iPhone Apps That Make the Grade. What Sets Them Apart From All the Rest?

An interview with Alex Ahlund, an expert iPhone App critic.

I have my share of beloved iPhone Apps that I use on a regular basis and our Apps development team has created mobile Apps for some of the world’s biggest brands. Still, I have the crazy notion to download hundreds of new top selling iPhone Apps to seek out best practices among them and came to the conclusion that, until I have time to do so, why not garner insight from someone whose company is dedicated to this very cause? Meet Alex Ahlund, CEO and founder of AppVee, a wildly popular iPhone App review website. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex and I’d like to share our conversation with you here.

Here are excerpts from our interview together:

Tim: How many Apps in total would you guess that your team has reviewed?

Alex: We have reviewed nearly 1,000 applications, most with videos.  To our knowledge, this makes us the largest iPhone application review resource in terms of in-depth reviews.  The most important thing is that we act as a filter for the consumer.  Sure, there are tens of thousands of applications out there, but we’ve seen them.  Most aren’t worth your time.  So these 1,000 apps are really what is worth looking at right now for your iPhone.

Tim: How’d you get into this line of work?

Alex: I previously owned a casual video game development company.  I had been in the games industry for a number of years, but when the 3G came out, I decided this was the first device I’d actually camp out to buy.  I was first in line on opening day and fell in love with the platform ever since.  I knew from day one that this was going to be huge and the number of Apps would overwhelm the consumer soon enough.  AppVee was created shortly after. In fact, we just celebrated our one year anniversary.

Tim: In what unique ways are Apps making money?

Alex: Since the launch of Firmware 3.0, which allows microtransactions, a lot of developers are starting to integrate these into their applications. Microtransactions are “bite-sized” purchasable pieces that add functionality to a product.  This could be new levels of a game, App upgrades, or anything that improves the core functionality of the App.  These microtransactions are along the lines of impulse buys because they are low-commitment, inexpensive purchases that happen instantly through the iTunes account – removing the barriers of taking out your credit card.  Developers are becoming clever with how they create their Apps to center around microtransactions – by offering the initial App for little or no cost. I see explosive growth in this segment as it could be used to buy items for your avatar, special abilities, levels, functionality, etc.  Microtransactions for MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) is a gigantic market worldwide.

Tim: How is GPS technology being used in a creative way?

Alex: Our favorite use of GPS is the App, “Hey Where Are You?” This App allows you to request the location of another user and others can request your location. It’s all opt-in and user-verified. It’s great for tracking friends, family members and colleagues. It’s simple, clean and to the point.  As soon as you request another user’s location, they can hit a button and their GPS location is displayed on your device.

iPhone Apps

Tim: How are Apps using the new capability available with the recent release of iPhone OS 3.0?

Alex: BeeJive IM is a great example of the true potential of Firmware 3.0.  The latest upgrade offers push notification so that if someone IMs you, it will instantly pop up on your device.

iPhone Apps

Tim: I use AIM’s iPhone App which has this feature and I love it. How are AIM and BeeJive different?

Alex: AIM also has push functionality but the difference is BeeJive aggregates all IM providers (AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, etc.) into one client.

iPhone Apps

Tim: What do the best-rated Apps have in common?

Alex: Relatively inexpensive, mass market appeal and offers some sort of entertainment value.  The top selling Apps are often $0.99 pick-up and play games or toys.  In terms of what we feel are best-rated: high production values, attention to detail and true value offering Apps is what we gravitate towards.

Tim: Have you seen a correlation between how you rate Apps and their success overall?

Alex: Generally, our rating reflects the market, but not always.  A lot of times Apps are driven by their impulse feel – a very low price, a big brand name strapped onto it, etc. – in these instances, we give the real story. Whether our ratings actually influence units sold is a bit hard to tell.  We have some influence, but the iTunes App Store is king in terms of exposure – so the consumer may not have read our review.

Tim: What’s your all-time favorite App and why?

Alex: Its a toss up between Evernote and, when it comes to music, Pandora and Slacker. I use Evernote for my everyday note taking and tracking, while Pandora and Slacker are always on heavy rotation for their customized Internet streaming music.

iPhone Apps

Tim: What other Apps are must-haves?

Alex: “Read It Later” is great for storing online articles and sites to read later, even offline. “Cell Tracker” is our #1 pick for tracking our cell minutes and cost. “TweetDeck” is great as our Twitter client. A close runner up is “Tweetie.” And then “Doodle Jump” is our favorite for a quick game.

iPhone Apps

Tim: You’re now reviewing Android Apps as well. Any plans for reviews of Apps on other platforms such as BlackBerry? How do you compare Android and iPhone in general and from an Apps and potential point of view?

Alex: Yes, we own AndroidApps.com, where we review Android applications in a similar format. The Android platform has huge potential and I think, in time, it could surpass the iPhone. The problem right now is that the OS is only on a few devices.  This means the user base is still very small, especially compared to the iPhone.  The App potential is greater in Android because developers are able to take control of core functionality of the OS. You can create an App for practically anything on the device.  There is no “true” submittal process as you can download Android applications from anywhere.  This allows a lot of unique applications released without a lengthy approval process, but it also means applications are scattered and more garbage can slip through the cracks.  It has its benefit, but as of right now, iPhone is winning the app game.  In terms of other platforms, we considered Blackberry but the market just isn’t large enough for Apps to make it worthwhile.  We are always looking at new platforms though to consider.


Tim: Can you explain further what you mean by Android’s operating system allowing for core functionality control?

Alex: The iPhone SDK doesn’t allow touching the core functionality of the phone. For example, you can’t create a new Calling App to call people.  You can make an App that opens the iPhone Call App, but not directly make calls. Android is completely open – you can replace the Call App or any of the other original Apps. You have access to all the functions of the phone – very little is off-limits.  This allows for much more sophisticated applications.

Tim: Any predictions for where all of this is headed?

Alex: Its only going to get bigger. Every new iPhone release is met with huge fanfare – the base of installed users is growing rapidly and it shows little sign of slowing down.  I love that when I walk practically anywhere in the country, there’s always at least one iPhone pulled out in use.  More phones equals more Apps, which is a growing problem in terms of discovery and which AppVee.com tries to solve, but in the end, it’s better for everyone.  The future will be heavily integrated with smartphones and notably, iPhone – from purchasing to business interactions and casual meetups.

We can only imagine where our conversation will take us next year this time.

Thanks goes out to Alex for his time and the invaluable Apps review service he and his fine company, AppVee, provide. Be sure to check out their AppVee.com and AndroidApps.com websites. Don’t miss the AppVee YouTube channel where over 3 million video views have been shared by AppVee’s expert review staff. AppVee’s new iPhone App is now available – and free. Download to watch informative iPhone App video reviews right from your iPhone.

iPhone Apps

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Tim CascioTim Cascio is the author of the Mobile Marketing, Monetization and Methods blog, Co-Founder/Co-Chair of the Mobile Visionary Roundtable at the Illinois Technology Association and Sr. Digital Strategist at Bader Rutter & Associates, an award-winning integrated marketing services agency that specializes in advertising, public relations, brand asset management, relationship marketing and digital solutions. Tim is @timcascio on Twitter and can be reached in the United States at 262-938-5543.

Please reach out to me if there’s any way I can help you through my network or otherwise. Your comments below are welcome.