This is the home screen of a random iPod Touch user I ran into. She is 28 years old, employed full-time, and commutes extensively every day using public transportation (typically a setting in which smartphones are used extensively.)
This particular user has had her iPod Touch for 14 months. She claims to use it heavily: about 12 to 14 hours per week.
Since she’s had it, she downloaded approximately 8 to 10 apps, and paid only for two: Monopoly and Tetris.
Out of the 8 or 10 apps she downloaded, four are left: Facebook, Pac-Man, Monopoly and Tetris. She remembers paying 2,99$ for both paid apps and that they were on sale at the time.
How do mobile apps users decide what to download?
The lesson to be learned here is that your typical user generally buys apps based on brands that he knows outside of the mobile ecosystem: in this case, Tetris and Monopoly. These are two very well-known multiplatform / multimedia properties that the majority of iPod Touch owners are most likely familiar with before they purchase an iPod Touch.
The typical mobile app consumer doesn’t shop; he seeks instant gratification. “I’m bored NOW, therefore I download the first app I see which I know will deliver on its promise to entertain me for a second.” Even better if it’s on sale.
This is how companies like EA, Gameloft, Ngmoco and Chillingo make it to the top of the charts. Because of their established brands and popular licenses, users are quick to buy because they have no doubt that the value they’ll get for less than a few bucks will be worth it since they already know the company’s other products.
Typical users don’t care about the app’s details or if a better game is available; they just want to be entertained as quickly as possible. For the most part, their cognitive process dictates that they purchase the first app they encounter which they trust will satisfy their need for entertainment – usually the Tetris, Monopoly, Brick Breaker and Pac Man of this world.
How can independent mobile apps developers compete with the giants of the industry?
This is not to say that high-quality original apps & games from independent developers cannot make it to the top of the App Store. It is merely a generalization that most users typically go for brands and products that they know.
This fact makes it that much more difficult for independent developers with limited resources to invest in building their brand to drive the millions of downloads that they’d like to drive.
Currently the visibility on the App Store and the popularity of a brand or license are the two key factors when it comes to mobile app sales.
Are they the ONLY factors of success for mobile apps? No.
But I would offer two venues that developers should explore to compete with the big dogs of the industry:
1. Inherent virality: not the way Farmville does it. But if your app has an element of virality that is cleverly designed, your power users will become evangelists for your app.
This is a very fine line, and in the words of Ron Burgundy, you need to stay classy with this one.
2. Traditional marketing: nobody spends hours browsing the App Store on the lookout for new apps. Users need to know about your app some other means, and then they’ll go search for it on the store.
This means that you need to be driving your own users to your page on the App Store. I’ve heard good things about Facebook’s pay-per-acquisition solution.
What other means of driving downloads do you know of have been successful for mobile apps developers?