What we commonly think of as apps today have been around for a few years. For a brief period, their desktop manifestations were known as “widgets,” but these turned out to be relatively uninteresting because their functionality was so limited — calendars, clocks, and RSS readers in little shells.
Before mobile devices took off, “app” was short for “application software” — programs like Word (which is part of an application suite, Office). But with the development of the iPhone and its app store, the associations around an app began to revolve around mobile, while application software remained something for the desktop.
So there was a little bit of a soft tremor when Apple launched its Mac app store on January 6, 2011. In its first day, the new Mac app store generated more than 1 million downloads. Suddenly, a new frontier opened around the app — the desktop. And through iOS and OS X, mobile and desktop continued their “will they or won’t they” dance of titillation.
It looks like they will. In fact, given the fact that Apple made its new Mac app store a non-optional part of a software update — and the clear signals that it’s part of a slowly fan dance reveal of its new OS codenamed “Lion” — this may amount to an arranged marriage.
One of the first apps I downloaded — the irresistibly named “iProcrastinate” — works by syncing your Mac and your iPhone around a task list, so that you can push things off without losing track of them.
Aside from the implications this has for people currently selling application suites, there are plenty of implications for providers of information. Once again, the expectation of “me at the center” finds itself fulfilled as apps for iPhone and apps for Mac proliferate, their ability to synchronize either realized now or tantalizingly close.
Why does this matter? According to this TechCrunch article, the CEO of Evernote believes he knows why:
. . . [it’s i]mportant because people who use Evernote from multiple devices are much more likely to stick around and to eventually pay for the premium version. This makes intuitive sense and the data is clear: in a Freemium model, people choose to pay for what they love and the more devices they use Evernote from, the more likely they are to fall in love with it. . . . many of the new users who first found us on the Mac App Store went on to also download Evernote on their mobile devices. Our iTunes downloads for iOS devices were up by 54% during the same week that the Mac App Store came out and that’s without any new versions or noticeable change in iOS app visibility.
Integration has an interesting marketing effect — the incremental benefit of an integrated solution obviates the need for a good deal of new customer acquisition. Make a product more useful through desktop/mobile integration, and users will devote more time to using it. Integration done well can effectively multiply your effectiveness in extracting time and attention from a market. It creates value for users and barriers to entry for competitors.
There are challenges here for scholarly publishers, two of which are illustrated by Annual Reviews’ recent announcement about a free iPhone app that integrates individuals with institutional accounts:
For the first time, users can take advantage of their institution’s subscription and access full-text articles using a mobile device, both on and off campus. This innovative approach allows Annual Reviews to strengthen its service to and relationship with end users, while reinforcing the importance of its librarian partners.
By making the app free and creating no new revenue, the notion of sustainability comes into play. After all, if there is no commercial upside to offering an integrated experience, then it’s truly done out of the goodness of one’s heart.
In addition, the Annual Reviews app requires users to go through a fairly complicated pairing process in order to receive the supposed benefits the app offers. So, not only is the integration less than seamless, the value the publisher creates isn’t being leveraged into additional revenues.
This isn’t necessarily the way to extract revenues from valuable integrations.
Ultimately, while stories of profitable integrations come from a market adjacent to ours, I think they’re instructive about our customers and their emerging expectations — and about practical business necessities. The individual is re-emerging from the shadow of their employers, and mobile is a major factor in this. This requires new business models. And if you’re bending over backwards in pursuit of the perfect Web site, you may want to revise your investment strategies — there is probably a better way to spend your money. An integrated approach based on user workflows and practical applications of information tools — however close you can get to that — will probably be more important to your strategic success. But without a commercial model predicated on robust growth, even integration won’t provide salvation.