Category: mobile apps


It all starts with the best of intentions. You want to get some friends together for dinner, or grab drinks with a few colleagues after work, so you send out an invitation via email or group text message. Then things spiral out of control, as people message back and forth about where to go, and what time to meet. Pretty soon you’re entangled in an endless chain of messages that makes you wonder, “What have I done?” But planning events doesn’t have to feel like you’re herding cats.

WePopp and Rundavoo are two mobile apps that aim to make the task of event planning a little more organized. Both are free, and allow you to create events right from your smartphone, and then send out invites where people can vote on details, suggest alternatives and exchange messages all in one place. After everything is finalized, you can lock it down and add it to your calendar.

After using WePopp and Rundavoo to plan various events over the past few days, I wouldn’t recommend either app if you’re just trying to get together with one person. Email or phone is better for that. And if you already have an event with a set venue, date and time, I don’t see any advantage to using WePopp or Rundavoo over something like Evite or Facebook events.

Instead, these two apps are useful for more impromptu gatherings and activities that involve larger groups of people. The voting feature in both of these apps is particularly useful for getting input and nailing down details. But they both have their flaws.

For example, WePopp’s text notifications can get annoying. Meanwhile, Rundavoo crashed on me a few times, and its interface can be confusing. Of the two, I’d recommend WePopp, because it’s easier to use and doesn’t require your invitees to download the app or sign up for an account, though if you don’t sign up you won’t get access to all the features.

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WePopp is currently only available for iOS devices, but an Android version is coming soon. I downloaded it to my iPhone 5, and the interface is basic and intuitive. Everyone who I sent an invitation to using both apps preferred WePopp’s interface because it was simple and easy to understand.

To start planning an event, just slide the “Create a Popp” button, and it will take you to a screen where you can choose from a variety of preset invitations: Meal, Drink, Party, Movie, Sport, Weekend or Other. WePopp will then ask you to enter a date, name and description for the event, time, place and invitee list.

You can enter more than one suggestion for each section, so people can vote for their favorite option. I created one for a happy hour, and listed three different locations. It was nice to see at a glance which place had the most votes. I’ve done this before over email, and usually, I have to search through messages to tally people’s responses.

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One thing to note: The “Invite friends” section currently sits at the top of the page, above date, time and place, and when I first started using the app, I automatically started filling this section out first. But, after pressing the “check” button, it sent out invites, even though I had yet to fill out the time and place. I think it would be better to put the invite link at the bottom of the page; the company said they are looking to change that in the next version.

Invites can be sent via Facebook or text message. But WePopp can get overzealous with texts. When an invite goes out, your recipients get two messages: One saying that an invitation is on the way, and another with the link. It would be nice if WePopp consolidated that into one message.

Also, when I received a WePopp invite from a friend, it came via text message, even though I had the app. I’d prefer to be alerted via push notification; the company said they’re working to add that in the future.

The good thing about WePopp is that your friends don’t need an account or the app to respond to invites. Instead, they can simply click on the invitation link to open up a mobile site and tap the buttons to RSVP and vote for their favorite choices. Without an account, though, you can’t make other suggestions, and you won’t receive notifications if someone posts a message to the group chat section.

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Once everything is decided, you can finalize plans (another text is sent to invitees), and WePopp even gives you the option to add it to your calendar.

Rundavoo works similarly to WePopp. The app is iOS-only for now, but you can also send and respond to invites using Rundavoo’s website. An Android app is planned for the new year.

I found Rundavoo’s interface to be prettier, but it’s slightly more complicated. To start, you can choose from preset invites or create your own. You’ll then be asked to fill in the what, when and where. I like that Rundavoo uses your phone’s location services to populate search results for places (WePopp also does this), and then pulls in images of the business to use in the invite. It also integrates with Foursquare and Yelp.

Like WePopp, you can enter multiple suggestions for people to vote on. But, by default, Rundavoo locks down the venue, date and time, so you have to press the little lock icon to add other suggestions. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s an extra step I’d rather not have to deal with.

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Invites can be sent via text or email, but if you send via text, your friends will need to sign up for an account to respond. If sent by email, users can simply click on the links to RSVP, but if they want to add any suggestions, they will need an account. Most of my friends were not thrilled about this, but they did it for me (such good friends, they are). Even then, they said they found the interface confusing.

On the organizer’s side, votes were clearly displayed, but I never received notifications when people RSVPed, even after double-checking my iPhone’s notifications settings. More annoying was the fact that Rundavoo crashed on me multiple times, often when I was in the middle of creating an invitation. But Rundavoo told me they are working on a number of improvements, including the ability to respond via text without an account.

Trying to plan an outing with friends shouldn’t be a frustrating experience, and WePopp and Rundavoo offer an alternative to the back and forth of planning events over email. For now, you’ll get a simpler and more stable experience with WePopp.

iPhone-5s-front-apps

Is it over for paid mobile apps? That’s the general thinking these days, as the App Stores fill up with “good enough” alternatives to paid apps, while major publishers game the charts with free offerings that make millions which can then be used for their ongoing user acquisition efforts. That’s one of the reasons why the top charts of the App Store have gotten so difficult to break into for new publishers today, in fact.

