Wednesday, August 24, 2016

iOS 10 Development for Executives: iMessages Apps

Do you think iMessage Apps a secret weapon in customer acquisition and revenue? iOS 10 iMessage apps provide a unique opportunity for some businesses, but will flop for others.

What advantages do iMessage Apps have?

If you're selling physical goods or services, you can charge right from your iMessage app using Apple Pay. Any item expensive enough to warrant getting a second person to sign off on a purchase might be given a large advantage.

Messages has a huge user base. User who don't have your app could discover your app by receiving a message from your current users. Every message from your app will include a small prompt to install your app. If your app is positioned well for it, an iMessage app could give you a big word-of-mouth boost.

These apps are a sharing medium that lets you participate on all sides of a conversation that have the app installed. The participants in a conversation are anonymous, but if your app knows the users at each end of the conversation, you will know who they are. This could give you valuable insights into your user behavior.

You can update the state of your app and the shared messages as a conversation evolves. This means that your customers can collaborate on something together in a medium that they already use on a daily basis. That’s a pretty unique opportunity to add value for your customers.

Finally, the owner of the iMessages service isn't an advertising platform. There is always risk when you build on another company’s software platform, but that risk is multiplied a lot when the platform is run by a company that makes a majority revenue on ads, like Facebook or Google. Advertising business will eventually want to charge for access to their user base. There is still risk on an Apple platform, but for now the majority of their revenue comes through devices and services. That’s a unique situation.

Who are iMessage apps for?

Anyone can build an iMessage app, but not everyone will increase revenue, acquire customers, or even usage with an app.

Sellers of physical goods or services that are often discovered through social means might do well. Book sellers, fashionable clothing retailers, and trendy marketplaces may have a return on investment. If you already grow sales through social means, an iMessage app may help you grow faster.

Retailers of physical goods or services that are shared among two or more people might discover a competitive advantage through an iMessage app. Cars, travel, homes, and meals are all often shared purchases. Groups of customers want to collaborate with each other to make a purchase decision.  If your app makes that a better experience, you might get better conversation rates.

Apps with editable documents like text, photos, or invoices might get more usage with an iMessage app. If I were still working at Evernote, I would consider building a iMessage App that allows conversation participants to collaborate on a shared Skitch document or note.

What will it cost to build an iMessage App?

At their core the iMessage App UI is driven by the same UI frameworks that your native app is built on. You’ll be able to leverage a lot of the same code that your app already uses: UIViews, UIViewControllers, and so on. You’ll probably use the same networking and data model code as well.

Since the iMessage app function as an extension that is embedded in the Messages app, the app lifecycle is different, and some interactions are limited. Overall, native iOS developers should feel relieved by how similar the development process is. The learning curve isn’t very steep.

To make a high-quality app, your iMessage app will need support from your web app. There will be iOS users who don’t have your app installed, or who can’t install your app. Those users will receive a URL that your app attaches to each message. If possible, you want your web app to show something useful to the user who visits the URL.

You’ll also need support on the server side if you wish to track conversations. If your app lets users collaborate through your iMessage app, you’ll almost certainly require a back-end that manages the state of the conversation.

Expect to pay for development and design on both the native and the web side of the equation. If you already have teams in those areas and code you can reuse, you will be able to move quickly. If iOS development is new to you, you don't have an existing team, don't expect to move fast.

When is an iMessage App a distraction?

If your current app isn't working, adding an iMessage App probably won't help. The iMessage App might improve your conversion rate, but you need a decent conversion rate to begin with. Zero times two is still zero. Focus on sales and revenue before worrying about new technology.

Who knows what common use cases iMessage Apps will have? Perhaps it will be sharing or splitting gift card balances. Maybe it will just be stickers and animations. Or maybe it will be configuring and buying a family car. Investing in an iMessage app is pure speculation at this point. If you can’t afford a flop, iMessage app isn’t for you.

Challenges

The struggle of iMessage Apps will be discoverability. Savvy users will know about the apps, but most people won’t get beyond the built-in Messages app functionality without help.

Unfortunately, I’ve found no method for launching your iMessage app from an iOS app. Your iOS app seems the best platform for launching usage of your iMessage app, but you simply can’t do it. It makes me want to pull my hair out.

The best you can do is to provide some education about how to launch and use your iMessage app. Users have to still go to the Messages app, tap the apps button, and find your app. Ouch. Motivating and educating users will require work in your iOS app, on your web site, social media, etc.

If you’re early to market, your iMessage app will benefit from a smaller number of apps in the store. That advantage will evaporate like puddles in the Sahara if iMessage apps prove valuable. If your app is "sticky", you may find a large first-mover advantage. If not, you'll have to find another way to compete.

Android users are also an issue. They can’t install an iMessage app, so they’ll just receive the media part of messages built by your app. You’ll need to get creative to make the experience decent for Android users.

Folks who stick with iOS 9 or earlier also won’t be able to install your app. Adoption of iOS 10 is predicted to be strong, but who knows for sure?

iMessage apps that get new users will face churn problems. Unless your iMessage app entertains or provides a lot of value, users won’t use them a second time. Remember that you’ll be competing with stickers, animated selfies, and other addictive toys. Don’t forget to despair over the competition to the iMessages ecosystem itself: Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Google Allo, etc. Can you motivate your users enough?

Conclusions

If you have the right kind of app, and the right business model, an iMessage app might launch your business to the next level. If you aren't happy with your business as it is, beware. An iMessage app won't magically turn a losing proposition into a profitable one. Unless you have lots of resources, an iMessage app will just distract you from your core mission.


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