On Apps and <3s


Ah Valentine’s Day, a time for chocolate and flowers and punny cards, but also a time to reflect on the connections we share with friends and loved ones. Maybe it’s because I’m a twenty-something-year-old living in New York City, where people are constantly plugged-in via one or more devices, but it seems like everywhere you look, people are obsessed with connecting via messaging apps. Whether in the form of “relationship” apps such as Tinder, Hinge, and even Wingman, or social platforms like Viber, Line, and Snapchat, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that as a society, we’ve taken to outsourcing our most basic interactions to the cloud. Don’t worry, we’re not becoming antisocial, and most of us are still a long way off from a mustachioed Joaquin Phoenix – but researchers are predicting that this is just the beginning.

Yesterday Gartner released data announcing that in 2013, worldwide sales of smartphones surpassed sales of feature phones for the first time. As mature markets become increasingly saturated with connected devices, and emerging markets witness meteoric growth, app stores have been flooded with ways for people to connect with others either down the block or several time zones away. As these apps pop up seemingly overnight, some are rewarded with huge user bases, astronomical funding, and successful exits. Meanwhile, others fall by the wayside. But with hundreds of millions of users (and the theoretical money accompanying them) up for grabs, and those numbers growing every day, the motivation is high for new players to get into the game.

So what makes for a successful messaging app? While factors like luck and timing certainly play a role, there are some distinct characteristics that can position an app to do well when entering this crowded space. Offering a unique experience (and not just, say, an Instagram for selfies) is necessary, because short attention spans mean people are not going to regularly use 10 different messaging apps; they will choose the few that offer the most valuable experiences. Intuitive usability and simple design are also key factors for success – apps that can be used with one hand are that much easier for a user to adopt and revisit.

But most notably, in keeping with Valentine’s Day, apps evoking emotional experiences for users are at a distinct advantage. It’s no mystery why sites such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy are so popular and are constantly shared across social media. There are few things that bring people closer together than humorous content and uplifting stories to rally behind, especially when accompanied by adorable gifs and powerful images. A strong image (be it selfie or emoji) speaks anywhere across the world, and the ability to create these images and messages draws people in, opening up new avenues of expression. Creating an authentic sense of connection and engagement with users has become imperative for any social app, and we can expect to see the sustained development of this theme as the mobile messaging space continues to evolve and grow. Let’s just hope we won’t be seeing more apps capitalizing a little too much on user sentimentality.

PR Tips for App Developers

Which icon stands out in this sea of apps?

The secret to a successful app is a combination of factors, some of which you can control, others you can’t. In order to do well in the oversaturated app marketplace it’s essential to put yourself in the best possible position for success. App success starts with a great idea, it hinges on execution during development, and it is largely influenced by PR, marketing, timing, and luck.

Of those factors, PR is one that you can control. PR for apps is about how you present the product to the public, garner media coverage, and build users and awareness through proactive outreach. Here are 5 tips to help your PR effort.

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Get Your Life In Order With 6 Web Apps

Though many people believe that the web is an ever-growing distraction, many startups have popped up that are seeking to do the direct opposite. In fact, I’ve found that there’s a large crop of great websites that exist to focus your time, bringing peace and harmony to the maelstrom of tweets and Facebook updates that are your digital life. By investing a little time into them, these web apps could easily win you back hours of your time – they have for me.

Get Organized

WorkFlowy (free) is a devilishly simple task organizer built on the principle of the bullet-point. Type in something, then create subcategories for each element. For example, you could create a ‘Personal’ point, then create sub-points for each part of the house – say, ‘dog,’ ‘food,’ ‘housekeeping’ and so on. Then you can separate that entirely from a ‘Professional’ category – breaking down into different categories and clients. You can hashtag different yet thematic points and search through your entire WorkFlowy account. Furthermore, you can minimize everything and focus on one specific point – and break that one down too.

Todoist (free, $49 for premium) is also a similar yet slightly more powerful task manager – with the ability to create reminders and color-code your life’s travails.

Get Help

FancyHands and Zirtual are two options for buying the time of reliable personal assistants, with prices ranging from a few tasks a day to a dedicated assistant that you can phone and text to get things done. While many people will say ‘what do I need an assistant for?’ having one around can help delegate tasks that you otherwise would spend hours of your day on. For example, I have used FancyHands to get a very deep understanding of what particular writers have covered over the extent of their working lives – making me better at pitching and a more pleasant PR person to work with.

