Michael Schneider is CEO of Mobile Roadie, the leading self-service mobile app platform. With more than 16 million users, Mobile Roadie powers over 3,000 apps for some of the world’s most popular artists and brands.

You don’t need to own app development software — you just think you do.

Often a business encounters one of two scenarios: Either a company is hesitant to go with a development platform because it’s so much cheaper than building an app from scratch. (“If it’s so cheap, something must be wrong.”) They feel they need to “own” the app and source code. Or companies rely on in-house IT departments for development projects, even when they don’t need to.

When a brand new industry emerges (such as SaaS app builders), it takes time for companies to realize that, many times, it’s not cheaper. Over time, this problem will correct itself, in much the same way that WordPress, Tumblr, Square Space and others have become acceptable solutions for building a website, despite their low costs.

On the other hand, IT departments that think they can do it all can actually be dangerous for the companies that employ them. If you’re a technology company, meaning tech is your main business and not just a function within a larger organization, perhaps it does make sense to try and build in-house. But for most organizations, IT groups simply exist to serve the larger purpose of the business, likely something other than tech.

Saying no to an in-house IT department that wants to build mobile may take courage, but it may be in the organization’s best interests.

Or companies may insist: The price is right, IT agrees that it should outsource app creation, but they want to own the source code. This is equivalent to telling Microsoft that you want to use Windows, but that you need the source code to seal the deal. This often derails otherwise great use of app platforms, and causes the organization to build from scratch when, in reality, the organization does not need to own the source code.

Mobile moves at lightning speed. If you own the source code when Apple and Google come out with new versions of iOS and Android, it’s up to you to build in new features and make sure your app is up to snuff. And with new phones and software versions coming out monthly, this can be a daunting and expensive task.

In these three instances, building an app from scratch makes sense.

  1. If it’s your core business to be in the app market.
  2. If you’re trying to build a game.
  3. If your needs are truly, highly custom.

However, if your app is content-driven, there is no good reason to build something from scratch, or to own the source code. There are many impressive platforms on which to build content-based apps, with great viral sharing features, media, gamification and more — at a fraction of the cost and time it takes to build from the ground up. So, stop your IT department from trying to do it all.

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David Tucker is a principal architect at Universal Mind. As the resident Apple and Adobe expert, he works closely with Universal Mind’s clients to develop rich user experiences that leverage many of today’s exciting new development platforms. Follow David on Twitter @mindmillmedia.

Many companies have mobile apps at the top of their to-do lists, but while churning out a quick app is fairly straightforward, developing a strategic application or digital “solution” is considerably more complex. Smart planning is essential.

Here are 10 things to consider before developing your app.


1. Agree on goals for the program.


When developing a digital solution strategy, first examine your organization’s goals for the program. Are you looking to be seen as innovator, or fend off competition by showing progress in the space? Simply showing initial momentum and previewing the future roadmap can often place you ahead of the competition. Should your digital solutions help build customer loyalty and enable greater customer self-service, or is your highest priority to create new revenue streams? Once you’ve agreed on the goals, prioritize them so you’ll know where to start.


2. Understand your target users.


The next step is to understand who your target users are, their goals and requirements, and the technologies they use. This process includes researching the platforms your users are most likely utilizing, then gaining an understanding of each user experience. Every device is different, and every user has multiple needs. For example, a person might typically use an online banking application to pay a bill, but he might use the bank’s mobile application to find the closest ATM.


3. Build a user testing focus group.


Spending time with your target users is the only way to ensure you really understand what they are looking for in a mobile application. As you move through the process of discovery, you can discuss ideas with this group on a daily basis. Focus groups can provide value from the far beyond the initial discovery phase.


4. Identify a minimally viable solution set.


Don’t try to tackle the whole problem at once. Instead, companies should identify a minimally viable solution and start there. In other words, release a basic but functional app as a foundation, then take advantage of the efficient upgrade paths most devices offer to provide regular updates. This enables you to enter the market more quickly and refine as needed. Plus, periodically giving your users access to new developments ensures your organization stays top-of-mind.


5. Plan for multiple releases.


With mobile applications, releasing the initial version is only the beginning. Statistics show that many users will re-engage with your application when new features are added. Spread key functionality across the first handful of releases to keep your users engaged. Be careful not to release too often, lest users feel bombarded. In many cases, a 2-3 month window between major releases will keep your users engaged over a longer period of time.


6. Balance your users and your business.


Balancing business drivers with real user needs can be difficult. In many cases, the two are at odds with one another. Therefore, arm yourself with the right information to make smart tradeoffs. Collect research such as user studies, expert opinions, and business viability and technical feasibility studies. This body of data can then be weighed to achieve the best balance between user-centric solutions and business-value gains.


7. Know what is out there.


Spend time exploring apps in each of the platforms you plan to support. Each platform offers different interface paradigms and a different collection of applications. Experimenting with the most popular applications will help you understand not only what is possible on the platform, but also the user’s expectations. If possible, use a different mobile platform device during the exploration process.


