What to Do with Great Ideas for mHealth Apps

Anne Giles Clelland, president of Handshake Media, Incorporated, presented “The Entrepreneurial Clinician: What Clinicians with Great Ideas for Health Care Mobile Apps Need to Know” during the mHealth Summit on December 5, 2012.

Her presentation was part of the session What Goes into Making an Extraordinary mHealth App?.  It outlined best practices in mobile entrepreneurship, and included a case study about Cognichoice(TM), the behavioral health software platform from Handshake Media. 

Anne narrates a version of her slide presentation in the YouTube video, The Entrepreneurial Clinician – mHealth Summit 2012

“The Entrepreneurial Clinician” slide presentation is available here as a .pdf.

Of possible further interest:

Challenges Facing a Mobile Health App

From Anne Giles Clelland:

As I prepare to attend and present at the mHealth Summit, these numbers and statements make me thoughtful. Challenges and opportunities abound for mobile health apps.

  • 13,000 health-related iPhone apps were available for consumer use by the summer of 2012. (Source: Oracle citing MobiHealthNews, May 2012)
  • Most of the 95 percent of the mobile health apps offered directly to consumers have not been tested. (Source: Clinical Advisor citing Julie Kientz, PhD, director of the Computing for Healthy Living and Learning Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, November 2012)
  • ‘Virtually any app that claims it will cure someone of a disease, condition or mental health condition is bogus,’ says John Grohol, an expert in online health technology, pointing out that the vast majority of apps have not been scientifically tested. ‘Developers are just preying on people’s vulnerabilities.'” (Source: Washington Post, November 2012)
  • “At $.99 per download, we would need over 100,000 paid downloads to break even on our labor…” (Source: Handshake 2.0, How Much Does a Mobile App Cost? A Case Study, June 2012)
  • Only 10% of smartphone owners have downloaded health apps. (Source: Mashable citing Pew, July 2012)

The challenge for a mobile health app is meeting the overlapping, sometimes conflicting, needs of stakeholders:

  • users / patients who long for the app to help them, to not reveal their private information, and to be affordable – the app, the mobile device, and the connectivity,
  • clinicians who need the app to be evidence-based and research-proven in order to have confidence in the app to use it with patients or prescribe it to them,
  • mobile app development companies – or mobile development divisions within health care companies or organizations – that need development costs covered, the app to be used by users, and the project itself to have a sound business model, whether by generating profit or cutting costs,
  • all of us need the infrastructure to make mobile health access and reach possible locally, nationally and globally.

These challenges, of course, also represent opportunities in the mobile health industry.  I look forward to learning about both at the mHealth Summit whose mission is “Connecting the Mobile Health Ecosystem.” With an anticipated 400+ speakers and 4500+ attendees from 50+ countries, that mission is accomplished.  Congratulations to the organizers of the mHealth Summit and I will be delighted and honored to be among the 4500+!

How Much Does a Mobile App Cost? Less If You Have Mockups


so much depends
a red wheel
William Carlos Williams

Lots of people have great ideas they want developed into mobile apps.  Queries about our custom mobile application development services almost always include a question about cost.  When asked to name a price, a software developer answers, "It depends." It is the correct answer.  However, it's a frustrating Q & A for both parties. 

What does cost depend upon?

We've had to learn the answer ourselves.  I first asked and answered the question, How much does a mobile app cost?, in November of 2010, three months after the launch of our first mobile app, a directory with contact information connecting the people and companies featured on Handshake 2.0.  I answered the question again a year and a half later in How Much Does a Mobile App Cost? A Case Study and shared the story of the design and development of our mobile app, Thought Full(R).

Today, instead of replying to queries, "It depends," I send the link to our case study about Thought Full and ask if the client has mockups.

The way to help get a specific, accurate quote from a mobile app developer is to figure out exactly how you want the app to work for the user, screen by screen, and create a model of the app with mockups – renderings of the idea in images – to show to the developer.

For example, here's a screenshot of the folder that contains early mockups of Thought Full, designed by Kelsey Sarles.

Mobile app mockups decrease development time

The greatest factor determining how much a mobile app costs is how quickly and easily the developer can start coding.  The more time it takes for a project manager or a developer to figure out what you want and what you want for the user to do with the app, the more the app will cost.  The time you spend thinking about your app and making mockups to show how your great idea for a mobile app will really work, the less your app will cost and the sooner your users will have it in their hands. 