The evidence for the trend toward free apps was rehashed again in a series of blog posts and other online discussions over this past weekend, written by those in the know – app developers themselves who are today still trying to make things work. But the data presented was largely anecdotal. App developer David Smith and his wife spoke spoke it. Elsewhere, Instapaper founder Marco Arment wrote about his struggles to determine the appropriate business model for his own new app, Overcast.

These were more personal tellings of the same story which has been reported through harder data for months on end. But that data contains some nuances which shouldn’t be ignored, especially for paid app developers trying to squeeze out profits from a less competitive niche. Yes, apps overall are trending toward free, and a majority of the App Store is composed of free apps – but there are a few areas where a paid app might still work…at least, for now.

THE SHIFT TO FREE

Going back a few months, analytics firm Flurry reported this July what the shift toward free applications looked like at the time. From 2010 to 2012, the proportion of free apps on the App Store ranged from 80% to 84%, but by early 2013, that had grown to 90%. And 6% of paid apps fell into the 99 cents price point.

At the time of the original report, Flurry noted that it seemed like people wanted free content more than they wanted to avoid ads, or have the highest quality experience possible.

According to Flurry’s Director of Research, Mary Ellen Gordon, PhD., the most compelling piece of evidence to support the shift to free was Flurry’s observations of developer A/B testing. They watched as developers experimented with different price points over the past months, finally resolving themselves to free apps, often supported by in-app purchases.

“It suggests that developers are not just moving to free apps because everyone else is or it seems like the thing to do. Many of them have actually tested different price points,” she tells TechCrunch. “Based on the trends, I would guess that by next year the (weighted) percentage of apps that are free will be somewhere between 91% and 93% – greater than it is now, but not 100% because there will probably always be certain specialized apps that are able to charge for downloads.”

WHERE PAID APPS STILL WORK

So where might paid apps still have a shot? In other words, are there categories where those specialized apps are selling? We spoke to app analytics firm Distimo, which examined grossing data on the App Store’s leaderboards to determine where paid apps are doing well.

In the following categories, the firm found that at least half, if not more of the top ten apps are currently paid: Productivity, Medical, Business, Healthcare & Fitness, Navigation, Catalogs, Lifestyle, Photo & Video, Travel, and Weather. In some cases, paid apps also use in-app purchases to drive up revenue even further.

What’s interesting about this list is that it’s very utilitarian, for the most part. These apps about are about getting something done – booking travel, dealing with your health, checking the weather, working, photo editing – things users do often enough to make it worth paying for the upgraded experience or additional features beyond what you could get in a free version.

Notably absent, of course, are several of the larger App Store categories, like Games and Social Networking. Minecraft was the only top grossing game that was also paid, and Grindr Xtra was the only top grossing social app that was paid. In addition, highly grossing applications in Books and Newsstand categories also tended to be free applications to start.

In general, however, Distimo’s data confirmed Flurry’s in that it found free applications led most categories, with in-app purchases as a main driver of monetization, and this was especially true in the Games category. In addition, 67 percent of the current top 10 apps across all categories combined use in-app purchasing today.

Paid apps aren’t going away entirely, says Distimo, but getting traction for a paid application will depend on a number of things, including target audience, category, competition, and more – just like in any business.

Still, Distimo’s analysis focused on the top of the charts, so it doesn’t necessarily paint the most accurate picture for what it’s like for a smaller or medium-sized developer competing today. Breaking into the top charts is often a function of marketing dollars, and money spent on user acquisition strategies, as well as a combination of more subjective things, like app quality, social impression, utility, and of course, luck.

At least breaking into the top charts on the App Store is easier for paid app makers, in terms of sheer number of downloads, that is. According to other data from this summer, getting into the top 10 requires around 4,000 downloads for paid apps, versus 70,000 for free apps. Getting into the top 50 only required 950 downloads for paid apps, versus 23,000 for free apps. Some of these figures were basically reconfirmed this month, when a well-known developer Readdle reported it took between 3,500 and 3,800 downloads to break into a top ten paid app list on the App Store.

The window for paid apps is definitely getting smaller, but there are still a few success stories out there to analyze, for developers determined to try the paid upfront business model. Yet even then, developers have to make sure they don’t alienate their current user base, if launching an upgraded experience as the new paid app, like Clear just did before having to change its course.

In the long run, unless a paid app doing something unique and notably better in a less competitive niche, consumers are looking for the free apps first.

Developers lament this trend, noting that most paid apps are worth less than a cup of coffee, and that’s a “hard pill to swallow,” as developer Florian Kugler recently put it in a widely circulated post on Hacker News.

From a user’s standpoint, though, it’s not about whether that app is worth the money, it’s about how that money adds up over time. There are nearly a million apps to choose from now – who can afford to buy a new one every day or every few days, the way you do a cup of coffee? Come to think of it, if you’re buying a fancy latte every day instead of snagging the free stuff from the break room on occasion, then you might have some other financial management issues, too.

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