8. Bring your IT team into the discussions early.


The far greater technical challenge is tying your backend business processes to a digital solution that encompasses smartphones and kiosks, for example. The technology infrastructure for a multichannel solution goes well beyond the platform you choose for front-end development. In order to be successful, companies must consider how to architect data delivery and API management as well as security, scalability, content aggregation, device optimization, API translation, etc. Bring your IT team into the discussion before you get too far down the planning path.


9. Decide on a technology you can live (and grow) with.


As the mobile space matures, there will be many more application develop choices. In many cases, your goals will help determine what you choose here. For example, if your goal is to reach as many users as possible across all platforms, you may choose an HTML framework with little hardware integration. If your goal is to provide deep hardware integration for augmented reality technology, then you’ll probably develop a native application. Decisions around technology can directly affect your app’s functionality.


10. Plan to analyze.


The final step in the process is determining how to measure success. With a morass of potential features, devices, platforms and technologies, success can be challenging to define, but it will affect your ultimate strategy. Consider the following questions.

  • Will this increase our transaction volume and, therefore, revenue?
  • Will this increase customer adoption and retention?
  • Will this increase our brand recognition and loyalty?
  • Will this decrease our costs?
  • How many people do we want using our app?
  • How do we want to integrate the solution with our social media program?
  • How will we integrate with our existing analytics tools?

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, TommyL, Nikada

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Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Jon Barocas is the founder and CEO of bieMEDIA, a Denver-based online marketing and media solutions company that specializes in video content production and distribution, mobile visual search, technology platforms, SEO, VSEO and more.

Like most technology fans, I am always ready and willing to try any technology that promises to simplify my life. QR codes seemed to present an accessible and uniform way for people with smart devices to interact with advertising, marketing and media. Those little squares of code seemed to open a world of opportunity and potential. But after using them for a length of time, I shifted my perspective.

My initial honeymoon with QR codes was very short-lived. The initial rush that I had received from trying to frame the code on my device had lost its luster. I started to view QR codes as a barrier to additional information. And in many instances, the rewards (whatever I received as a result of scanning the code) did not measure up to the effort of the transaction itself.

Consider a recent study by comScore, which states that only 14 million American mobile device users have have interacted with a QR code. In essence, less than 5% of the American public has scanned a QR code. So where’s the disconnect?

Inadequate technology, lack of education and a perceived dearth of value from QR codes are just three of the reasons mobile barcodes are not clicking with Americans. But it goes deeper than that.

Humans are visual animals. We have visceral reactions to images that a QR code can never evoke; what we see is directly linked to our moods, our purchasing habits and our behaviors. It makes sense, then, that a more visual alternative to QR codes would not only be preferable to consumers, but would most likely stimulate more positive responses to their presence.


The QR Alternative


Enter mobile visual search (MVS). With MVS, you simply point at a product or logo and shoot a picture with your smartphone’s built-in camera. Within seconds, the MVS application will provide product or company information, or even the option to make a purchase right then and there on your mobile device.

MVS is a far more compelling and interactive tool to enable mobile marketing and commerce. In today’s increasingly mobile world, instant gratification is the norm, and taking the extra step of finding a QR code scanner on your mobile device no longer makes sense. With MVS, you are interacting with images that are familiar and desirable, not a square of code that elicits no reaction.

The opportunities are boundless with MVS. Unlike two-dimensional barcodes and QR codes, MVS will have wrap-around and three-dimensional recognition capabilities. Even traditional advertising will be revitalized with MVS. For example, picture an interactive print campaign that incorporates MVS as part of a competition or game. Marketers can offer instant gratification in the form of videos, mobile links, coupons or discounts as incentive for taking the best pictures of a particular product or logo.

The world has already started to migrate to MVS. For example, companies in Argentina and South Korea currently allow commuters waiting for subways or buses to view images of groceries or office supplies. Embedded within these images are recognitions triggers: Smartphone users place and pay for an order to be delivered or picked up within minutes. 

Also, MVS can cash in on word-of-mouth marketing. Marketers will seamlessly link their campaigns to social networks so consumers can share photos and rewards, such as vouchers, coupons or music downloads, with their friends and followers.


QR Code Security Risks


In addition to being a more versatile medium, mobile visual search is also more secure than QR code technology. Cybercriminals are able to cloak smartphone QR code attacks due to the nature of the technology — QR codes’ entire purpose is to store data within the code. There is no way to know where that code is going to take you: a legitimate website, infected site, malicious app or a phishing site. MVS’s encryption modality will eliminate the opportunity for malicious code to download to your smartphone.

