APPO: Where do you see the most innovation in the app sector?
RM: I think it’s amazing how so many apps are sprouting up that take advantage of the latest technology to solve a problem in a new way. We’re also seeing innovation on the user interface side – companies are striving to create even more intuitive and attractive user interfaces than they have in the past. Creating apps that truly solve a problem for people is another place we’re seeing innovation in the space. For example, Manilla solves the problem of being able to easily keep track of all your accounts on-the-go. Rather than needing to use multiple apps to manage your various accounts, you can simply view everything through the one interface, under one password. Another great example is Flipboard – it solves the problem of needing to go to multiple sites to get your news by letting you access all the sites that interest you in one app.
APPO: How do you harness that innovation in your own titles?
RM: We’re always exploring ways to integrate new technology into the Manilla app in order to make life easier for our users. We recently launched an update to the Android app that guides people through the process of adding accounts, making it even easier and more intuitive to get organized through Manilla. Manilla lets users manage all of their accounts, from credit card bills to magazine subscriptions, all in one place, so it’s crucial that adding an account is an easy process. Along these lines, we also updated our sign-in pages, navigation bar and headers to improve the user interface.
APPO: In such a crowded space, explain how you generate awareness and drive downloads to your applications.
RM: The Manilla Android app is very well liked by users, but not many people were writing reviews. So we added a prompt that encourages customers to rate the app in Google Play after they’ve used it a few times. This has increased our number of reviews considerably – we now have nearly 1,400 reviews and an average of 4.5 stars. In addition to this word-of-mouth promotion through the Google Play reviews, we also work closely with our marketing team to highlight our mobile apps through articles in consumer and technology sites.
APPO: What are the biggest technical constraints that exist today in the app sector?
RM: Battery life is a huge deal to mobile users, so making sure not to drain a user’s battery is one of our number one concerns. We’re also conscious of the importance of developing apps that respect the mobile network connection and amount of bandwidth being consumed. As an Android developer, supporting the fragmentation of the Android market is also a challenge. This challenge goes beyond the variety of physical devices in the market, as there is also huge fragmentation in what version of Android people are using. Ideally, we’d use all of the latest APIs, but for this to be successful, we need the majority of our users to have upgraded. We have addressed this problem by carefully watching what version of Android people are running, so that as soon as the majority of Manilla users are on a certain version, we use those features. We have also added some logic to check which version a particular device is running, and use the correct APIs for that version.
APPO: How do you (or will you) make money from your application?
RM: The Manilla app is an extension of Manilla’s web product, which makes money by helping companies go paperless. The Android app, as well as the web client and iOS app, is completely free to users.
APPO: What advice do you have to those working on their first applications?
RM: Whatever platform you are working on, get that type of device and use it as much as you can. Try to get a real feel for what you like about it and also the limitations. Spend as much time as possible checking out other apps and taking note of what you like about them, as well as what could be improved. This will help you build a great product, and be very aware of the unique features of a particular platform. In the case of Android, since the market is so fragmented, it’s important to get ahold of as many different devices as possible, and see what the experience is like on all of those devices.
APPO: Where do you see the app sector one year from now? Five years from now?
RM: I see the mobile space taking off in ways that we might not be able to imagine at the moment. At Manilla, the growth of users on the mobile apps is increasing phenomenally. In one year, I think we will continue to see a huge growth away from personal computers towards mobile devices, and in five years, I see mobile devices being most people’s primary computer.