When big companies like NBC, Disney, and Amazon want a mobile app for one of their brands, they are increasingly turning to a new breed of developer dedicated solely to the rapidly evolving world of apps. (Smartphones! Tablets! TVs!) Their more sophisticated approach is helping large brands make hay with mobile. Here's how three of these app makers stack up.
Home base: Washington, D.C.
Home base: Seattle
Home base: Arlington, Massachusetts
|Clients: 30-plus, including Burger King, Disney, Kohl's, and The Washington Post Co.||Clients: 12, including NBC, Xbox, and Marvel (Iron Man); 50-plus brand advertisers||Clients: 25, including Amazon, Condé Nast, the New England Patriots, and Viacom|
|Patents pending: 1||Patents pending: 17||Patents pending: 4 (plus 3 granted)|
|Head count: 28||Head count: 33||Head count: 20|
|Price: $50,000 — $100,000||Price: Free to publishers (but they share ad revenue with Zumobi); ad-sponsorship fees range from $25,000 — $125,000 a month||Price: $25,000 — $150,000, plus a monthly fee based on usage|
|From zero to App Store: 6 — 8 weeks||From zero to App Store: 6 weeks||From zero to App Store: 4 — 6 weeks|
|Business-model twist: Offers a DIY app tool called AppMakr, which is free, or $999 if you want PointAbout to handle testing and App Store approval. "We make custom homes or we have a modular-home factory," says COO Daniel Odio. In the first six months of 2010, people created 20,000 apps with AppMakr.||Business-model twist: All apps are linked in the Zumobi Network, creating cross-promotional opportunities. "The network of apps drives repeat usage," says CEO Ken Willner.||Business-model twist: Creates apps that bring proven brands to the phone, such as South Park Mobile. "The most underutilized area is using apps to extend brand awareness and loyalty," says founder and CEO John Puterbaugh.|
|House style: Approaches apps like software rather than Web design, trying to make potentially complicated tasks effortless. Predilection for free apps with in-app purchasing power, such as its Burger King app that lets junk-foodies preorder meals.||House style: Free, bite-size, snackable nuggets like videos and slide shows, delivered via slick interfaces that zoom in and out. Ad-friendly: A Mercedes E-class photo-montage in the Motor Trend app, for example, is an ad but also "content."||House style: Interactivity and multimedia obsessed; skilled at delivering apps, such as AudibleAir for BlackBerry, across all wireless carriers.|
|Breakout app: Navigating Washington, a guide for the wandering throng in D.C. during Obama's inauguration.||Breakout app: MSNBC.com. Top news, up to 50 videos a day — and Rachel Maddow.||Breakout app: Warner Music Group's streaming audio app, Mobile Music Jukebox, way back in 2004, before Pandora had even launched as a Web service.|
|Most innovative feature: Mugshotz app allows people to trick-out photos of friends; now being used by companies like Marvin Windows to show before and after virtual-room photos.||Most innovative feature: The app Ziibii aggregates various social media and RSS feeds into one giant, TMI social stream.||Most innovative feature: Shopable video. A user can touch something and get instant info or even purchase directly. (Good news, Lady Gaga fans.)
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|Pet peeve: "Apps" that are just Web sites distilled into downloadable mobile icons.
||Pet peeve: Forcing an app to be exactly the same across all platforms.
||Pet peeve: Text-centric apps that are not inherently necessary on a mobile device.
A version of this article appeared in the September 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.