Recently, there have been documented cases of QR code misuse and abuse around the globe. For instance, infected QR codes can download an app that embeds a hidden SMS texting charge in your monthly cellphone bill. QR codes can also be used to gain full access to a smartphone — Internet access, camera, GPS, read/write local storage and contact data. All of the data from a smartphone can be downloaded and stolen, putting the user at risk for identity theft — without the user noticing.

Mobile visual search is a safer and more secure technology that can provide more information and content than a QR code, without as many security risks. By focusing on real-world objects and images rather than code, MVS lessens the risk of a virus or Trojan attack.

Safety, security and versatility — there are many reasons that MVS will supplant QR codes. However, there is one important, largely overlooked reason to favor MVS over QR codes: For the first time, we will be able connect with our actual surroundings in a truly interactive way. We will be able to provide a virtual marketplace that is familiar and accessible. Humanizing this interaction and making it more visual are the foundations of MVS’s imminent success.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, youngvet

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Paul Baldwin is the chief marketing officer of Outfit7 Inc., a subsidiary of Out Fit 7 Ltd, the leading entertainment app developer. Paul has more than 17 years of experience developing, marketing and monetizing digital entertainment content.

Spend a few minutes browsing through both the Android and Apple app stores and it’s easy to see the fierce competition for user attention. The number of apps has grown to more than 1 million, each vying for downloads and market share.

The app development world is still very top-heavy, with a very small percentage of developers controlling the majority of downloads and revenue. But that in no way means that a newcomer can’t build a successful app that captures the hearts and minds of consumers, and becomes the next big thing.

Since the app stores themselves control which apps are elevated and highlighted, how can you ensure your app gets time in the spotlight and the attention it deserves? Here are six tips drawn from experience.


1. Focus on Product


The best way to get your app noticed is to build a unique and engaging product. Although that’s an article all on its own, let’s sum it up in a few key points.

Know your exact market and who you’re competing against. This will help you understand your target user — what he expects and likes and who else is offering apps to him.  

Great apps are also usually the first in their category, or apps that completely reinvent existing categories. A big sign that you have a great app is when you start seeing copycat apps. Embrace them and use them as motivation to continue.

Another element that great apps have in common is fun. You want to make your app something that users will come back to again and again, rather than a one-time, disposable thrill. Whether that means creating lovable characters or tapping into the human desire to compete, remember to deliver fun the first time and every time after.

Also, great apps are simple. No user guides should be necessary to participate, and there should be nothing to “figure out” from a user standpoint. They are intuitive and immediately easy to grasp.

Finally, the last big hallmark of a phenomenal app product is the ability for users to make the app personal through customization features. Today’s app audience is constantly wondering what’s in it for them. Allow them to make it theirs and they’ll more likely become instantly enamored.


2. Allow Users to Engage Others with Your App


These days, more developers are using social media as part of the app as a major key to its success. Your customers’ word-of-mouth multiplies your network a hundred times over without costing you a dime, so be sure to put mechanisms in place that allow users to talk about the app and share experiences with friends.

For example, if your app enables users to create fun videos, make sure they can share those videos with others. This type of direct experience sharing will go a long way in spreading the word about your app.  

Caveat: Don’t “over-viralize” your app with too many social features that don’t make sense.


3. Get Media and Blogger Attention: Make It Simple


Media attention and especially reviews of your app can really help to spread recognition. To get that kind of attention, though, you have to have a solid app to begin with, a great story around your app, and it absolutely must be easy to talk about.

The tendency is to come up with the most ingenious, compelling app, filled with loads of features but none that really stand out. This is called “feature creep” and usually spells disaster. Remember, the launch is just the beginning. Successful apps are always adding new content months after launch. If reporters and bloggers (and users for that matter) have a hard time explaining what your app is, what it does or why they like it, they’re less likely to talk about your app. Keep version one simple.

To make your app easier for media to cover, provide materials like press kits, beta codes (if necessary) and reviewer guides. It also helps to identify technology and pop culture trend stories that your app can fit into.


4. Continue Your Marketing Efforts


When your app launches, you’ll definitely want to have a marketing strategy in place to seize your launch window of opportunity, but it’s also important to continue marketing long after launch.

Many developers find pre-launch strategies helpful for grabbing attention. This includes creating a “coming soon” page that teases your app a bit, collecting emails for those interested in the first look, and even extending first invites to target publication audiences.

Make sure you exhaust every “co-marketing” opportunity out there with other app developers. Some major publishers will trade their app installs for your app installs. Everybody is in the same boat, in the same huge ocean of apps. You might be surprised to find that other developers are more than happy to participate in reciprocal marketing.

The important thing to remember is that app marketing windows are perpetual, meaning you should establish marketing vehicles that you can trigger at your discretion over long periods of time. That means plan, plan, plan.


5. Use Analytics 


When developing apps, you have all kinds of data at your fingertips to evaluate how your app is being received. Use analytics to monitor your ranking and as a marketing tool.