. . . . .

First Bank & Trust CompaySponsored by First Bank & Trust Company, one of the top community banks in the United States, with office locations in southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee, and the New River and Shenandoah Valleys of Virginia. You're invited to read more from First Bank & Trust Company on Handshake 2.0.

First Bank & Trust Company is a client of Handshake Media, Incorporated, the parent company of Handshake 2.0.

There’s an App for That

"There's An App for That" is by Michael Miller.  "There's an App for That" first appeared in Michael Miller's technology column for  Valley Business FRONT in the June, 2012 issue.  Grateful thanks to Valley Business FRONT and Michael Miller for permission to publish the column on Handshake 2.0.

The first email was transmitted over the an experimental computer communications network in 1971.  Ten years later the “internet” consisted of about 200 host computers, half of which belonged the military.  In 1991, after hearing a report on the successes of the original ARPANET (as it was called then), Senator Al Gore authored the High Performance Communications Act, effectively establishing funding for the commercialization of the internet as we know it today.  (Yes, he sort of did create the internet…)

There are a LOT of apps for that...Whole economic empires have been built and destroyed since those early days, all based on the idea of breaking messages up into small pieces, scattering them out over a hundred electronic pathways and then putting them back together in order.  While many can easily remember a time before information and instantaneous communication were so ubiquitous, it’s getting harder to remember how we functioned back then. 

One example of how much the internet has changed the world is that the publishers of the Encyclopedia Britannica recently announced they would cease publication of the paper version of their trustworthy reference.  They have been replaced by the Google Search Engine and Wikipedia.  Sigh.

But wait, there’s more.

As commonplace as the home computer has become, in the middle of 2010 the sales of smart phones surpassed the sales of PCs at about the same time the tablet platform was introduced.  By the end of 2011 smart phones and tablets made up 60% of computer sales.

And if you own a smart phone or tablet, you can guess what’s coming next.  By the end of 2011 the amount of time Americans spent using mobile applications (apps) to access the internet exceeded the amount of time they used web browsers by a ratio of about 60/40.  This was especially true when we were shopping online.  In fact, tablets have become predominant shopping platforms to the extent that the relatively recently coined term “e-commerce” has been replaced by the newer “t-commerce”.  Heaven help the online store whose display is not scaled for a tablet.

The original internet, which was once handcuffed to land lines and slow transmission speeds, has matured along with cell phone technology so that it is no longer a thing to itself, but merely the road by which we travel.  It’s now just a channel used to deliver product (you and me) to the customer (advertisers). 

And increasingly, there’s an app for that.

Photo by Michael Miller.  More photos by Michael Miller are on Flickr.

Michael Miller is a technologist and senior licensing manager for Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, the technology transfer organization for Virginia Tech.  He provides business consulting and mentoring for technology startups through Kire Technology, and media assistance through Virginia Media Services.

How Much Does a Mobile App Cost? A Case Study

From Anne Giles Clelland:

We first asked and answered the question, How much does a mobile app cost?, in November of 2010, three months after the launch of our first mobile app, a directory with contact information for all the people and companies featured on Handshake 2.0.

Based on our research and experience at the time, I wrote, “A mobile application that took 500 hours to develop at $100 per hour would cost $50,000.”

We would like to update our post with some background, a case study of one, and answers from others to the question.

The Context

I sketched the basics of our first app in 2010 with a black marker on a whiteboard and sent photographs of the whiteboards to our developer, Alex Edelman.  He translated my stick figures and flow charts into code and created a user interface with simple graphics.  At the time, I thought “develop” just meant “give it to Alex” i.e. give an idea to a mobile app developer and he/she will make it happen.

Over the next two years, we became more ambitious with our mobile apps, developing new versions of our directory app, a puzzle, a social network.  Drawing conclusions about the mobile application development business model from that almost two-year history, I wrote:

“Mobile app development” is mobile software application development, i.e. it requires the writing of lines of code, line after line after line, by a programmer with the hard-won know-how to write those lines. And that’s only part of the process of taking an idea to Store or Market. Every step, from design (our mobile app design infographic shows even that step has steps), to coding, to testing, to uploading for distribution, takes human labor and human time. Kent Nguyen writes, “Dear business people, an iOS app actually takes a lot of work!” And that work costs. Whether a company has a paying client or start-up founders are paying with hope, somebody’s paying.

