Developers have a few options when selling their applications. A developer could choose to sell in App World, Mobihand, Bplay, carrier portals (AT&T App Center, Verizon V-Cast, etc) or they may choose to sell directly to the customer via their own website. In this article, I’ll compare App World and Mobihand with respect to what they offer developers in terms of services to help them sell their applications. Hit the jump for the full review.
App World Vendor Portal
The main benefit to selling your application on App World is the sheer number of users that a developer has access to. RIM has surpassed over 100 million BlackBerrys sold, and have recently announced 50 million BlackBerrys in circulation. This is an incredible number of potential customers. There is a bit of a footnote that should come with that number though. While RIM will have over 50 million devices in circulation, they only recently surpassed 50% in terms of consumer vs enterprise. The vast majority of enterprise BlackBerrys do not have App World and are generally locked out with IT policies so users cannot install any applications on their device. Either way, App World is still your best bet when trying to access millions of users. So what can the App World vendor portal do for a developer?
When you log in to the vendor portal, you have access to the following options:
- Check current vendor credits (purchase more credits)
- View app name, category, status (post for sale), last update, reviews
- In the reviews section, you can click the “Approve Review” or “Deny Review” button and a ticket will be created for the BlackBerry App World Manager requesting that the status of the review be changed.
In this section, you can download all the collected data related to the purchase and download statistics of your applications over a date range. CSV files can be imported into spreadsheet applications for generating reports based on the data. This reporting data can come in the form of downloads or purchases.
In the reports section, you can select which application you are looking for more info about and select a time frame and filter results by:
- Date only
- Application, then date
- Carrier, then date
- Country, then date
- Device, then date
Manage Account Details
The Manage Account Details section is where you put in all the details about your company including the name, address, city, province, homepage url, support email, primary email etc. This is also the section where you can view vendor credit history, paypal info, the terms and conditions, change history and support tickets.
Manage User Accounts
The Manage User Accounts section is a user account management portal like any other. It’s in this section that you can set administrators and add users like you would on an email account.
Generally, the CSV files that are delivered are a pain to deal with. It would be really helpful if RIM could spend some time offering the data surrounding the application in a more easy to consume format. For example, Google Analytics doesn’t spew out a CSV file of the visitors that have hit your site (unless you want it), but rather offers the data primarily in a visual format. Humans need to visualize data in order to understand it, and App World’s vendor portal should be more creative with the data they are collecting.
The vendor credits system is a little broken. Even now, as App World offers free submissions, you still only get 10 credits placed in your account. I haven’t been able to figure out if those credits are automatically renewed, or if there was an exception to the “free App World submission” that only allows for 10 credits. Ten credits is a really small number when you factor in updates. Every time you update an application, you’re deducted a vendor credit, even if the update fails for whatever reason. You can always appeal to vendor support to get your credits back, but the whole system just seems…petty.
UPDATE: When you go through the App World submission process, your credits remain at 10. It’s great for RIM to cut these fees and surely the number of apps will jump. The theme market is likely to balloon but it will still add to the overall numbers. App World should just do away with the vendor fees forever.
RIM should also build a “request to be featured” section into App World. I have to give it to RIM, they are very helpful and open when it comes to featuring applications. All you have to do is write to the App World team, or hit up one of their keen employees like @alexkinsella and you’ll get a response. No other smartphone company is open like that. Can you imagine Tweeting to an Apple employee to get help? Never going to happen. It’s people like that within RIM who are making the company look more like a cool Valley startup and less like the old RIM, characterized by a security-obsessed gray haired old man (no offense to any gray-haired old men who talk obsessively about security).
Other things that we need to see in App World are things like coupons, deal-of-the-day, gifting, and a way for companies to be able to download the apps they’ve submitted internally, without their employees having to pay for it (again, this could be a coupon system). More on this in the Mobihand review.
Mobihand Vendor Portal
When you log in to the Mobihand vendor portal, called Mobireach, you’re immediately presented with a plethora of options and valuable services. The Mobihand vendor portal is unique because it’s designed for both publishers and developers. If you’re a developer, you’re given a few more options to manage your products, but you’ll see everything that a publisher can see. This is a great system because it allows a developer to market their products in new and creative ways by integrating the development experience, with some new Web 2.0 marketing tools. For example, with Mobihand, you can create a blog with a backend store that sells your software, as well as products that you feel are complimentary to your business. You can use these products to drive traffic to your product and offer special deals on your website.
Here is what you have access to in Mobireach as a vendor (a little less as a publisher):
The homepage is where you can find any announcements and changes to the vendor portal.
The My Profile section is where you’ll find the usual stuff about incorporation, tax ID, address etc.
The Products section is where you to create and manage your apps. This is a good place for testing the application in the portal as well. You can place the app in the system, grab a test link, and download it to your device from Mobihand without it ever being live. When you’re ready to go live with your app, it’s a simple matter of pressing the “live” button and waiting around 24 hours for it to start appearing in the system.
This section is for both publishers and developers. Publishers can use the Point-of-Sale tool to create desktop and mobile shop to integrate into your site.
