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What happens when mobile developers and platform owners focus on solving the same problems? Out-innovating the brand who owns the platform you’re publishing on may seem impossible, but there is more opportunity in the space than you might think.
In month’s App Marketing Conversation, Apptentive’s CEO Robi Ganguly sits down with Ian Sefferman, GM of TMC at TUNE, and Ryan Morel, GM at Gamehouse, to highlight the evolutions of Apple Maps and Apple Music, and to discuss how the mobile app innovation game has changed over the years.
What are your thoughts on mobile app innovation when it comes to competing with platform owners? We’d love to hear your experiences and questions in the comments below!
If you’d rather read than watch, check out the complete video transcription:
Ian: Hello, and welcome to another installment of App Marketing Conversations. I’m Ian Sefferman, here with Robi Ganguly of Apptentive and Ryan Morel of GameHouse. How are you guys all doing?
Ian: Awesome. We have Darwin back . . . Yeah, I can’t forget Darwin. So Darwin is back. We also have a pretty awesome backdrop today. Both of those things are great. And some cool announcements I think and interesting statistics to talk about.
So one was Asymco, is that right? Is that who was talking about it.
Ryan: Well, yeah, so it was at WWDC, then Asymco had the analysis of one event.
Ian: Right up over it.
Yeah. Why don’t you talk about it. You probably . . .
Ryan: Well, so it was that Apple announced at WWDC that its maps product was used three and a half times more than the next leading maps product, which seems clearly obvious that the next leading maps product would be Google.
Ryan: It’s a little bit of a mind-blowing number given where Apple Maps started three and a half years ago.
Ryan: It’s pretty amazing.
Ian: Yeah, my initial reaction to that was BS.
Ian: You bring up the good point, why would they lie about it? But that’s just mind-blowing to me.
Ian: The reviews . . . Basically, the first time they came out, I tried it. And I was like “This is terrible” and never went back to it.
Ryan: Yeah. My own experience is that it’s gotten a lot better. And I wouldn’t say that I always use Apple Maps, but I probably am 60/40 Apple Maps to Google Maps. I think the most amazing thing from my perspective is exactly what you said, right? It was terrible at the beginning. And Google Maps has been doing this . . . How long has Google been doing maps? Ten years?
Ian: Yeah, almost.
Robi: At least, yeah.
Ryan: That’s a long time. They’ve got really good quality maps product. And in three years, Apple . . . Even if it’s not three and a half times, even if it’s two times, even if it’s even, that’s amazing. In that short of period of time, they usurped the clear leader in the market.
Ian: What’s your reaction to it?
Robi: Well, damn, it feels good to be a platform owner, right? You just get more people buying devices and defaulting to the maps and forgetting to reinstall Google. And it’s like you get a lot of advantage just from that behavior. And you get the benefit of time. So you get every opportunity that you ship something new to change it. It’s pretty tough to compete with those guys.
Ryan: Yeah, yeah. Well, especially they also have a data advantage too. You were talking off-air about whether or not they’re . . . like how are they really maintaining privacy when they can view data across apps? I’m sure they have a good answer for that. But the reality is they’re the only ones who can see how people use Google Maps and see how people use Garmin and Apple Maps to help improve their own product. So they have a little bit of an unfair advantage in terms of their product road map and what they’re going to improve upon, just like Google does on Android, right?
Ryan: But just generally speaking, it would be really hard and scary to be in the same business that a platform owner might want to own.
Ian: Yeah. So on that note, there’s also the Apple Music announcement.
Robi: I see what you did there with the “note” thing.
Ian: I didn’t even do that on purpose. So let’s talk about Apple Music. What are your thoughts on it so far?
Robi: Well, I think the most interesting part about it is that it’s going to be available on Google Play. It’s on Android devices.
Ryan: And Windows.
Robi: I normally would be like “I don’t have much of an opinion. I’m on Android.” But now, I can actually check it out and see what it’s like. And that’s different. We were talking about maps. There’s no Apple Maps for an Android device. But this seems like a place where Apple is made to compete in the long run, right? They just care about music so deeply, and they’re going to try and figure it out. And I think now that we’ve seen the data on maps, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here several years from now saying, “Wow, yeah, so they own music.” Really, like all the time spent on iOS devices in music is with Apple.
Ian: What are your thoughts?
Ryan: The same. I don’t know. Have you downloaded it yet?
Ian: I wanted to yesterday and then realized I haven’t updated my OS yet.
Ryan: Okay. Did you download it?
Robi: No, not just yet.
Ryan: My initial . . . I posted this Twitter. It’s like the app itself is like all Apple apps, like why aren’t they better at this? But their view of curation and editorial content is fantastic. Literally, I was talking to someone yesterday. I haven’t discovered new music in a long time. People are like “What are you listening to.?” I’m like 90s rock. And I found eight new bands yesterday. And I was like “I’ve never even heard of these people before. This is really good.”
And so juxtapose that against Spotify’s play list and radio, which based on the way that they have created their algorithms, does exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is just play you the same stuff over and over and over again. It’s a really different experience. I was actually pretty pleased with that.
Ryan: So from an actual content perspective, I was like “This was really good, I like this.”
Ian: So . . . Go ahead.
Robi: I was just going to say that alone makes me want to use it. I’ve been talking about this actually for the past several months with friends. I feel like my discovery of new music in the past three to five years has really tapered off. It’s also correlated with me being a very heavy subscriber of subscription music. It’s not working for me to get new music anymore. If somebody solves that problem well . . .