Become a student of the Android and iOS category rankings (e.g., entertainment vs. games). Each category has its own nuances for determining “top” rankings, so be sure to evaluate each one. Understand why the app moved up in the rankings in order to iterate and improve your own ranking over time. Additionally, if you have a good sense of what is moving the bar for your app, you can also learn from what the top developers are doing.

More importantly, in my opinion, is that you leverage the wealth of analytics available from your app to make your app better over time. Not only will the data help you iterate and improve your app from a technical standpoint, but it will also allow you to create the right content to which users connect. Once the app is live, analyze the data to update your release schedule and product roadmap.

You can also learn when your customers are willing to “rate your app” or be pitched another app in your portfolio. Analytics can shed light on how frequently you should attempt to cross-sale or suggest another item for purchase.


6. Prepare for Success


This tip may seem a little strange at first — who wouldn’t be thinking about success? But in reality, many apps start strong then fade and fizzle. Preparing for success is as much about your product as it is about the team behind it.

It’s crucial to structure your team in a way that supports hyper growth. It’s good to rely on a more fluid and dynamic network of expertise and project teams than a rigid structure.

Think of your app as a brand that will enable you to leverage brand extension opportunities. Build your apps to welcome future cross-promotion opportunities, rather than intrusions on the user experience.

The best way to prepare for app success is to constantly focus on keeping your users engaged. Give them more than just product updates once they’ve downloaded and become fans of your app. Give them instant fun, addictive experiences that they will want to share with friends.

Whatever your secret sauce is or has been, be sure to nurture it to keep your users wanting more — and deliver your app in a way that surpasses user expectations.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, svariophoto, Flickr, ItzaFineDay

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The Mobile App Trends Series is supported by Sourcebits, a leading product developer for mobile platforms. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iOS, Android, Mobile and Web platforms. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates.

From Facebook to Google to BlackBerry to that little startup you haven’t heard of (yet), everyone experiences downtime, crashes, bugs and other issues from time to time.

It’s how you handle downtime that counts.

There are two fronts in the battle of the bugs — in-app communication and community management. Here’s a look at both sides, with some best practices and examples.


In-App Communication


Users love their apps. When an app faces a problem, many users are eager to do their part to help get things up and running again. That’s why it’s key to make it as easy as possible for those users to get in touch.

In-App Help Section

Every app should have an “about” or “help” section with instructions for getting in touch. It can be a form for users to fill out or something as simple as listing a support email address. You can’t go wrong setting up support@yourapp.com.

App Store Notes

You should list your support email address or support URL in your app store listing and encourage user feedback. This also provides users an alternative to the ratings section where they can vent their complaints.

In-App Alerts

Though it takes a bit of work to build into an app, there’s no better way to notify your users than with an alert that pops up inside the app. It’s also a great way to notify users of phone or carrier settings that hinder the app’s functionality (as opposed to a bug). For example, Foursquare built a proprietary in-app alert system that notifies users to server downtime, and reminds them when the app isn’t working because their phone lacks a signal or because GPS permissions have been disabled.


Community Management


In-app communication channels are key, but they tend to be one-way and a bit unfulfilling for users. Your most dedicated fans want a full explanation and accounting of downtime and bugs. Your power users want to have a conversation, not just and alert.

Be Easy to Find

Make the “support” button easy to find on your website. Be sure to include links to any other platforms you’re offering support on, like Twitter, your blog, etc.

Nurture Your Power Users

Your super users — the ones who use your app all the time and maybe even rely on it — are your eyes and ears on the front lines. They’re going to be among the first to report bugs, crashes and other issues. They might be a bit overzealous and make lots of feature requests, but don’t treat their love of your app lightly.

When they email you, reply promptly and personally. If they notice a minor bug, knowing that they’ll receive a personal response from a real human being can make it worth their while. Venmo, the peer-to-peer payment platform, does a great job of this, and even lets you report the bug as a payment request to their co-founders, netting you a couple bucks if the bug report turns out to be legit.

Setting Expectations

Regardless of the platform by which you communicate with users, it’s important to set realistic expectations. Honestly explain to users what’s going on and let them know that you’re aware of and working to fix the issue. Promise that you’ll update them as you know more and, if you are confident about a timeline, give an estimate. However, avoid promising when things will be restored.

Train Your Team

Your customer service tactics may come naturally to you, but that doesn’t mean your team is on the same page. Don’t underestimate the value of running them through a training session where you cover message, tone, technique, talking points and standards for responding personally and quickly to users.

Open Social Media Channels

Use your Twitter account to broadcast alerts and messages about what’s going on with your app. Your tweets should include a short acknowledgment and description of the issue with a link to your blog, where there should be a fuller explanation.

Customer Support Systems

When you’re receiving five or ten support emails a day, which is typical for a small startup’s app, handling the workload requires little more than setting up a Gmail filter. But as the volume increases, you’ll need to turn to a ticket-based support system. Foursquare uses Zendesk, but other popular options include Get Satisfaction and the beautifully designed HappyFox.

