Windows Phone Success Depends On App Quality

WP8It might not have the marketshare of Android or the cult following of iOS, but the Windows Phone OS is slowly gaining traction – by quickly adding new apps.

In fact, according to Microsoft, their Windows Phone Store now features more than 300,000 apps and games as of late last week. Two months ago, that number stood at 255,000 apps. A month later, 270,000. The interesting aspect of this milestone, as Softpedia also notes, is not so much the number of apps, but the rate in which they were added:

This milestone is much more important given the fact that it was achieved during summer, when usually developers should be away on holiday. It’s also important to note that Windows Phone Store gained more than 30,000 apps in just three weeks, which means that by the end of the year, there’s a high chance it will reach 4-500,000 apps.

For mobile app developers, there may be no time like the present to establish a presence in Windows Phone Store. Though a distant third in terms of OS marketshare (at 3.4% compared to Android’s 52.1% and iOS’ 41.3%), it’s obvious that the ecosystem still has room to grow.

But while the quantity of apps makes headlines, it’s the quality of apps that will ultimately determine the operating system’s success and longevity. If the data is accurate, it appears as though this point has not been lost on Windows Phone developers.

Back in July of 2013 – shortly after Applause began crawling the Windows Phone Store – we conducted a brief study on the highest rated apps within each app store. What we found was that, among the top three, Windows Phone apps generally received much higher ratings compared to its iOS and Android counterparts. Here’s an abridged version of the results at the time:

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iBeacon Technology: Coming To A Store Near You

estimote-beaconA few weeks back, Apple’s iBeacon technology became available in Lord & Taylor stores across the United States, as well as select Hudson’s Bay locations in Canada. Both retail store chains are owned and operated by Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), which hopes to offer customers with location-enabled mobile devices a more unique, targeted in-store shopping experience.

HBC’s holdings are hardly the first retail stores to roll out iBeacon sensors across their locations. However, Mashable notes that “this is one of the first instances of such a concentrated effort for a department store chain.”

Beacon technology has become a growing trend in the retail shopping industry. By leveraging Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy technology, Apple’s iBeacon can send out alerts or notifications to users with compatible apps installed on their phone.

This technology can be extremely beneficial to help accurately targetretail shoppers. In fact, iBeacon sensors are so accurate that they can locate a person standing in a specific department and offer them customized information pertaining to that area of the store. For example, consider a person standing in front of a selection of jeans. Lord & Taylor’s iBeacon sensors will recognize their location and offer them very specific information about the different brands and styles the customer sees before them.

In addition to the ability to offer coupons explicit to the department the person is standing in, retail stores can even greet customers that walk through the front door or reach out to those walking by with notifications of different coupons, sales, freebies, or other offers.

By combining this technology with customer profile and purchasing information, there is some incredible potential for targeting customers. If a retail store learns that a customer likes to purchase specific items or appears loyal to a certain brand, the store can alert this customer to return during a sale or with a unique personal offer.

iBeacon and other beacon technology isn’t just limited to retail, however. In addition to targeting shoppers, beacon technology can be used to create powerful digital mapping for a location or event. For example, a person sitting in their seat at a baseball game can call up the app on their phone to find the nearest bathrooms or vendors located near their pinpointed location. Developers are just beginning to scratch the surface of tis technology.

With the prospective reach, mobile app developers should certainly be skillful in implementing the functionality to leverage beacon sensors. HBC understands the potential for being able to better target and serve customers. Calling iBeacon technology the future of retail marketing, EVP and CMO Michael Crotty recently said that HBC “recognizes the appetite for mobile experiences that cater to customers’ immediate needs and preferences, while also providing a seamless and effortless experience.”

Indeed, beacon technology promises to revolutionize the shopping (and marketing) experience, with one important caveat: They must actually work – not just in theory, but in real-world scenarios.

Image courtesy of Estimote.

Lessons From LinkedIn’s New Mobile Launch

Charlton-mobile-profile-487x1024For many brands, mobile is all they know. Their stories begin and end in the various app stores. For other brands, mobile is the great unknown. Their stories begin on the desktop and in web browsers.