When creating a coupon in Mobihand, you can set a coupon name, how much it’s good for (amount or percent), the type of software it’s good for, the expiration date, how many uses, the number of orders it’s valid for and the maximum amount of uses. This tool is incredibly valuable to developers because it allows you to run promotions with the various publishers and helps to gain traction and awareness about your app.
Cross sell lets you sell your app at a discount when suggested to users who purchase other applications.
Bundling your app is a great way to add value and encourage an “up sell”. For a little extra money, you can entice the user to buy another application which is complementary or that you think the user may like.
Widgets is a tool for the publisher that allows them to feature apps on their websites. Widgets include things like a Deal-of-the-Day widget which will change depending on which app is featured that day.
In the marketing section of Mobireach, you have access to some standard marketing tools including:
In the Customers section, you get an overview of who has bought your app and you can search by name, email, order number etc. Included in this section is:
- Customer List
The reports section is where Mobireach is about as frustrating as App World as it gives you either long CSV files that are hard to decipher, or a balance sheet that doesn’t offer any flexibility. Both portals need to understand the value in visualizing data, because when vendors understand their numbers better, they can change their behavior to positively affect sales which helps everyone involved. In this section, you’ll find:
Support is a typical section that includes:
- Terms and Conditions
- Contact Us
- Payment Policy
Just like how it’s not obvious how to become featured in App World, it’s not totally obvious how to become a Deal-of-the-Day in Mobihand. If you email Mobihand, they’re generally more than willing to put you in the Deal-of-the-Day queue, but you it would be great if it were a little more featured in the system. Being featured or being the Deal-of-the-Day goes a long way to helping your app get a spike in downloads, and it should be more central to the vendor portal experience.
As I’ve said countless times in this review, the reporting section in Mobireach needs to be more visual. From a publisher perspective, things are even more complicated because you’re trying to decipher your earnings across several thousand applications and it’s nearly impossible to tell which ones are selling the best and what your readers are most interested in. With a Google Analytics level of analysis, you could break down your sales better and improve the shopping experience for everyone. As a developer, it’s a little easier because most developers have less than 10 applications in circulation. Either way, the reporting section needs to be less like a math thesis and more like an art project.
Where Mobihand shines is the level of promotion and marketing opportunities that a developer can leverage to help increase their downloads. With a vendor/publisher portal, Mobihand takes advantage of the fact that developers and publishers often want a lot of the same functionality and having a single portal does a lot in terms of marketing opportunities. With coupons, gift certificates, widgets, email campaigns etc., both developers and publishers can make the most of the selling experience. It’s this marketing potential that App World lacks and could really look to Mobihand to understand.
Another simple area where Mobihand shines is the time to market. As described in the Products section of Mobireach, you can upload your app, test it, and with a single button go live within 24 hours. App World does have more quality control issues to deal with but can we not find a simple middle ground? It would be good to be able to at least test if your application works properly in App World before going live. With App World, you have to wait for your app to go live and download it yourself to be totally sure that the purchase system works. Even though App World says they test every single app and they make sure it works themselves, we’ve spoken to developers who have fallen through the cracks and had to take down their app quickly for last minute adjustments (this also costs you a credit).
I’ve often thought that it’s only a matter of time until third party channels such as Mobihand are dead in the water, and users will only use the manufacturer’s portal to download apps. On the other hand, if you think of the app economy like a retail business, that may not be the case. In retail, Wal-Mart completely dominates but that doesn’t mean smaller, more specialized stores can’t thrive and offer value where Wal-Mart is too big and rigid to accommodate. This is where the Mobihands of the world will thrive. Also, Mobihand doesn’t see itself as just a BlackBerry portal. As developers are increasingly building apps for multiple platforms, Mobihand has a huge advantage in being able to provide developers with a one-stop shop for managing their apps across multiple platforms. Will they ever be able to enter the iPhone space in this respect? Maybe, but it will be an incredible difficult uphill battle. Android looks like an easier to manage ecosystem and app distribution is much less locked down. In talking with the CEO of Mobihand recently, he sees this multi-platform app store as being Mobihand’s real advantage and they’re going to be implementing new features specifically for developers who write apps for multiple platforms.
Strictly from a BlackBerry perspective, Mobihand are offering much more value but they’re losing ground with users. One can only hope that the App World team recognize the offerings that are available in Mobihand and will roll those out in small updates to the vendor portal. Especially with desktop purchases coming to App World, things like a coupon system are going to become really handy.
From a BlackBerry enthusiast blog publisher’s perspective, I think I’d rather be on Team App World than Team Mobihand for the same reasons that a purely-BlackBerry developer would. App World should capitalize on some of the value offerings that Mobihand has for publishers, and create a vendor portal that serves both markets. I’ve approached people at RIM with this before, saying “when are you guys going to power BBCool’s store?”. The answer is usually “we don’t like to close channels”, which is such a polite and Canadian thing to say isn’t it? If App World began to offer an affiliate program, many publishers would surely jump ship, but not ALL publishers and definitely not ALL developers. Again, it’s a retail market and there is enough room for everyone.