Video Responses

Blogs, tweets, and email alerts are nice, but a heartfelt video from the CEO is a great way to reach out to users and apologize for downtime or serious bugs in an application. Traditionally, videos are used to apologize after serious downtime, like BlackBerry’s recent boondoggle.

Offer the Full Story

Your users really care about your product. And a certain subset of users care really, really care. For the sake of those power users, it’s often helpful to write up a detailed debriefing of what went wrong, how you fixed it and what you and your team are doing to make sure that problem doesn’t come up again. Such transparency will be appreciated by your users and can go a long way toward helping you earn the trust of your users.

Cute Characters

There’s a trend among tech startups to have a cute character break the downtime news to users. Twitter famously has its Fail Whale, which has inspired t-shirts, Halloween costumes and more. According to Chrysanthe Tenentes, community manager at Foursquare, her company created the Pouty Princess as part of its prioritization to “communicate really well as a company.”

Full-Time Status Updates

If you have many users relying on your service, it may be appropriate to open up a Twitter account and blog dedicated to covering server status 24/7. Many services use subdomains like status.yourapp.com for such purposes. But when something major happens, it’s important to mention it on your main blog, where more average users will be able to find it.


Tools of the Trade


Handling a problem when it creeps up is important, but here are a few tips for stopping issues in their tracks, before they become a problem for your users.

Bug & Crash Reporting: BugSense and Flurry are services that can be integrated into your apps and seamlessly provide you with near real-time crash data. Using this kind of service should be a standard part of any developer’s process.

Server Ping: Server ping options like Pingdom allow you to monitor your server in real-time and even receive a text message if it goes down.

Apple Expedited Review: Android apps can easily be updated by the user, but iOS app updates must be reviewed and approved by Apple before they’re ready to deploy through iTunes. That can be a problem if developers need to make an urgent fix. For such emergency situations, Apple has created an Expedited App Review request form.


Special thanks to Chrysanthe Tenentes and Mari Sheibley from Foursquare, Chris Fei from MeetMoi, Paulo Ribeiro from HumanSpot’s Nostalgiqa, and Jason Schwartz from Matchbook for their insights.


Series Supported by Sourcebits


The Mobile App Trends Series is sponsored by Sourcebits, a leading developer of applications and games for all major mobile platforms. Sourcebits has engineered over 200 apps to date, with plenty more to come. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iPhone, Android and more. Please feel free to get in touch with us to find out how we can help your app stand apart in a crowded marketplace. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter and Facebook for recent news and updates.

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The Mobile App Trends Series is supported by Sourcebits, a leading product developer for mobile platforms. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iOS, Android, Mobile and Web platforms. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates.

You’re done. After months of slaving away over Xcode or Eclipse, you have finally finished your mobile app and submitted it to the App Store or Android Market. Within minutes of releasing the app, you see reviewers complaining about a bug or requesting a new feature. Whoops.

Figuring out how and when to update a mobile app is a crucial part of the mobile app development process. Mobile apps are very different from traditional desktop software apps. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons to update an app and how to handle the inevitable “upgrade” question.


Update Stages


When it comes to software versioning, or assigning a version number to a certain piece of software as it exists in a unique state, the most common number scheme is to assign a major version number, like 1, followed by a point release for minor updates, and sometimes followed by a second-point release for a revision or bug fix.

In the software world, version numbers typically follow a major.minor.revision pattern. For example, the current version of Twitter for iPhone is 3.3.6. The “3″ indicates that it is the third major release. The second “3″ indicates that it is the third minor revision of that release and the “6″ indicates that it is the sixth revision, or bug fix, to that minor release.

These numbers indicate what type of update an app has received.

The Bug Fix

The most frequent types of app updates are bug fixes. Bug fixes are typically covered in “revision” or “bug fix” releases. Bug fixes don’t change the structure or feature set of an app. Instead, these updates make sure that the app is working as designed.

No matter how much beta or user testing a developer does before releasing an app, there are always going to be problems, bugs and issues that only show up after the app is used more broadly.

Bug fixes are a way to keep the integrity and structure of the app intact, while making sure that it doesn’t crash and performs more optimally.

Google‘s update policy with the Android Market allows developers to push out updates whenever they want. With Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, however, updates have to go through the same approval process as submitting an app to an app repository in the first place.

Apple has a policy in place with the App Store that allows developers to fast-track an important or crucial bug or security fix without having to wait as long as with a regular update. Still, these instances are reserved for situations in which an app is either crashing consistently or is potentially insecure.

Because it takes time for even bug fixes to get approved, many developers try to lump several updates and bug fixes together in one release. This limits the number of new downloads for the user and prevents the developer from having to wait through multiple approval queues.

Developers should triage bug fixes based on factors like how many users are affected (or how many have complained) and the severity of a problem.

