TiPb Interview: Michael Alvarez of Avantar on Location Based Search, Paid vs. Free Apps, and More!
Michael Alvarez is the CEO of Avantar, the company behind iPhone applications like One Tap Movies, Showtimes, Calculator AXL, Yellow Pages, AirYell, and Munch. As part of TiPb's ongoing interview series and our look at the iPhone App Store, Michael was good enough to discuss Avantar's views on Apple's new mobile platform, where it is, and where it's going.
TiPb: Avantar has a wide range of apps on the market. Most appear to focus on quickly acquiring and succinctly displaying useful information like movie times, business listings, and restaurant options. What made Avantar choose these particular apps for your initial iPhone offerings?
Michael Alvarez: You are right. Our applications are meant to be locally relevant, where we use the iPhone's GPS capabilities to locate the user and then provide relevant information in his or her surrounding area. This is the ultimate stop gap where the brick and mortar business world meets the most relevant, and targeted, digital advertising solution. And, no one is doing it better than we are on the iPhone right now.
What made us choose these particular apps is a bit of a long story. It begins with the President of Avantar's passion for everything Apple. In his youth, Mr. Adrian Ochoa's kicked off his successful career with his purchase of Apple's first computer, which eventually led him to grow a very successful advertising agency and movie production studio.
More recently, he was also one of the first to get the first generation iPhone and it allowed him to envision what the future holds for a mobile Internet and the effect it will have on the advertising industry. Research and data support his conclusions of hyper-growth market opportunity in this sector. Recently, research firm Informa Telecoms & Media stated that "the mobile ad market is expected to grow to $12 billion by 2013, up from an estimated $1.72 billion for 2008." If you think about it, it just makes sense. Not everyone has a computer, but cell phones are more readily available to the masses. The population of this earth is 6.6 Billion and 3.3 Billion mobile handsets have already been sold.
When Mr. Ochoa and I learned about the plans to launch the App Store, we were in the process of ramping up our interactive yellow pages business and saw the marriage between mobile, Internet, & GPS as the perfect fit for what we had in mind. A few of our developers downloaded the SKD and begun programming our apps several months before the launch of the App Store. We now have nearly 1 Million downloads, and the rest is history yet to be discovered.
Given the diversity in Avantar's lineup, when designing user interfaces how do you weigh consistent branding/unified look-and-feel against the possibly very different requirements of each individual app?
Getting the right balance is the formula for success. It really comes down to experience, and being that the iPhone Apps are so new we learn new things through trial and error every day that help us to create that balance. We are also very thankful for excellent users who've downloaded our apps and provide us with their feedback all the time. We even had one user from Serbia who offered to redesign one of our apps and sent us all the files for free. How amazing is that?
When bringing your content and services to the iPhone, how much did you have to rethink existing presentation and interaction paradigms? Is there anything you learned from developing for the iPhone that would inform, or be carried back to, development for other platforms?
The iPhone was new for us so continue to learn as we go along. We just had to adapt our web design/usability experience and transform it into a smaller window view. Our collective experience in usability and design also help a great deal.
With 3G speed and GPS location, we're starting to see a shift in applications not just from "static" to "dynamic" but from "when" to "where". Instead of an alarm telling me it's 3pm, I can get an alarm telling me I'm passing the grocery store and I need milk. How fundamental will this change be for end-users?
Grand! Think about how much progress our two apps have made to simplify people's life:
1) Yellow Pages: No more phone book, no more searching two or three websites, no more reading through a list find what you want that's closest to you, and now you have all the information you need with a few taps of your finger including phone number, address, and driving directions.
2) Showtimes: No more calling an outdated recording for each theater, no more hunting around for information through two or three different websites, no more creating traffic jams in front of the theater to try and read all the posters and showtimes, and no more need for the newspaper. All of the necessary information shows instantly with a single tap of the finger.
Which, if any, of your iPhone apps (or feature(s) of your apps) have especially delighted you? Anything turn out even better than you first thought, or catch on with your customers more than you anticipated?
Showtimes has been as high as the #7 most favorite app, and Yellow Pages has also been a very popular app. Recently Apple published a report stating that the App Store reached it's 100 Millionth download, which means we currently receive nearly 1% of all their downloads.
Most developers are still experimenting with the business model behind the App Store. You offer both free and paid applications. Does that give you the best of both current worlds? Is there anything Apple could tweak or surface to make things even better for you and your customers?
Our strategy behind offering both paid and free apps was more experimental since no one really knew what to expect when the doors opened. It's been a great learning experience for us.
One thing I would ask Apple would be to add our own affiliate tracking links on the confirmation pages for each confirmed download. This would allow us to optimize advertising campaigns to know which source produces how many downloads, and thus increasing downloads and sales for both of Apple and us the developers.