Interview with Christopher York, Blue Ox Technologies

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interview with chris yorkBlue Ox Technologies has been in business as a consulting firm since 1998 and has been designing iPhone apps since July 2008. The company’s most popular app is the word game Moxie, which is like a mashup of Solitaire and Upwords, Christopher York, of Blue Ox, told AppCraver recently.

1. It's pretty well established that low prices lead to high sales but not necessarily to high profits. What does it take to succeed in this  marketplace?

That's exactly the experience we had when we recently held as sale on one of our apps! We saw a nice jump in unit sales, but revenues were down. This is an interesting phenomenon to me because it goes contrary to the conventional notion that Apps should automatically be priced at the lowest price point to maximize profits. That may be true in many cases, but it's definitely not true in all cases.

When the App Store launched last year, many developers were able to find success with what I call the "Field of Dreams" marketing strategy...you know, "If you build it, they will come." With 50,000+ apps on the App Store today that just does not work any more and never will again. The wise independent developers will recognize that the App Store is a distribution channel, not a marketing plan. The developers who figure out how to reach the greatest masses of iPhone users with their message will ultimately be successful. However I don't believe that a small marketing budget precludes success. It does necessitate ingenuity though.

2. Increasingly, bigger companies are entering the app biz with bigger budgets, larger dev teams  and marketing. Whenever that happens in the  software business, it's almost always followed by a shake out of the smaller players. Do you think that's what will happen in the App Store?

I do believe a shakeout is coming, but I don't believe survival is predicated on size. Those enterprises, large or small, that have created a sustainable business model will survive. This is a common feature of all business cycles and is not unique to the App Store.

3 .Dev cycles will get longer as buyers expect more from apps. What does that mean to your company and other companies? Do you foresee pricing  climbing over the next year?

That's an interesting question. I don't think customer expectations automatically translate to longer development cycles. People are not necessarily looking for bigger flashier apps with more function points. They want apps that target very specific tasks and execute them quickly and are dead simple to use. This requires more thought up front in the sense of actually figuring out what your app is going to do and in designing the user interface, but this is a reallocation of effort rather than an increase of effort. People may say they want Microsoft Excel on their iPhone, but nobody really wants to use anything that complicated on a mobile device.

4 .There's a clause in the developer contract that requires developers to offer refunds. What are your thoughts?

Make sure you produce great apps that work well and you won't have to worry about it.

5. Many devs have concerns about the App Store pricing model. Has it been a problem for you and if so, what do you think is the problem and  if so, what's your solution?  Would trial apps be an option for you?

I would love to see higher pricing on the App Store. What developer wouldn't? We'll definitely see a gradual increase from the current prices, but I doubt we'll see an abundance of successful $20 apps any time soon. Instead of complaining about the current pricing as a problem, we just recognize it a reality and look for ways to succeed without depending on price inflation. We would love to be able to offer trial apps, and if Apple allows it in the future, we'll be there.

6. Do you plan to release your apps in Nokia, Blackberry and other app stores?

We don't have any plans at present to release our apps on other mobile platforms because the market is currently too fragmented and distribution is too awkward. However we are very interested in cross-platform development and are currently porting a couple of our games to Flash. In the future we may also consider Windows and OS/X as possible target platforms.

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