Ryan: Yeah, because you’re right. I think the keyword there is work. It is work to find new music. And I think one of the nice things about having DJs is that they do the work for you. And they become your discovery engine.
Yeah, I was pretty impressed with that.
Ryan: But the app itself, it’s a little bit confusing, what you do and where you go and . . .
Ian: So that sounds like . . . What you’re saying sounds very similar to the if you roll back the time of Apple Maps came out and it was very confusing and didn’t work.
Ian: So let’s bring this into the zone of app marketers now. You look at Maps. You look at Music. How do people compete with platform owners when platform owners have decided to enter a space?
Ryan: Do you want to … ?
Robi: Well, I think that there are a lot of places where you discover that what you’re doing and the ecosystems it touches are so distinct and different from what the OS of the platform owner dabbles in that you can differentiate that way. An example of that would be Intuit and the whole financial services expansion of their business model. Microsoft thought they were going to take out Intuit in the ’80s and ’90s. Everybody else did8 too, right? And they figured out, well, the ecosystem we’re playing in is so much more complex that we can actually double down on that, and we will be better than any platform owner.
But if you’re not able to do that in the ecosystem . . . And music’s a great example. Apple already has built all the ecosystem relationships they need. They’ve done that over the past 15 years with all of the music industry professionals, right? So if you’re trying to compete with them and you say, “Well, they already have relationships there,” or, “They can get their quickly, and we don’t have much in this ecosystem that’s separate and different,” I think you should be terrified. Yeah.
Ryan: And so I think, of course, Robi’s right, as he usually is. I think the key thing if you’re a marketer and developer is you have to find a really specific thing that you’re going to go after and be really, really good at that Apple or Google either can’t be or doesn’t care enough about at the moment so that over time, you can either license your technology to them or get bought by them or find a large enough niche of users, as Robi mentioned, that it doesn’t really matter. Because if you’re just going to try to compete head to head, I think you’re going to have a hard time.
We see the really big benefit for Google and Apple, regardless of whether or not their apps are good, is they have distribution. It’s not just distribution. It’s amazing killer distribution. I updated my phone yesterday, and there’s Apple Music. Nobody else has that.
Ryan: So my recommendation to any app marketer or developer as they’re thinking about what type of business they’re going to build is, do platform owners care about this? And if so, okay, what can you bring to the table that they can’t to give you a compelling use case either for consumers or for you’re just building to get bought. That’s fine.
Ian: Yeah, and there’s a total spectrum too. So there’s on one end, these what I will call hard problems, right? Music is in there. Mapping is in there. Those are hard problems. And platform owners like hard problems. They have big wins when they can win them.
On the other side of it is what I will call super dead simple easy problems. A flashlight app or a calculator app, those two platform owners really like because they can make it dead simple and built into the platform. Every flashlight app in the world got killed when Apple decided to just plug it in.
And so then you have in the middle of this section of the world, but I think is where, if you’re thinking about it, that’s the sweet spot. That’s tough.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, so I think another way to put that would be there’s the commodities that are flashlights and stuff like that. And then there are the platform lock in strategies, which are maps and music. Maybe music not so much now that it’s streaming. Apple, over time, who knows how they’re going to go? This is free if you buy a device, right? Those are the things that you want to avoid, right?
Robi: I think the interesting thing about this is also in the context of who probably watches this and thinks about and talks about what we talk about on a regular basis, the app marketers out there, the people who are growing their app businesses that are probably inside of larger companies that have a deep mobile initiative or a team that’s mobile-focused but growing. Or maybe they need developers, right? Those three groups that are thinking about these problems have different approaches.
So if you’re a big brand and you’re looking at this, the likelihood of you competing with Apple or Google on what you do and what you’re good at is very, very small. So you don’t really care about this. You might care about who the winners are going to be from a partnering perspective. You’re looking at this and you’re thinking, “We’re not going to put as much effort into that Spotify partnership because we think we want to watch how this plays out.” But the big brands, they’re not thinking about this that much.
Then the people who are building small growing businesses, maybe an Evernote or Acompli, right, before they got bought by Microsoft, are sitting there thinking, “Okay, we’re playing in dangerous territory. And we’re trying to think, ‘Can we out-innovate? Or maybe we might get snapped up by one of them,'” right?
And then the indie developers, I don’t think that those folks care as much, right?
Would you add? Is there another segment in terms of thinking about this? Is there another take?
Ian: I think that’s a good way of thinking about it for sure.
Robi: I guess I would say that the most interesting thing for us to watch and talk about is the Scannables, the Evernotes, the companies that are out there potentially going down platform paths.
Ian: Yeah, and how do they play out?
Ian: For sure.
Robi: We were talking before this about deep linking companies that seems like it’s a service, but it seems like it’s getting baked into both of the platforms. And they have their own take on how this works. So how does a URX or a Branch start to compete? Think about that.
Ryan: Yeah. We’re getting a little bit off topic. Remember, the days after Apple banned UDID, right? And it was like then there was OpenUDID. And who’s going to manage all that? Then all the sudden, IFA and the Google Android ID. And then all the sudden, though . . . Who knows where that stuff goes? I think that your point there ultimately is, hey, if the platforms are going to care at some point, especially for developer lock-in, you should probably stay away.
Ryan: Just leave it alone.
Ian: Yeah. Thank you guys so much. And be sure to watch all the other videos and subscribe to our channels. Thanks.