A great example of the former is LinkedIn, who late last month launched a new mobile platform for iOS and Android users, complete with a brand new client-side user interface, back-end services, and a savvy new “recommendation feature.”

The decision to focus on mobile development rather than desktop was not much of a surprise, considering that 43% of the brand’s web traffic comes from the mobile devices of their 259 million members worldwide.

“It’s actually the first time that we are launching something on phone and tablet simultaneously and on mobile specifically first for our entire company, instead of desktop,” LinkedIn’s senior director of engineering Kiran Prasad said in an interview with VentureBeat.

The intention of this post is not to tell you what’s new with the LinkedIn mobile experience. For that, you should check out this blog post on their website (or mobile website). Instead, it’s to offer guidance for those other desktop-centric brands who are considering making the mobile transition. And with that, a few key lessons to keep in mind:

It’s Never Too Late

If your brand has yet to establish a mobile presence, you may feel as though you are late to the party. You are, but that doesn’t mean you’re too late. LinkedIn is one of the largest, most recognized social networks in world – and as of 2014 – they had still undertaken very few “mobile first” initiatives.

The important thing is not what they have done thus far, but what they plan on doing in the near future. These new profiles will not mark the end of these mobile transformations. The company is also building a mobile software-development kit for future use and over 50% of the engineers working at LinkedIn today are mobile trained. They weren’t the first company to focus on mobile, but it’s clear that they are committed to the platform going forward. It’s never too late, in other words.

Listen To Your Users

The company’s decision to launch simultaneous mobile updates was not made on a whim, but rather based on the feedback of users – who, as noted, are regularly accessing the site via their mobile devices. LinkedIn’s goal is to retain and increase their mobile customer base, while making it easier and more enjoyable for users to connect with professionals on-the-go.

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Healthcare Apps: Time For A Second Opinion?

Medical-Apps-300x300It’s one thing to trust an app that counts your steps throughout the day. It’s another thing to trust an app that helps to diagnose you with a serious illness. As the number of healthcare apps continues to grow, the questions remains: Can healthcare apps be trusted?

This is becoming a key question lately for consumers, healthcare professionals, app developers and the media – and it’s one that we wanted to briefly address in today’s post.

There’s a sound reason why the general public places their trust in prescription drugs and medical devices – namely, regulation. But while the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates most medical devices, they review very few applications. At this point in time, experts say that the FDA’s power and efforts aren’t nearly enough to cover the estimated 97,000 health apps currently in the app stores – a number that will only continue to grow in all likelihood.

While these apps hold great promise, they offer have the potential for to cause great harm, as InformationWeek.com recently noted:

Without a new approach [to regulation], consumers risk aggravated conditions or even death due to poorly designed, fraudulent, or dangerous technologies, these critics say. Healthcare providers, too, find it increasingly difficult to discern valid from invalid apps, making it tougher to recommend mHealth apps to motivated patients.

In a recent editorial published in The New England Journal of Medicine, health law expert Nathan Cortez and his colleagues also questioned the validity of the promises made by many of these apps to improve health and reduce medical error. While a large number of health apps are out there simply to help consumers track their exercise or dieting habits, there are plenty of other apps that pose a more concerning risk to their faithful users. Apps that handle issues like managing insulin doses for diabetic patients, for example, could simultaneously affect an entire userbase if a single mistake or bug enters into the app’s infrastructure, assuming the app could be deemed safe and trustworthy from the start.

According to Cortez, “Early studies evaluating whether these apps work or not tend to paint a pretty dim picture of them. The results aren’t that promising.”

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Developing a User-Friendly Mobile Website

mobile_webStaying connected with your target audience means being easily accessible. How is this accomplished? Hint: It’s not always through a native app. Sometimes, as BetaNews recently pointed out, a mobile website is the better option.

The author reminds us that, “there are now more than one million apps in the Apple app store but a study by Deloitte’s showed that 80 percent of apps get less than 1,000 downloads each.”