Adding or Removing Features and Updating UI

Adding or removing features from an app is a more significant update than a bug fix. For example, when Facebook released version 3.5 of its iPhone app, it rolled in new privacy updates, refined the user interface and added the ability to share external links from within the app.

It’s common for developers to use designations like “.5″ as a major milestone for a release. In other words, a 3.5 update is often seen as more significant than the 3.1 update.

Adding and removing features is an important part of the app development process. When it comes time to add a feature, it’s important to look at the feedback you are getting from your users. If enough users are requesting a feature, it’s a good idea to look into what would be required to add that feature.

Just as important as adding features is removing functionality. It isn’t uncommon for developers to go into the app creation process with one feature in mind, only to find that users don’t like or use the feature, or that it doesn’t work as expected.

Sometimes, features have to be removed for performance, stability or even compliance reasons. When making the decision to remove a feature, keep in mind what impact removing that feature will have on your users. If a feature is causing undue strain, performance problems or it’s not being used, dropping it is often worthwhile.

Marco Arment’s popular Instapaper app for iPhone and iPad has undergone some significant changes over the years. Arment is not afraid to remove features that aren’t used by enough of his users or that cause undue server strain.


Major Updates


A major version number update indicates that the app has some significant changes to its features, UI or both. This is the big release for an application.

Earlier this week, Instagram released version 2.0 of its popular iPhone app. The new version added a significant number of new features, including live filters, tilt-shift in camera, higher resolution photos and enhanced filter options.


Major Update or a Whole New App?


The big question for lots of mobile developers is when to issue a major update — as in a new version number — and when to release a whole new app.

With traditional software, developers can charge for software and offer special upgrade pricing. For example, when I bought Adobe Creative Suite CS5.5, I was able to get a discount directly from Adobe because I owned an earlier version of Creative Suite.

Likewise, when my favorite lightweight image editor Acorn was updated to version 3.0, its developer was able to offer it as a whole new version and charge for it accordingly.

This isn’t the case with most mobile app stores. Apple doesn’t allow developers to offer upgrade app pricing. In other words, if I want to update my iPhone app to version 2.0, I have to either give everyone who purchased 1.0 or higher a free upgrade or release a brand new version of the app.

Both strategies have their pros and cons, and it’s important for developers who charge for their mobile apps to take both scenarios into account.

Pros and Cons of Releasing an App Update

  • Pro: Existing users will be happy that they don’t have to pay.
  • Pro: Promoting the app and the update won’t require changing any links to the App Store.
  • Con: The development costs for the new version need to come from brand new customers.
  • Con: Users are forced to update the app (unless they explicitly choose not to).

Pros and Cons of Releasing a New App

  • Pro: The developer can get paid for their work.
  • Pro: Users are not forced to upgrade the app. They can continue to use the old version indefinitely.
  • Con: Users might revolt or be disinterested in buying a new version.
  • Con: Migrating settings might be difficult or untenable.
  • Con: Promoting the app and letting new users know about the upgrade might be difficult.

Most mobile app developers do not release a new version of their app and instead update the existing version. However, some developers have managed to release a new version of the app and have done so successfully. Before selling to Twitter, Loren Brichter released Tweetie 2 for iPhone as a brand new app, and thus a paid upgrade. Some users did complain about the charge, but Brichter held his ground and the app was a massive success.

A common workaround that many developers have successfully used is to offer their app for free for a limited time, in order to allow existing users to upgrade for free, and then to start charging the usual sales price. Some developers also offer the app at a discount for the first few days both to promote a new release and as a gesture of good-will towards existing users.


In-App Purchase as an Update Tool


For developers of games and other types of extensible apps, a common upgrade approach is to release new level packs via in-app purchase.

PlayFirst, Inc’s Dash series of games frequently releases updates both to the main application, as well as additional level add-on packs. This is an easy way for the developer to extend the game without forcing customers to buy and download a new version.

Likewise, music apps and document and utility managers can offer add-ons that add support for new features.

Keep in mind, the in-app purchase approach doesn’t work with all apps. It’s a very different type of business model, but for game developers, can often be the best way to approach extending a game.


Your Thoughts


When do you update your apps? Are you in favor of releasing free major updates or releasing a brand new version of an app. Let us know.


Series Supported by Sourcebits


The Mobile App Trends Series is sponsored by Sourcebits, a leading developer of applications and games for all major mobile platforms. Sourcebits has engineered over 200 apps to date, with plenty more to come. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iPhone, Android and more. Please feel free to get in touch with us to find out how we can help your app stand apart in a crowded marketplace. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter and Facebook for recent news and updates.

More About: features, mashable, Mobile App Trends Series, mobile apps

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music image

Fifty-three years ago this week, Billboard launched its “Hot 100 Chart,” which at the time tracked top singles based on radio play and sales. A lot has changed since 1958 when it comes to measuring the popularity of tunes. Namely, now there’s this thing called the Internet all up in the music business’s business.