The Case Study

SCV-on-Thought-FullA core team of 3 of us, with additional or occasional help from half a dozen generous developers and marketers, bootstrapped the design, development and marketing of one of our most recent mobile application releases, Thought Full(TM). All of us worked on the app part-time.  From our first meeting to release took 7 months.  We worked for free, but if someone had contracted with our company, Handshake Media, Incorporated, to develop Thought Full, we estimated our total billable hours at 1000.  At $100 per hour, that’s a $100,000 app.

At $.99 per download, we would need over 100,000 paid downloads to break even on our labor on Thought Full.  Per Apple’s agreement with developers, we cannot reveal our numbers.  But you can see in the iTunes App Store that Thought Full has one customer review.  So you’re welcome to draw your own conclusions about profitability.

And those 1000 hours are just for the iOS version.  We have yet to release an Android version.

How much does a mobile app cost?  Here are other answers, most recent listed first.

Emily Wampler contributed to the research for this post.

For further reading:

On the Mobile App Development Business Model
On Inventing Mobile Apps
Mobile App Design Infographic
Getting Started in the Business of Mobile App Development
How Much Does a Mobile App Cost? (2010)

What Will Be the Mobile App Development Business Model?

"As of this writing, there's no contest: ship mobile apps if you can afford it."
– Jakob Nielsen, Mobile Sites vs. Apps: The Coming Strategy Shift, February 13, 2012

"If you can afford it." Ay, there's the rub. Jakob Nielsen is the master of usability.  When it comes to the mobile app development business, who will be the master of profitabilty?

What will be the mobile app business model?At Handshake Media, we're attempting to be.  We have a mobile division and a portfolio of mobile apps developed over two years.  Two of our apps are products offered directly for sale to consumers. One is the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) version of a larger decision-support software platform we're developing.  Our other apps are versions of the Handshake App for our corporate clients.

We developed our first mobile app in-house at our own expense in 2010. Curious about the market value of our efforts, I did research in November, 2010, asking How Much Does a Mobile App Cost?  Based on that research, I concluded, "A mobile application that took 500 hours to develop at $100 per hour would cost $50,000." Deducting our learning curve time, that's a good estimate of what we would have billed a client for that first app.

"Mobile app development" is mobile software application development, i.e. it requires the writing of lines of code, line after line after line, by a programmer with the hard-won know-how to write those lines.  And that's only part of the process of taking an idea to Store or Market.  Every step, from design (our mobile app design infographic shows even that step has steps), to coding, to testing, to uploading for distribution takes human labor and human time.  Kent Nguyen writes, "Dear business people, an iOS app actually takes a lot of work!"  And that work costs.  Whether a company has a paying client or start-up founders are paying with hope, somebody's paying.

It's not consumers.  They want their apps for free.

Yet we keep hearing statements like these from a ReadWriteMobile post: "The fact of the matter is that there will be money to be made by some smart entrepreneurs looking to make some great apps in the near future. Developers, it is time to cast your net. Working across both iOS and Android, there is a decent living to be made writing mobile applications."

And we read reports like this like this one from Flurry in January of 2012, that people are spending more time with mobile apps. 

But CNN cites Flurry's report and points out that the data has other meanings:  "What's driving the growth in time spent in mobile apps? According to Flurry, consumers are using their apps more frequently. That is, the number of daily sessions is growing, although the duration of those sessions is not."

And USA Today reports on a Pew Research Center survey:  "Of smartphone owners, 68% open only five or fewer apps at least once a week…Seventeen percent don't use any apps. About 42% of all U.S. adults have phones with apps, Pew estimates…[Anindya Datta, founder of Mobilewalla, estimates] 80% to 90% of apps are eventually deleted."

So, let me see if I've got the current mobile app development business model:  Create complex products with high labor costs that are time-intensive to build – of which hundreds of thousands of similar products already exist – for a market that is growing but expects the products for free.  If kept at all, the product may be used often, but briefly.  However, that market, upon acquiring the free product, abandons it 80% to 90% of the time. 

How do businesses make money?  They create products that enough of the market needs and wants - and is willing to pay for – to generate revenue and profit to fund business operations and growth.

How do mobile app development companies make money?  If the consumer market won't pay for apps, but wants them, are businesses and organizations then the market?  Businesses would pay mobile app development companies to make apps for them which the businesses, in turn, would offer for free to their customers or potential customers, hoping that, like a free, logo-imprinted t-shirt, the mobile app will generate brand recognition and loyalty and a later product or service purchase?