What does this mean? Well, namely, if your company has launched a mobile app, despite how popular your company may be, there is a good chance that the mobile app will not be downloaded onto your target audience’s smartphone. If it is downloaded, chances are it will not be used.

But that doesn’t mean they are not interested in engaging with your brand – they just prefer to do so via the mobile web. With that in mind, let’s take a look a few tips for creating an effective mobile website:

When you create a mobile web page, remember that you are taking your “web content and essentially resizing it for a mobile screen.”

It might seem simple, but far too many brands have yet to understand that mobile is an entirely different medium than the desktop. Thus, they cram all of the content on their website into the mobile version – big mistake. An optimized mobile website will include only what is necessary; not cluttering the screen with multiple links, drop-down menus, pop-ups and other desktop-esque elements.

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Localizing Your App? Some Things to Keep in Mind

l10nWhat works in one market will fail miserably in others. Not only is this true for physical consumer products – it’s also true with regard to mobile apps. Hence the dramatic uptick in localization testing over the last decade.

Of course, localization testing often highlights issues after the fact, once the app has already been developed, and in some cases, launched. So how can you ensure that your app’s international success equals (or exceeds) its domestic success before launch?

Answers can be found by taking a closer look at a recent study by mobile app research form Distimo, which focused on the Asian apps economy. Specifically, why Asian developers have had a difficult time adapting their apps to a western audience. Below are a few lessons for all app developers, marketers and brand leaders looking to expand their app presence.

Start to develop for an international audience, then tailor to local

Internationalization” in software development is the practice of designing software for the broadest possible audience, supported by multiple languages.

This software can then be tailored through “localization” to add local-specific components without engineering changes. The combination of these two practices is often called “globalization.”

Globalized software is customized so that it can appeal to a local market, but uses computer encoded text that can be used world-wide. Components of software that can be easily manipulated through localization include images and colors, currencies, weights and measures, government assigned numbers, addresses and postal codes.

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Starbucks: Time to Test the Coffee App

Starbucks-AppFor coffee lovers that first cup of Joe is often the highlight of the morning (or day, depending on your level of dependence). Naturally, that makes waiting in line the worst part of your morning. Starbucks is hoping to change that. How? With their new mobile app, of course.

The coffee giant is currently testing our a new mobile app that would give customers the ability to place their order ahead if time, and pick it up without much of a wait. Here’s Android Police with the details:

“The company is hoping to give customers the ability to shop at certain other establishments using its app, and it’s already in talks with multiple potential partners. Starbucks has found success with its mobile efforts thus far, and it’s looking to give its customers even more to reason to be hooked.”

If you think this sounds too good to be true, then you’re probably a mobile app tester. Before we offer our own take on some scenarios that might prevent this app from widespread adoption, here’s what the writers at Android Police had to say:

“There are some logistics to take into account. There’s the obvious, such as how customers will feel if they come in and their order isn’t ready. Then there’s the more coffee-specific concern of dealing with someone who has arrived late and their coffee has gone cold.”

What else could go wrong? Here are a few more items to consider:

  • Are payments made instantly through the app? If not, what about all of the orders that are placed but never picked up?
  • How will consumers know what time works best to place an order?
  • How will the staff know when to start making an order?
  • What about ordering when one is in close proximity to other Starbucks locations? Will the location-based functionality be consistent

Starbucks is well-known for their mobile ingenuity, but they are also fanatical about the customer experience, so we imagine these are questions that are certainly being considered in the testing phase of this project, as well as others:

Yet this may be just the beginning, not merely of broad availability of in-app ordering somewhere in the future, but for the Starbucks app in general. The company is hoping to give customers the ability to shop at certain other establishments using its app, and it’s already in talks with multiple potential partners. Starbucks has found success with its mobile efforts thus far, and it’s looking to give its customers even more to reason to be hooked. Though the caffeine may be doing a good enough job of that already.

As testers, do you see any red flags with an app like this? Let us know in the comments section!

It should be interesting to watch how Starbucks will be able to take this mobile app and still deliver stellar customer service.

