In the debate surrounding native versus web apps, the mobile web has been getting a bad rap lately. Not least since Zuckerberg famously threw HTML5 under a bus. But for publishers, a mobile website is more often essential, even if they have a shiny so-called “native” app too.
Brow.si, a new product from MySiteApp, is launching in open beta today as an add-on for mobile websites that promises to bring a number of features to rival the engagement of native apps. These include social sharing, a read it later button, subscriptions, and push notifications (sort of). Developers can also create additional extensions for the Brow.si platform to add further desktop web/app-like functionality and monetization options.
Once the Brow.si code has been integrated into a mobile website, the site gets the Brow.si toolbar added to it. Clicking on the toolbar reveals a row of buttons incorporating the new features, which include sharing the page to multiple social networks, a read it later option that ties into Pocket and Readability, and the ability to adjust font size. Further mini-apps are on their way, too. These will come from third-party developers that Brow.si hopes to attract, thus creating a marketplace as part of the platform.
Having all of these features — and more — nicely implemented via a simple to install add-on takes care of much of the heavy lifting for publishers. As simple as it sounds, trying to crowbar in even something as mandatory as social sharing buttons onto a mobile website can be a kludge.
Lastly, Brow.si is talking up its support for push notifications, a first for the mobile web, it claims. A more accurate description, however, might be to call it a bridge between a mobile website with the Brow.si add-on and the Brow.si Reader app, a native iOS app that site visitors are prompted to install. It’s via this native app that the push notifications arrive, even if they originate from a Brow.si-powered mobile website. Cleverly, the Brow.si Reader app is also a fully-fledged browser, meaning that it effectively puts the Brow.si toolbar across any site if viewed within it, which the company will be hoping that users habitually do.
Meanwhile, Brow.si has been selected as a WordPress VIP feature partner, meaning that WordPress VIP customers will be able to install the Brow.si plugin with a single click to add its functionality to their mobile website. It’s also available for a range of other CMS software, including Drupal, Joomla and Blogger.
Burstly‘s grand vision coming out of its TestFlight acquisition is getting full reveal today with the announcement of the company’s new corporate structure, which rebrands Burstly’s monetization tools as SkyRocket, and opens them up to all mobile developers and publishers with a new self-serve option, whereas previously they’d been accessible only to the biggest fish in the app ecosystem pond.
Burstly’s new corporate structure puts its three products under the larger brand, including TestFlight, FlightPath, and now SkyRocket. Together, these represent a full cycle of support covering the entire development process, from beta testing straight through analytics for shipped software, and on to monetization tools to help capitalize on insights gleaned from the analytics to increase conversions and revenue.
There’s cross-functionality between each of the three components as well; including the TestFlight API in a mobile app means that it’s available to plug into and use for the FlightPath mobile analytics suite, and devs can use custom user segments created in FlightPath to then build different monetization options in SkyRocket. So, that means you could, for instance, see high flight risk users like those who have consistently run into crashes or been frustrated by bugs and target them with in-app rewards, or even unlock additional content for high value users to keep them pleased and spending.
The new Busrtly suite will help the company funnel users between and across its products, but each will still remain available independently from the rest. But the sales funnel is remarkably clever, and TestFlight co-founder Ben Satterfield explained that it is indeed the hope of the company that customers will see the use value of embracing the whole cycle, versus just one or two components. Still, the flexibility is there to pick and choose.
Burstly’s triple-threat play couldn’t come at a better time; at this year’s Google I/O developer conference, Google revealed that it would be including a beta testing dashboard and provisioning portal on its site. But that is primarily aimed at release candidate testing, which does occupy a role that’s quite different from what TestFlight offers in a number of ways. Still, also having the full-featured three-part platform as an additional bonus can’t hurt its ability to stand out as distinct from Google’s own developer tools.
The new SkyRocket offers free add mediation, with as many partners as a developer needs, Satterfield says. There’s also a simple management platform that automates the process of setting up different partner accounts, and sends you a unified monthly check in exchange for a 10 percent monthly commission. “Some developers don’t have the bandwidth to manage multiple ad partners and our goal is to make this turnkey for a small percentage,” Satterfield explained regarding the pricing structure.
Game developer Rocket Jump had already proved its mettle with its hit Major Mayhem. But the company’s location in Wellington, New Zealand meant its team often felt isolated from the resources they needed to build an even bigger hit. Enter Scopely, the Los Angeles-based mobile gaming platform founded by social gaming entrepreneur Walter Driver and AdSense co-creator Eytan Elbaz.
The two companies’ partnership produced the hit Mini Golf Matchup. Launched at the beginning of March, the game reached 10 million downloads in its first month and took the number one spot on the App Store in 28 countries eight hours after its launch.
Antony Blackett, the managing director of Rocket Jump, says that working with Scopely helped his team mitigate the disadvantage of being so far away from other game developers.
“When your head is down and you are building a product, you don’t really have the time to build the relationship you need to talk with Apple and constantly show them what you are building. When you are in New Zealand, you don’t get that opportunity,” he says.
Rocket Jump is exactly the kind of company Scopely looks for, says co-founder and CEO Driver. Scopely was “born out of the recognition that there is a lot of amazing content created out there that can make lots of amazing user experiences, but conditions in mobile gaming make it hard for independent developers to compete at a higher level in terms of distribution, monetization and service side infrastructure,” Driver says.
Since Driver and Elbaz launched Scopely in 2011, the company has raised $8.5 million in seed funding in a round led by Anthem Venture Partners.
