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The Download: Lessons in launching an app

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By Steven Overly
Monday, October 11, 2010

Mobile has long been a cornerstone of Paul Carter's career. His main business, Dulles-based Global Wireless Solutions, tests the quality and accessibility of cellular networks so that apps and other smartphone features run smoothly.

But during a 2006 visit to his native Britain, Carter conceived the idea for an app of his own: MapHook. The application combines location and social technologies for users to document the places they go and share the information with others.

The route from idea to launch took many unexpected turns, Carter said, and the MapHook that launched in July of this year is a very different, but more comprehensive, application than the one he initially imagined.

Carter said he learned several key lessons:

-- The importance of platform. MapHook began as a BlackBerry app, because in 2006 that was the predominant smartphone. But Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, initiating a seismic shift in the mobile landscape. It's now available on the iPhone, iPad and Web.

-- Integrate with popular networks. Carter said developers realized that MapHook might gain traction faster if it could integrate with more established networks such as Facebook and Twitter. "At the end of the day, you're competing with them for the end user's time," he said. "That's why you have to integrate into them. If you play the game right, you use Twitter and Facebook to drive traffic back into your business."

-- Know the revenue model. As smartphones became more popular, apps multiplied by the thousands. Many of them are free, too, which Carter said killed his plans to charge a fee. MapHook now seeks to make money through advertising. "We're not making as much revenue as I'd like; we need to get more users, basically," he said. Carter said the site has garnered more than 20,000 users since its launch.

-- Two words: budget and timeline. Technology now allows for simple apps to be built cheaply in a matter of days. MapHook was not a simple app. Carter said developers kept adding features as new technology trends emerged. As a result, Carter puts the price tag on MapHook north of $400,000. "The more we got into it, it's like Pandora's box. You think you've cracked it, and there's another layer," he said.

BLACKBERRY FEELS THE HEAT

Dear Washingtonians, your beloved BlackBerry appears to be under siege.

The mobile technology industry was humming last week, largely because yet another report -- this time from the Wall Street Journal -- said the iPhone would soon be available for Verizon customers next year. Neither Apple or Verizon verified the report. Meanwhile, Nielsen published data that shows new smartphone users are increasingly turning to Google's Android platform. Apple also moved closer to matching Research in Motion's share of the market.


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