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Introducing Tim Grace, the iPhone App

If it wasn’t obvious, I’m fascinated with mobile tech.  I’m lucky enough to indulge that interest professionally by driving Apartments.com’s mobile product initiatives, but sometimes that just isn’t enough.  Part experiment, part exercise in vanity, I’ve now blessed the world with my very own iPhone App (screenshots below).  It’s a simple enough experience – download the app (found here) and get access to my blog posts, tweet stream and, of course, my beautiful mug staring back at you!

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All kidding aside, my main motivation in creating the app was simply to demonstrate how simple this platform now is to develop for, how much variety (frivolous or otherwise) there is in content and how important it is to have a multiple-context mobile strategy.  In my case, this experiment cost a whopping $25 (a steeply discounted rate on a $200 retail product – more on that later) and took no more than 30 minutes to create.  Is this app ultimately the best way to consume my blog/tweet content?  For anyone using RSS, clearly not.  For those who get their daily blog fix by visiting each of their www sites discretely, perhaps.  For me, that’s not really the point.

 

In my opinion, trying this approach with my personal content is more a case of eating my own dog food.  I’ve consistently preached that a mobile strategy should be centered around the principle that your content should be optimized, and discoverable, for use in all relevant contexts appropriate for your target audience.  For better or worse, the iTunes App Store has become its own vertical search engine for mobile content (and beyond, considering the upcoming iPad launch).  If I aim to optimize my online content for greatest visibility with Google & the major engines, why not take the same approach with the App Store (or Android Market)?  If someone wants to find apps that feature the topics I tend to write about, shouldn’t my content be there in that context as well?

 

Do a search in iTunes right now for terms like “product management,” “mobile products,” “apartments,” “multifamily” and sure enough, my app is right there among the results, with varying degrees of prominence.  These are concepts core to what I write, and care, about and I now have the opportunity to offer my insights (such as they are!) to different segment of possible readers.  Certainly, the “cost” to access the content is higher (must be willing to download), so the number of “subscribers” is sure to be lower than the more casual readership that may result from someone finding the blog via a Google search, but perhaps they become a more loyal/engaged audience.

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During my time working in the mobile product/marketing space, the debate over mobile web vs. native app has been among the most contentious and persistent discussions.  I regard this as one of the least productive topics to discuss.  Frankly, the answer today is clearly both, for all the reasons that led to my own personal app creation.  Should the priority, if resources/dollars are constrained, be on mobile web for most brands (non-gaming)?  Absolutely.  But, in my experience, stopping there simply limits exposure, plain and simple.  Native app discovery is its own, distinct process that has few connections to its web search cousins.
For example, despite strong mobile web traffic to our Apartments.com mobile site (over half from iPhone/iPod Touch) and a strong call to action to download our iPhone app on that site, it’s clear nearly all of our iPhone app downloads come from searches or browsing within the App Store.  So, I conclude that the preponderance of folks who found our mobile site via a Google search, promotion on our desktop site, previous experience with our brand, etc. are comfortable staying in a mobile web context, whether they have an iPhone or not.  Our iPhone App users simply have different motivations, preferences and employ distinct search methods to find this content (largely via the App Store).  Given that, I’m fairly confident that the 100K+ users of our iPhone app are consumers we likely never would have reached elsewhere.  That alone has justified our development efforts and offered significant ROI.

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