Apps: Five unique branded mobile apps

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, it’s clear that smartphones are kind of a big deal. Today there are close to 2.6 billion subscriptions globally, and this number stands to grow rapidly as less developed markets turn into substantial electronic consumers.

With new applications and games hitting app stores daily, it’s no surprise that people are spending more and more time with their eyes glued to the glass screens of these compact, universal media agents. Phones have single handedly changed the way that people live, becoming pivotal for people to communicate, go online, and access and share information.

The ubiquitous nature of the smartphone has opened the floodgates of opportunity, creating new markets in the process and forcing pre-existing ones to modernize or be strangled at the hands of innovation. One market in particular that has been significantly impacted by the mobile revolution is the advertising and marketing industry.

The rise of the Internet era has led to a rapid decrease in the effectiveness of traditional forms of advertising media, and have forced the hand of the industry to take the plunge into to more digital forms. Marketing companies have to continuously find new and improved ways of reaching their targets in a world where TV and print simply will not do. One unique strategy that companies have used to connect with the masses and promote brand awareness is branded Apps. Smartphone users spend close to 90% of their time on devices using apps so they offer an incredible opportunity to connect with consumers.

Recently here at Setfive we have taken a look at building some brandable tools for mobile, and looked for the most original branded apps out there for some inspiration. Here are some of the most interesting apps that we found during our quest for inspiration.

Pop Secret Perfect Pop App

This app uses your phones speakers to listen to the pops coming from the bag of popcorn in your microwave, and tells you the precise moment when your bag of popcorn is a peak popped-ness.

Charmin SitOrSquat App

This app uses a map to display available public restrooms in your area and lets you know how clean they are (hence the name SitOrSquat). Additionally this app utilizes crowd sourcing, letting users to rate and write reviews about the public bathrooms that they use.

The Snow Report by North Face

So what has the North face been up to besides making incredibly epic TV commercials? That’s easy, they’ve been building a location based mobile app that helps users check the condition on powder before they head to the slopes. Check the status of runs around you or the 10 top slopes globally.

Tide Stain Brain

When stains happen, StainBrain gives you simple solutions on the spot. Blot or soak? Cold water or hot? Get the scoop on how to rid yourself of more than 85 different stains with on-the-go tips and easy, step-by-step washing instructions from the laundry pros at Tide.

Bosch Unit Converter: Professional converter for over 50 units

The Bosch Professional Unit Converter turns a smartphone into a universal unit converter. The ideal app for quick conversions on the building site or in the workshop. Completely free of charge and ads.

Microsoft & Nokia: Haters Gonna Hate

On the East Coast, most of us woke up from a long weekend to news that Microsoft had purchased Nokia’s mobile hardware manufacturing business. The news didn’t exactly come as a shock, given that the companies had announced a particularly Microsoft friendly operating agreement where Nokia Lumina phones would ship with Windows. What did surprise me was the general skepticism and outright negativity surrounding the deal. From Fred Wilson to the several threads on Hacker News, it seemed like everyone was happy to discount this deal as DOA and go back to arguing about Android and iOS. Personally, I wouldn’t immediately count a combined Microsoft & Nokia team out of the mobile fight for a couple of key reasons.

Consumers are fickle and upgrade cycles are short

This point was brought up on Hacker News and I think it’s one of the key points surrounding this discussion. Consumer attitudes and loyalty surrounding consumer electronics have historically been fairly transient. Six years ago, the iPhone was just hitting store shelves and every teenager was clicking away on a Blackberry. Contrast that with today, where RIM is largely an afterthought and Apple is clearly the dominant player. Discounting that a combined Microsoft/Nokia team could make significant inroads

Along with volatile loyalties, consumer electronics, especially mobile phones have a short upgrade cycle. Compared to desktops or laptops, most American consumers predictable replace their cell phones every 2 years because of free carrier upgrades. Because of this, the mobile phone ecosystem has the potential to change and evolve at a much faster pace than it’s predecessors. This tight upgrade cycle benefits Microsoft/Nokia since it gives them the opportunity to iterate and improve devices much faster than say in the console market where Microsoft has previously used this strategy.

Developers care about install base but it isn’t the only thing

Several comments around the web today pointed to the staggering number of iOS and Android devices already in the wild and made the contention that it doesn’t even make sense for Microsoft to compete. Their primary contention was that since users select a mobile OS based on available apps and developers will only build apps for the biggest platforms there’s a vicious cycle of the less popular platforms not garnering developer attention or user adoption.

The absolute number of available devices is obviously important to developers but it isn’t the only thing they care about. Resource constrained startups are still often building iOS first or iOS only and even larger companies also sometimes focus primarily on their iOS builds. Reasons for this range from everything from the lack of device fragmentation to the engagement and willingness to spend of iOS users.

A combined Microsoft/Nokia should be able to control device fragmentation and also have the software engineering chops to create a best in class toolchain. Visual Studio is generally regarded as a fantastic IDE and if Microsoft can parlay it into creating a true “mobile first” IDE I think they’ll be able to attract developer talent. Another interesting angle is what approach Microsoft takes with HTML5/JS, especially “crossbuild” tools like PhoneGap and Titanium. Playing from third place would give the combined Microsoft/Nokia ample reason to support these crossbuild tools to get more apps onto Windows.

The Living Room and Facebook

It’s becoming clear that the “battle” for consumer living room’s is far from over. With the proliferation of InternetTV devices like the Roku and AppleTV to the announcement of next generation consoles, it’s clear that companies are still very interested in “owning” the living room. The lay of the land is also constantly changing as companies move throughout the value chain. So where does that leave Microsoft? Well its not clear. There’s clearly a lot of XBoxes in living rooms and they’re years away from having any unified mobile + living room experience but that could ultimately serve as a key differentiator and bargaining chip with content owners.

Facebook has always wanted deeper integration on mobile and their Android Home app only solidifies that fact. Microsoft and Facebook also share close ties, Microsoft was a large, pre-IPO investor and Bing is currently powering Facebook’s web search. Given this close relationship, it seems obvious that the two companies would work to tightly integrate Facebook into a phone that was developed in-house. The results could obviously go either way, but there’s no denying that social has helped drive mobile adoption in the past.

However, despite their combined potential the two companies are still facing frighteningly large challenges. With Balmer’s announced departure, the biggest one is certainly who is qualified and willing to lead such a large, multifaceted, corporation down a path that will certainly involve uncomfortable if not downright impossible choices. In any case, consumers and developers shouldn’t count Microsoft out just yet, if nothing else to prevent a Goolge/Apple duopoly in the mobile space.