Quora is a question-and-answer community – like an adult version of Yahoo! Answers, and a very reliable way of having knowledgable and relevant people answer queries related to very specialist subjects. Furthermore, questions often pop up on Google Alerts – meaning that if you’re really curious about a particular company, someone will invariably join in and help you out.

Get Connected

GetHuman is at its most basic a directory of the quickest ways to get through to a human at big companies. It has now matured into a service that will actually wait on hold for you and call you when the other party is on the line. For anyone who has had to cancel or change their phone service, this is heavenly.


5 Productivity Tools for PR Pros

It’s no secret that today’s PR pro faces substantial challenges. The advent of social networking and the continued proliferation of blogging have proven highly (warning, buzzword!) disruptive to the field, creating countless new influencers in virtually every industry. What’s more, influence is increasingly determined not by the publication one writes for but the ability to share and promote content through social media… thus influencers may “live” on any number of different platforms.

In essence, while an article in the New York Times is almost always valuable, true awareness is more likely to be driven by a critical mass of buzz from specialized, focused blogs (enthusiasts) and linking and discussion via social media.

Tasked with generating this buzz, the onus is on PR to filter through immense amounts of information and decide who to talk to and how. But with new influencers and ways to communicate popping up daily, as well as an unforgiving 24/7 news cycle, this is no simple task. The effective flack must be a lightning bolt of efficiency.

Luckily we no longer have to rely solely on cavernous cups of coffee to give us the edge we need. An ever-expanding internet may bring new challenges, sure, but also tools that allow us to be quicker and smarter than ever. Below are 5 of those tools I love for their ability to help me do more with less time:

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Taming the Wild West: How the iPhone App Store Should – and Probably Will – Change

Faux App Store Walmart Logo

The iPhone has been the biggest boon for independent game and app developers in recent memory, but the surge of devs looking to cash in has overwhelmed the current format of the App Store as an e-commerce platform.

It’s a good problem to have, certainly, but it means there’s a huge opportunity for Apple to push the needle even more by improving the way products are presented to consumers on the platform.

Apple’s brick and mortar stores are hip, sparse environments with big aisles and a dearth of shelf space – they can pull this off because they have only a few product lines, and they’ve achieved premium brand positioning akin to high-end fashion and jewelry retailers.

But if Apple’s retail outlets are Prada and Tiffany’s, then the App Store is Walmart.

There are currently upwards of 115,000 third-party apps available for iPhone owners to choose from, and like it or not, most of these aren’t exactly premium products. There’s a glut of amazing software out there, but most of it’s small, simple and cheap.

And while the variety and value found in the App Store is similar, the presentation of products is nothing like Walmart. It isn’t even like Amazon or other big online retailers. To service those 115,000 products, the App Store actually has surprisingly limited options for product visibility.

The App Store’s shelf space consists of just a few sought after promotional slots, determined by Apple’s editorial team (presumably a group of cloaked and hooded masterminds, convening in an ominous-looking cave somewhere deep beneath Cupertino). Besides the limited promotional space, product presentation is nothing more than a few lists of top-selling products.

And for the majority of that shelf space – even apps lucky enough to show up in the ‘What’s Hot’ spotlight and similar sections – only the app title and icon are visible. There’s a wealth of information that could be added – an app’s rating, a brief description, rotating screenshots, etc. – by slightly increasing the real estate given to promoted apps.

Product presentation in a big-box retailer is carefully controlled. Shelf space is rationed out to specific products based on an overwhelming amount of research (not to mention plenty of deals and partnerships), and endcap promotions are constantly cycling. Similarly, online retail behemoths like Amazon and Newegg have a constant stream of promotions and complete control over the placement of products.

Online retailers are getting even better about customizing product placement based on each user’s viewing and purchasing habits. Apple has dipped its toes in the water with the ‘Genius’ feature, but there’s surely an opportunity to deliver a more personalized user experience for every iPhone owner. If the App Store was as good at suggesting products as Amazon and Netflix, it would mean more overall app sales (good for Apple) – and probably far less of a top-heavy market (good for developers).

There are signs Apple is learning lessons from online and offline retailers. Seasonal and demographically targeted banner promotions (“Apps for Toddlers”) inside the App Store have become more commonplace, and the ‘Apps for iPhone’ promotion on Apple.com recently saw a revamp.

Apple is undoubtedly cognizant of the App Store’s deficiencies – major changes could be just around the corner. Whatever these changes end up being, they could mean a whole new game for iPhone app marketing. Developers need to stay on their toes, as those who are able to adjust when the landscape shifts will be ahead of the game.