Since the launch of the iPad — partially due to its lack of Flash — and all the way through to this week’s Google I/O conference, there’s been a buzz about mobile web apps (apps built for your mobile browser, not native apps). The elephant in the room hampering adoption of mobile HTML5 by developers is that the path to monetizing mobile web apps is far murkier than the path to monetizing native apps.
At AppStoreHQ, we’re working on this problem by providing a familiar experience for purchasing an app to mobile web apps. Our goal is to remove the muck of app discovery (how do users find your mobile web app?) and app monetization (how do users pay you for your mobile web app?).
The Status Quo: Monetizing mobile native apps
In the two years or so since the explosion of app stores, it’s become apparent how to make money selling native mobile apps. There are three main ways to make money from a native mobile app (iPhone/Android/etc):
- Advertising: By offering your app for free and maximizing the number of users, you can add advertising to the app to generate revenue. You can use any number of mobile ad platforms, such as AdMob, Quattro, or Apple’s upcoming iAd. Generally speaking, your revenue per impression will be low, so in order to make money you need a large volume of users.
- Paid apps: App stores have done a tremendous job of making users comfortable with paying relatively small amounts for apps. If you’re developing a great app, users won’t hesitate to pay you somewhere between $0.99 and $9.99 (or even higher in some instances).
- In-app purchases: Some apps make a majority of their money by offering in-app purchases. For example, a poker app might be free to download, but force you to buy more chips in order to keep playing.
The Future: Monetizing mobile web apps
As we’ve gone (at least in the US) from a single mobile platform useful for developers (iPhone OS) to many platforms — all with their own development environment and use cases (Android, BlackBerry, Palm, iPhone OS, iPad) — mobile web apps seem primed to take the lead as the preferred development platform for mobile apps. You’ll write your app once and it’ll run everywhere, minimizing development time and maximizing the potential number of users.
Yet, how mobile web apps make money is less clear. Distribution is completely up to the developer (i.e. you have to find your users), rather than having the help of an app store. You’re also most likely to make money via advertising which is pretty much the only revenue line available.
But I see a future where the possibility to make money via a mobile web app is actually greater than with native apps.
Here’s how mobile web apps stack up against native apps; they offer the same revenue opportunities and more:
- Advertising: This is virtually identical to the advertising revenue line for native apps. There are plenty of mobile ad networks willing to help sell your inventory.
- Paid apps: Up until recently, there has been no such thing as a “paid mobile web app.” As a developer, you could make your app paid, but it’d be difficult and time consuming. Payment processing is muck that gets in the way of working on building the best app possible. Now, however, AppStoreHQ is beginning to provide this service. One dead-simple REST API will allow you to charge for your app. We’ll take care of all the payment processing, and all you have to do is verify that the user has paid. We’ll also list your app on our site, promoting your app to hundreds of thousands of users. The user experience is stellar, with most of the dirty work being transparent. Check out an example with fortysquires, a HTML5 frontend for foursquare.
- In-app purchases: There’s also currently no way to provide in-app purchases without building out the infrastructure to do so. AppStoreHQ plans to change this, too. We want to provide you with a simple REST API allowing you to charge users seamlessly (and preferably without them ever leaving your app). If you have any ideas for how you’d like to see this implemented, contact us.
- Subscription based apps: One revenue line that doesn’t exist for native apps right now is subscriptions. Yet web apps are a perfect use case for subscriptions, with automatic updates and monthly access. It’s another area we want to make dead simple for mobile app developers and users. Again, if you have any ideas for how you’d like to see this implemented, contact us.
The future is very bright for mobile web apps, assuming discovery and monetization are easy for developers. With your help, I think AppStoreHQ can be an invaluable resource to help you develop, promote, and support your mobile web apps.