Driver first noticed Rocket Jump after seeing Major Mayhem, which was published by Adult Swim and marketed with ads on its TV network. The rail shooter game was a top ten overall app in nine countries in the App Store and in the top 25 all-time user ranked games in Google Play. The two companies began working together in February.
Scopely helped develop the Mini Golf Matchup’s multiplayer experience and monetization model. The company also marketed the game by leveraging its user base, which Driver says is in the tens of millions.
“Discoverability is a huge challenge. You can make one of the best games that people have ever seen and if you haven’t exposed it to enough people at launch, then it won’t have a life. Our advantage is having a large user base to market to and launching stuff on a consistent basis,” says Driver. “Independent game studios might launch a couple titles a year, but we know the partners that are most effective at paid user acquisition.”
Scopely’s pre-launch marketing efforts helped Mini Golf Matchup achieve over one million downloads on its first day. After that, Scopely focused on the game’s multiplayer mechanics, with incentives for players to invite more friends. They also created a monetization model with advertising partners like Starbucks and Coca Cola for free versions of Mini Golf Matchup.
The company faces competition from game publishing giants like GREE, Zynga, DeNA and Chillingo, but Driver says his Scopely’s smaller size is one of its strongest assets. In addition to Rocket Jump, Scopely’s partners currently include four other game studios: Double Fine, Big Cave, Highline and Zupcat.
“We feel like we can’t provide the kind of value we want to provide for 100 partners and we don’t want to,” says Driver. “There are quite a few publishers out there that make a volume play of as many things as they can and hope something becomes a huge phenomenon. We don’t feel that provides the best service for our partners and it’s not the most likely way to make Scopely successful.”
Though Scopely also creates its own games, Driver says that those projects are meant to help it improve its tech platform and develop new mechanics, such as a tournament feature, that it can in turn apply to its partners’ games.
“Scopely has been very hands-on. On the development of the parts, it feels like they are a lot more committed to it than other publishers are,” says Blackett. “It felt more like a co-development than a publisher-developer deal.”
Google held a session today at I/O 2013 about how to make money on Android, and in the initial few minutes it shared some updated stats around Google Play revenues and how those are progressing. Not surprisingly, the big growth is coming with in-app purchases, though Google’s recently launched subscription model is also making headway.
Google said that its in-app revenues through Play are up 700 percent since the same time last year, which is reflected in the top apps as listed by highest grossing titles in the Play rankings. Subscriptions, which just launched around 12 months ago, is also making headway, doubling inbound revenue each quarter according to Google. Some apps which use subscription as their exclusive revenue model are now cracking the top grossing list, like Pandora.
The momentum is still clearly behind in-app purchase, and as a result Google suggested that there’s good reason to consider that as a revenue model when building apps. Session host and Google Play Product Manger for Commerce and Monetization Ibrahim Elbouchikhi said that while the team likes to play a game called “Where’s Minecraft?” where they spot the world simulation sim from Notch, which continues to sit high on the charts despite being a one-time purchase paid app, the trend is overwhelmingly favoring freemium experiences.
Other key trends identified include a higher propensity to buy things on tablets vs. phones. Google framed this in light of its attempts to get developers to build tablet-optimized experience, saying that there’s a 1.7x higher purchase rate on tablets than on phones for apps. Also, updated versions of apps that take advantage of recent platform additions like the new capabilities unveiled at I/O this year have a 2.2x advantage at monetization vs. older versions, on average.
For Google, spelling that out is a way of it being able to show devs that it makes financial sense to invest the resources and efforts needed to convert apps to tablet versions, or to make them available with as many new features as possible that show off Android’s system improvements. And it does look to be having an effect on Google’s efforts to improve Android user monetization; Elbouchikhi said that average revenue per user (ARPU) among the Android install base is up 2.5x versus the same time last year.
Mobile app developers using Google’s AdMob ad network will start seeing a new version that has been rebuilt “in a ground-up sort of way,” according to Jonathan Alferness, director of product management for mobile ads.
The update, which starts rolling out today, also brings AdMob more in line with Google’s other ad platforms. That’s something the company has been working on since it acquired AdMob in 2010, for example by integrating AdMob with AdWords, but Alferness said today is the “culmination” of all that work, and that the new AdMob can be more easily extended with new features, setting the stage for future improvements.
More concretely, Google says there are a number of new features in the current update, including a version of the AdWords Conversion Optimizer, which allows developers to identify the cost-per-acquisition that they’re aiming for. It then automatically runs the ad types that are best-suited to drive the most app installations on that budget. There are also new filters allowing developers to block specific topics or specific ads for showing up in their apps. There’s a new setup for AdMob Mediation for showing ads from multiple networks. And AdMob now supports payment in local currencies.
There’s a new interface, too — Google didn’t show it to me, but Alferness said it fits much better with Google’s other ad platforms. At the same time it will have “a lot of the same tools, a lot of the same functionality,” so developers used to the old system won’t feel like “a fish out of water.”
“We’re continuing to see changes in the actual app monetization industry,” Alferness added. “The platform enables us to grow and pivot and change. You can look at the platform and start to imagine missing pieces — one of the areas where we know that we have more work to do is tracking and analytics.”
However, as AdMob changes, Alferness says the central vision remains the same: “We’d love to be a one-stop place for app developers to come to deal with various Google technologies.” And if mobile apps move to new business models, he wants AdMob to move with them.
You can read more about the update here.