Friday, March 07, 2008

What's The ROI on Hype?

Michael Mace is very excited about the prospects of Apple's iPhone SDK, which apparently is not stillborn despite the blogging zeitgeist declaring all mobile apps dead last week - a whole separate area I shall get round to posting on sometime soon, hopefully, though right now I'm far too busy animating mobile zombies for paying customers, or whatever the technical term is for creating mobile apps now that they are dead.

As far as we can tell right now the Apple SDK is exactly what was expected of it, which is an SDK for the phone that lets you do most things, is completely controlled by Apple and has some intelligent thoughts about app discovery revolving around iTunes - competent, slightly cloying in its restrictiveness, basically nice but dull. Michael isn't necessarily wrong to be excited - it's better than nothing - but I find it hard to get that worked up.

More interesting I thought was the news that Kleiner Perkins are raising a $100m fund for iPhone development. This is surely monumentous news for every Kleiner Perkins fund manager involved in the fund, who will now get to have their photos taken with Steve Jobs, probably get to touch his hand, and maybe even get a free iPhone for their troubles. Kleiner Perkins will pick up an inordinate amount of press for their association too.

But what about the ROI for the investors in this fund? This is a more vexing subject. Apple want to have iPhones in 10m real people's hands within a year of launch - lets be kind and assume they can do that. Lets further assume they ship even more units next year to entirely new users, giving a 25m user installed base. The fund's beneficiary developers then need to extract $4 from every one of those users just to cover costs, more to provide ROI and value for the people actually doing the work.

Many of the recent predictions of mobile apps being dead were aimed at the sort of mobile app development the Apple SDK seems to be aimed at - old school developers creating niche software
that people actually pay for. This is exactly the kind of app I can agree is dead - niche apps can thrive if they are basically free and monetized in some non-invasive way, but I just don't think people go out and purchase applications for their phones in the same way you might buy Photoshop or MS Office on a PC (hell, I don't think many individuals even buy Office these days, they either get it bundled or 'borrow' a copy). Even mobile games are becoming free and ad funded. A bedroom developer could probably still make tidy sums on the right app, but not one who has to show substantial ROI on a 7-8 figure investment.

To make this sort of money on a phone/browsing device, with it's Web 2.0 expectations of everything being free, the investors might alternatively plan to invest in companies creating transactional apps which take a cut of money going through the handset (something Apple may or may not want 30% from). At this point they will really need to widen the scope of the fund to all mobile apps, because iPhone-only services will again only be a niche (spread across multiple countries/currencies/etc), though eventually a largish one and comprised of a fair number of people with more money than sense.

So - a case of a company attaching itself to the Apple hype machine, only to quietly broaden its options when things start to reach reality?

2 Comments:

Blogger Michael Mace said...

>>a case of someone attaching themselves to the Apple hype machine, only to quietly broaden their options when things start to reach reality?

Nope, just someone trying to figure out what it all means, and trying to give credit to a company when they do something right.

6:01 pm

 
Anonymous raddedas said...

Sorry Michael - I meant Kleiner Perkins trying to attach themselves to the hype, not you or any other blogger or journalist writing about them :)

10:57 am

 

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