At RedLaser, I’ve had a chance to offer some thoughts on design changes in future versions of the application. There are a whole host of challenges, but most of them seem to come back around to one key question: what is the right level of information density for mobile screens?
I try to place our struggles in the context of other big tech companies.
Twitter is all about information density. People try to jam as much content as they can into their 150-character tweets, and create content rich with links to topics, people, and blogs. Path appears to be heading in the same direction, heavily using overlays, icons, and layout to convey metadata and create a sense of context. Their corner menu is another great example of compressing content down — you can see it to the right.
Google has headed in the opposite direction. Their new Google Mail and Reader designs create enormous amounts of white space, and has received quite a bit of hate. There is an “information dense” design offered, buried in settings, but even this design doesn’t quite provide the same level of content available in earlier iterations. And these designs are carrying over into the search giant’s mobile applications.
My inclination is to follow in Twitter and Path’s footsteps, but all these companies have the advantage of heavy users–the typical RedLaser user probably uses the app less regularly than the typical Twitter users (note to self: confirm this)–which means they have a greater opportunity to train their user base.
These two charts, taken together, are what have me convinced that freemium is going to be the dominant business model for any serious application in the future.
What these charts tell me:
- Mobile applications either win or lose; users try lots of apps, decide which they like, and then use those few heavily
- Users are willing to pay for apps they use heavily
The key, then, is how to convert users into heavy users, and thus convince them to pay. Evernote, Dropbox, Pandora, and others find the freemium model well-suited to this–get lots of free-users, offer a compelling product, and convine the heaviest users to shoulder the majority of the cost.
There are other options. Microsoft and Adobe are able to jump immediately into a relationship via their reputation and business lock-in. But I suspect the days of such uniformity are drawing to an end. Google Docs, Evernote, and a whole suite of applications threaten the Office lock-in. Adobe and PDFs, another must-have software set, is also on the decline.
I can imagine the freemium model expanding to other industries. Amazon’s announcement of free book rentals is an interesting stab at a physical-world freemium program–users still need to buy (subsidized) Kindles, but it seems like their goal is to lower the trial costs as much as possible, and encourage the heaviest users to come in with gusto.
There’s real money to be made in figuring out how to apply this pay-gradation to other industries. I could imagine it would be effective in video, in particular.