Granted, the “Hot 100 Chart” has been anything but stagnant over the years. Since it proclaimed Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” tops on August 4, 1958, it has introduced alterations such as the addition of streamed and on-demand music to the chart’s forumla. The chart ranks the week’s most popular songs across genres based on radio airplay audience impressions as measured by Nielsen BDS, sales data as compiled by Nielsen SoundScan and streaming activity data provided by online music sources.

Although the chart is still a major indicator of musical success, there’s now a bevy of other tools that take into account the social aspect of a song’s popularity. Read on for four ways you can track musical success based on social media clout.

Next Big Sound

Next Big Sound launched back in March 2010. It gauges the popularity of bands and artists via fan activity on a variety of social networking sites, as well as traditional sales data, radio plays, traffic to an artist’s website and P2P activity.

The website is basically a tool for fans, artists, music industry professionals and journalists to track the popularity of an artist across sites like Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, Soundcloud, ReverbNation, Pure Volume, etc. Casual users can sign up to get weekly stats about their favorite bands sent to their inboxes and even compare bands’ social clout on the site. More hardcore users — like bands and labels — can sign up for the premiere service for even deeper data mining.

NBS also recently partnered with Billboard, in order to bring you the second entry on on our list …

Social 50

The “Social 50” is Billboard‘s newly minted chart. It measures an artist’s popularity every week based on social networking activity mined from Next Big Sound.

Like NBS, the Social 50 ranks artists using such metrics such as weekly additions of friends, fans and followers, artist page views and weekly song plays. Rankings are also influenced by measuring the ratio of pageviews to fans. if you’re more of a curious fan than a hardcore music head, this is likely the chart for you. It’s also usually packed with more mainstream acts, so if you’re looking for more esoteric fare, you might want to check out …

We Are Hunted

We Are Hunted is both a music chart and a community. At its core, the site features a chart that tracks songs’ popularity every day based on blog activity, mentions on social networks, buzz on message board and forums, Twitter talk and movement on P2P networks.

It also features the ability to build your own charts, which you can share with friends and other music lovers, and a “Discover” tool, which helps you find new music based on what you like and dislike on the site.

Recently, We Are Hunted has been rolling out a bevy of apps, including an iPad app for music discovery and a number of offerings that integrate music intelligence company The Echo Nest‘s API, including the appropriately blasé Pocket Hipster.

MTV Music Meter

As part of MTV’s quest to put the “music” back into “MTV,” the network recently released its Music Meter, which seeks to highlight up-and-coming artists by ranking them based on their social media status.

MTV worked with music intelligence company the Echo Nest to develop an algorithm that combs through blogs, social media, video and more traditional metrics (like radio plays and sales) to determine which bands are receiving the most attention on any given day.

MTV also rolled out an app for iOS and Android iteration, letting users go mobile with their music discovery.


Image courtesy of Flickr, craigCloutier

More About: Billboard, billboard-hot-100, mtv-music-meter, music, music charts, next-big-sound, social media, social-50, wearehunted




Appcelerator and IDC released their Q3 Mobile Developer Report on Wednesday, which looks at how mobile developers currently view the smartphone and tablet landscape. The report revealed that developers are most excited about the mobile potential of Google+ and Apple’s iCloud.

Despite it being just a month old, Google+ is showing plenty of potential, according to devs. The majority surveyed say Google+ has what it takes to compete head-on with Facebook. Meanwhile, iCloud’s mainstream potential has iOS developers enthused about the possibilities of integrating it into their apps.

Looking at the report, the one area that hasn’t changed since last spring is developer interest in the main mobile ecosystems: iOS and Android continue to be the platforms that developers are “very interested” in developing for.

There is a clear disparity between the number of developers that indicate interest in Android tablets and the relatively small number of Honeycomb-optimized apps. Scott Schwarzhoff, Appcelerator’s VP of marketing, says Android tablets are in a holding pattern. Interest is still high — based on the belief that the tablet market will mimic what we’ve seen in the mobile phone market. But tablet pricing, availability and market share are keeping many developers from taking that first step.

For the first time, Appcelerator and IDC added HTML5 to its list of platforms. Some 66% of respondents indicated that they were very interested in that format.

As we’ve seen with Twitter‘s new HTML5 iPad website, the trend of creating both native apps and HTML5 web apps — rather than choosing one or the other — remains strong.


Where’s the API?


To us, the most interesting part of the survey are the questions on social networking and cloud computing APIs.

When asked what announcement would have the biggest impact on mobile growth and adoption, near-field communication (NFC), Android patent issues and rumors of an Amazon Android tablet were all outshone by Google+ and iCloud.

Why is this compelling? Because Google+ doesn’t even have a public facing API. At the time of the survey (two weeks ago), the state of the iCloud API was still relatively limited. Ultimately, we’re not convinced that these statistics will mean a lot in terms of real-world usage, until the APIs are actually released and broadly understood.