Jakob Nielsen advises, "Ship mobile apps if you can afford it."  How many mobile tchotchkes can a business afford?  What's the ROI of mobile swag? Will mobile apps as the equivalent of logo-imprinted promotional items result in the mastery of profitability? 

I don't have the answers, but I'm in the business of finding out.

Mobile Knickknacks for Utilitarian Marketing

From Jim Ellison:

Some mobile apps are written to make money directly. Think iTunes. Amazon. eBay.

Mobile apps for branding may justify development costsBut I’ve not found many other companies whose apps have become virtual licenses to print money. Rather than direct sales, mobile apps built to market or brand products and services appear to stand the best chance of justifying their development costs.

In Ireland, Red Oak, a tax refund service, built an app through which people can take photos of medical expenses, deductible in that country, and store the data on Red Oak’s servers. Come tax time, Red Oak could be a familiar name to the handheld’s owner. Moreover, Red Oak uses that info as leads to generate new business.

Oakley, the maker of stylish sunglasses, uses weather and waves to attract the surfing crowd. The Oakley app tells them current surf conditions, including surf height, swell direction, tides and a two-day forecast. REI similarly keeps its name in front of skiers with its ski and snow report.

Drug store photo apps bring in business directly. But the apps are also a response to changing consumer behavior while keeping the brand current. Why should I get in the car and go to the nearest Walgreensor CVS if I can upload my snaps via app and quickly get them back in the mail? Plus, I’ll remember the drug store’s name next time I need to fill a prescription.

Captive audiences will be eager to buy via their handhelds. Pizza chains were ready to deliver during the Super Bowl and though numbers aren’t in yet from the big dough boys, records are expected to be set.

These mobile knickknacks are free. No surprise, as the object is to distribute them as far and wide as possible. Even then, the big boys need ads in the apps to help pay back development costs.

What’s crucial: These apps are a form of utilitarian marketing. They’re not just decorative. They actually do something for the user. The best do it quicker and better than a website. They can even make life a little easier. Even if the task is ordering pizza or hitting the surf.

Jim Ellison is a Roanoke, Virginia-based freelance writer and web developer.  For more from Jim Ellison, read We Need an App.

We Need an App

When I met Jim Ellison at a Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council meeting and learned of his experience, I asked, "Will you think and write about mobile apps for Handshake 2.0?" I'm delighted to share Jim's musings on mobile apps.

Is a mobile app worth the money?From Jim Ellison:

I'd like to have had a ten spot each time I heard someone in an office say, "We need an app."

These people knew a mobile strategy was needed. But how could an app make them money?  Was it worth the time, trouble and expense? 

Consideration of these tactics could have helped them form a mobile strategy:

No question why web portals like Yahoo and MSN always run top 10 lists. People love lists. People understand lists and use them. List apps are relatively easy to develop and can point potential customers in the right direction.

A few apps sell directly or help turn a potential customer into a buyer.

Suppose nobody in the office is helping a daughter sell her Girl Scout Cookies this year? I can use Kellogg's Little Brownie Bakers app to search for sellers in my neighborhood, just in time for the annual mid-winter sale on the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting.

If I wanted to make it convenient for prospects to reach me interactively, I’d  consider a directory app of my sales force with names, photos and contact information.  Coldwell Banker Townside in Blacksburg, Virginia is one of many Realtors who list houses and the agents to move them. Research firm Gartner reports location-based services like these will be “one of the most disruptive in the next few years…because of its perceived high user value and its influence on user loyalty.”

Apps can also work at the point of sale.  I’m able to trace the purity and potency of Gaia’s herbs with their  app, Meet Your Herbs. I type in the ID number on the back of a package to learn an herb’s source, harvest field, lab test details and date of manufacture – far more info than could ever fit on the package: plenty to try to convince me of the herb’s provenance.

Of course, the cost of developing an app varies widely.  Some can be built out of an existing web page. Others can run into the many thousands of dollars.  (Here's Handshake 2.0's post on the costs of mobile app development.)  It’s up to me to weigh that against how much product I think it will move. 

Next time I hear someone say "We need an app," I'll advise him to consider the valuable opportunities that could drift away - even if he's scared off by the price of mobile development. He might save $20,000 by not spending it. He might also forgo the chance to earn twenty grand over and above his investment.