 

Parallels Access “Appifies” Home Computer for Tablets, Smartphones

PLWhat do you do when you need to access a file on a computer that’s thousands of miles away? You could call on someone closer to the computer’s location, ask them to make their way over to the computer, fill them in on any passwords protecting the computer or document, and request that they to send it to you… or you could leverage software that allows you to access your computer remotely, a concept being championed by Parallels Access and documented in this piece from Yahoo! Tech.

In 2013, Parallels Access released a solution that began to refine the remote access software category. However, the impact of this solution wasn’t felt nearly as much as it should have been, based largely on its pricing point. Learning from past marketing mistakes, Parallels Access is back with an improved solution and a better product rollout.

Where Parallels Access 1.0 would have run you $80/year for a subscription that allowed you to access just one computer, Parallels Access (PA) 2.0 has hit the market at $20/year for the right to access up to five computers. No longer just for iPads, PA 2.0 provides computer access right on your iPhone, Android phone, or Android tablet. There is no limit to the number of smart-devices that can access your five computers, which can be any combination of Macs or PCs.

PA 2.0 also provides users with an incredibly straightforward set-up. Once you’ve registered to use the service, you simply download a free app on each of the machines and devices for which you’ll be exchanging access. From there, you log-in and go. In making the app itself free-to-download, you can even access your computer(s) from someone else’s smart-devices, if the situation arises.

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6 Areas Your App Security Testing Shouldn’t Miss

mobile-securityHere’s a stat that should scare just about everyone – from developers to marketers to everyday app consumers: Market Research Firm Gartner says more than three-quarters of mobile-apps would fail basic security testing.

Notice the word “would” in the above sentence. That implies that most apps are actually not even tested for security. Those which have been, well, they fail three out of four times.

Obviously, with an increase of critical application breaches on a global scale, the demand for efficient and accurate security testing is more important than ever.

AST technology is designed to analyze and test for security holes, yet many AST industry leaders fall short of spotting all vulnerabilities. The following is a 6-point list of what a well-rounded, mature mobile app testing service should offer its users.

#1. Provide AST as a service and a tool.

AST can come in the form of a cloud service or a tool. The report suggests a reputable mobile app testing service will offer both.

To supplement the AST tool, the testing service should use a single management console and an enterprise-class reporting framework that supports multiple users, groups and roles.

#2. Provide Static AST (SAST)

Static AST is the testing for vulnerabilities at the programming and/or testing software life cycle phases. For example, testing for byte or binary code, application source, and design.

#3. Provide Dynamic AST (DAST)

Dynamic AST mimics cyber attacks against applications and analyzes the reaction. This occurs during operation or testing phases, and analyzes applications in real time (or close to it).

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Google, Google Everywhere: Android the Star of Multiple Platforms

androidGoogle closed the second quarter of 2014 with their Google I/O conference, an annual, two-day conference for developers and engineers working on projects that will interact with Google technologies in one way or another. Right off the bat, Google Senior VP Sundar Pichai made a series of announcements, as covered by Yahoo! Tech, regarding various Google technologies, most all of which will now be running Android’s operating system.

The upcoming installment in the Android smartphone series, thus far known only as the “L” release, will feature their new “material design,” applying height coordinates and X and Y positions to user interface items. The interface will comprehend this data to determine how items will slide over and under one another.

The material design will also focus more on animations within the user interface. Pichai and his team expressed pride in showing items moving and sliding across the screen at a publicized sixty frames-per-second. Pichai also noted that the Android “L” will avoid employing the flat design that will be featured in the next Apple releases.

Google also divulged more about Android Wear, a project that takes the Android operating system to tech wearables, beginning with watches. This platform will link back to smartphones, enabling the wearable to display notifications and, in certain instances, even assume control of the phone. For mobile app testers, the challenge here will be to meet the same quality assurance standards for wearables that they do on smartphones. This cross-platform functionality will certainly provide a new challenge for mobile app testers, but it will also provide a fantastic way to add more value to your application.

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