On the social front, two-thirds of developers believe that Google+ has the potential to challenge or catch up with Facebook. Again, these numbers are compelling, but they don’t mean a whole lot until Google can back up the hype with a real, tangible API.


Easy Does It


On the cloud computing front — Amazon, the leader in the last few surveys — was essentially tied with Apple and its iCloud platform. Schwarzhoff says iCloud, unlike Amazon’s AWS, is thought to be easier for developers to implement.

Dropbox and Box.net, cloud collaboration and storage companies that have mobile APIs and are already in use by dozens of mobile apps, were not included in the survey. We think iCloud will be used by developers the same way that Box.net and Dropbox are used now, for easy access to storage and syncing tools.

Does the latest mobile survey mirror any of your thoughts and experiences with mobile app development? Let us know in the comments.

More About: appcelerator, Google Plus, icloud, mobile developer reports, stats

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Developers have already flocked to Evernote’s note-taking platform in droves to provide its 11 million members with additional utility. Now, six new application makers will vie for the crown of most inventive Evernote application or integration and compete for $100,000 in prizes.

The six finalists, being revealed Tuesday, are Colorstache, MyWorld, Notablemeals, Sniptastic, Touchanote and Zendone. Community members are being encouraged to vote for their favorites.

The finalists range from the practical to the fantastical. Zendone and Colorstache are more sensible in nature, for instance. Zendone focuses on applying a “Getting Things Done” methodology to notes, while Colorstache lets Evernote users browse and search for notes by Color.

The flashier MyWorld and Touchanote add spunk and character to the Evernote experience. MyWorld gives Evernote users an augmented reality browser for viewing notes, and Touchnote makes NFC note-tagging and association possible. More details on all of the finalists are included below.

The finalists were selected based on a few key factors: finish and polish of the application, utility, originality and integration with the platform. Each will be awarded $5,000 for placing in the contest.

“Evernote currently has over 6,000 developers working on software and hardware integrations using out API,” says Andrew Sinkov, Evernote’s vice president of marketing. “We wanted to see what would happen if we did a developer competition as an incentive. We’re pretty blown away by the results. We had over 1,000 developers enter the competition from around the world.”

The grand prize winner will be chosen based on community votes, the votes of celebrity judges and live judging at the startup’s first-ever developer conference in August. The winner will revealed at the event — the Evernote Truck Conference — and will take home an additional $50,000 in cash. Evernote will also award two additional submissions with $10,000 each in the wildcard and student categories.

Check out the Evernote applications below and share your favorites in the comments. Should you wish to attend the event, Evernote is offering the first 50 Mashable readers who register via this link (with the “ETCMASHABLE” discount code) a 50% discount.

Colorstache

Colorstache, by Reno Collective, offers Evernote users a way to browse and search their notes by color.

Touchanote

Touchanote, by Wiseleap, connects the capture and organization capabilities of Evernote with the convenience of physical NFC tags. Easily associate any note in your account with a real world NFC tag.

MyWorld

MyWorld, by Wikitude, allows you to save the places you love in Evernote, then view them on a map in Facebook. You can then share your favorites with friends and view the places they’ve been.

Sniptastic

Sniptastic, from Andrew West, is a set of developer tools that let you share and organize code snippets.

Notablemeals

Notablemeals, from John McLaughlin and Kal Michael, is an iPhone app that makes it easy to capture memories about meals.

Zendone

Zendone is a personal productivity tool based on the Getting Things Done methodology. It offers a simple, well-designed interface for implementing the GTD workflow, using Evernote for collecting and archiving projects and tasks.

More About: evernote, evernote trunk, notes, startup, Web Development

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Music licensing company Rumblefish has just made it easier for professional and amateur content creators to add music to their work legally by opening its API to developers and partners.

Rumblefish announced Tuesday that it has licensed 4 million songs in user-generated videos, slideshows, presentations and games.

Now, for example, an app that allows users to make home movies and post them to social networks can also give folks the option to license music for the videos for a fee. Users can browse playlists, receive soundtrack recommendations and search for and filter music via attributes (mood, instrument, tempo, etc.).

API partners will qualify for a share of the revenue garnered from licensing as well, but Rumblefish could not provide us with an exact percentage partners will earn. It will depend on the product.

The company launched a similar service called Friendly Music last year to facilitate finding licensed music for YouTube videos.

Rumblefish already made its API available to a select group of partners at the beginning of 2011, including social moviemaking app HighlightCam, fitness provider Journey Gym and online video editing service Clipik. Now, all interested parties can apply to access the API — for free.

The announcement comes on the heels of similar news from licensing company, Audiosocket, which released its Music As A Service product earlier this month.

Image courtesy of Flickr, all that improbable blue

More About: audiosocket, Clipik, friendly music, HighlightCam, Journey Gym, rumblefish

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