Jim Ellison is a Roanoke, Virginia-based freelance writer and web developer.

Coldwell Banker Townside, REALTORS(R) is a client of Handshake Media, Incorporated, the parent company of Handshake 2.0.

The Mobile Frontier

Sponsored by First Bank & Trust Company

From Wil Collins:

Business and physics do not, on the surface, appear to have the common underlying principles needed to create a substantial relationship. However, after reading this thought-provoking post by Richard Hammer, I was left questioning that very assumption.

Mobile Gold RushThe path of least resistance is a physics term used to describe a channel through which a desired outcome can be attained with the least amount of opposition. People and businesses are continuously searching for guidance to find the path of least resistance towards their success.

Some see the birth of a new industry as the opening of their path of least resistance – they are allured by the illusion of immediate success and wealth. The first few to flock to a newborn industry can find it remarkably easy to strike it rich with little or no opposition. However, many then enter the market, leaving newcomers scrambling for alternative techniques to mine the remaining riches.

Currently, the mobile sector is becoming a prominent technology and, therefore, appears to hold endless business possibilities. During this week of the anniversary of the 1848 California Gold Rush, it's apt to point out that as a result of the current gold rush for Silicon Valley, there are myriad app developers trying their luck out to become the next millionaire. Unfortunately, most prospectors do not strike it rich with sheer luck, so other, more refined methods must be devised for those seeking the same success.

The influx of entrepreneurs caused by a so-called Gold Rush to a single market creates vast disparity between the supply and demand in that market. On the other hand, it also spurs innovative thinking by those on the cutting edge of that industry. These effects on the software industry have created an environment where every developer has the chance to strike gold with their next app.

Wil Collins is a computer science major at Virginia Tech and an intern with Handshake Media, Incorporated. You're invited to read more from Wil Collins on Handshake 2.0.

First Bank & Trust CompayThis post is sponsored by First Bank & Trust Company, one of the top community banks in the United States, with office locations in southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee, and the New River and Shenandoah Valleys of Virginia. You're invited to read more from First Bank & Trust Company on Handshake 2.0.

First Bank & Trust Company is a client of Handshake Media, Incorporated, the parent company of Handshake 2.0.


Getting Your Apps in Gear

From Robert Geller:

How does one get attention for a mobile application and boost the odds of its success in the marketplace? 

You need to first get it listed in one or more app stores and start to drive impressive download and usage stats.  These show that an app has “legs” and justify a shot at media recognition and a hard launch.  From there, it is a relatively shorter trip to further adoption and achieving the Holy Grail of getting your app bundled with popular devices.

Get "your apps in gear" with PR tips from Bob GellerIt helps to develop apps for the most widely used platforms and their respective app stores.  For many developers, there is only one that really counts: Apple’s.  People downloaded almost twice as many apps from the Apple iOS store last year than from the Android Market, according to market research firm Ovum (although their analysts predict that Android will soon catch up and surpass Apple).

Once your app has been approved and is available in one or more app stores, there are a variety of tactics you can use to drive downloads and usage.

App Store Optimization (ASO)
It helps to find ways to maximize downloads over short periods of time.  You need to leverage SEO, and consider advertising if budget allows, as outlined on the App Marketing Tips blogOn MobileDevHQ, Ian Seffernan explains ASO in more detail, including the importance of adding hooks to your app that make it easier for users to share it.

Brute Force Techniques
I am including these here with the caveat that some people – me included – consider these to be gaming the system – but there are some services that make it possible to pay for each download (e.g. Mechanical Turk).

Soft Launch / Early Media Coverage
As I said above, it is easier to get the media to take note of your app after it has already started to gain app store traction; however there are some steps you can take early on to get coverage.  For example, getting your app listed on the app beta testing service TestFlight can drive early interest from reviewers.

I hope these ideas help you "get your apps in gear"!

Robert Geller is President of Fusion Public Relations. He writes the blog Flack's Revenge and is @rgeller on Twitter.

Related posts:
Testing iOS Apps with TestFlight
Using Amazon Mechanical Turk for Blog Post Research

For further reading:Thought Full - an app to remember
Mobile App Design Infographic
What to Do with a Great Idea for a Mobile App
Getting Started in the Business of Mobile App Development
How Much Does a Mobile App Cost?