free apps are much more likely to be successful. Furthermore, successful apps are rated better in general, whereas niche apps are used by expert users who are more critical give lower scores. Nan closed his talk with the suggestion to develop mechanisms that allow niche to be found more easily, as current collaborative filtering techniques would rather push successful apps even further.
Inspired by these insights we discussed various strategies of how developers could foster that their apps get found. Niels proposed to focus on search engine optimization by trying to understand how Google would rank apps. Thus, building up a history of a developer account releasing several successful apps overtime might help as well as tweaking the description of apps. Frank reported about his experience [2] of professionally marketing apps as any other product by approaching influential blogs launch posts that could trigger the demand for the app. Henriette proposed [4] to build upon the sharing friends by making apps social and allowing to be propagated by digital word of mouth.
We continued with the question of the price and Jaden Choi disclosed that he sees price rather following quality of the app. Price wouldn’t really matter so much, is rather a decision between paid and free app. Nan confirmed this finding saying that the 99cent price would be rather a relict of itunes than based on rational thinking. Also his research didn’t really reveal much experimentation of developers with adapting the price of apps. Jaden added that especially in Korea in-app payment for virtual gadgets would be strong opportunity and even more successful than having a paid app.
Niels disclosed his experience of releasing apps on Sunday [3] evening as the most effective measure getting users’ attention. Based on our experience with AppAware I mentioned that creating localized clones yourself from or own could be another approach to be found more easily in various languages and to get better positions in local app markets.
The fundamental question of developing interesting and new apps in the plethora of existing apps Frank answered by reverting on established methods of ethnography and experimentation. One approach would be to go out and observe users in order to get a glance what they might need. The next step then would be to “fail early”, meaning to release in short cycles and to learn from user comments to improve quickly.
Another interesting insight to me was that more expensive devices might also allow for more expensive apps. Finally, we had some controversy discussion about whether apps would prevail or rather be replaced by HTML5 web apps. The arguments by Frank (pro apps) and Niels (pro web-apps) where along the lines of barrier to install apps and technical flexibility of accessing hardware functions on the phone.
Overall, the panel together with about 50 visitors seemed to have been a good add-on at the Siggraph Asia conference. The App Symposium will be continued as a SiggraphMobile in 2013.
Additionally, Siggraph Asia was featuring an Emerging Technologies section. Different demos could be tried out proving new developments or also art and entertainment projects. My takes were controlling and seeing through a drone by a head-mounted display, “tasting” a website's ingredients (links, pics, bandwidth) as mixed liquor, an interface for controlling dancing robots, a force-sensitive display, an actuator game, and breath-awareness through a baloon.
Additionally, the Siggraph exhibition
featured a humanoid robot demo where a user's face gets project onto a mannequin representing a proxy of the user in meeting. <

Apart from that, Singapore is a fascinating place, an island of wealth, luxury, and strange rules in the heart of Asia. I really enjoyed the visit of the conference in Singapore. 

[1] Where should You Focus: Long Tail or Superstar?, An analysis of app adoption on the Android Market, Nan Zhong, Florian Michahelles. Symposium on Apps at Siggraph Asia, Singapore, November, 2012. [pdf] [slides]
[2] Frank Bentley, Santosh Basapur:   StoryPlace.Me: the path from studying elder communication to a public location-based video service, CHI EA '12, CHI '12 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2012 
[3] Niels Henze, Susanne Boll: Release Your App on Sunday Eve: Finding the Best Time to Deploy Apps (poster), Adjunct proceedings of MobileHCI, 2011
[4] Henriette Cramer, Mattias Rost, Lars Erik Holmquist (2011) Performing a Check-in: Emerging Practices, Norms and ‘Conflicts’ in Location-Sharing Using Foursquare. Proc. MobileHCI’11, Stockholm, Sweden. pdf


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