By Alasdair Reid, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 19 June 2009 12:00AM
There is, according to the television campaign that ran earlier this year, an app for just about anything, only on the iPhone.
In fact, according to some cynics, the only serious unfilled gap in the app market is one to tell you just how many different kinds of app are actually available via the iPhone App Store.
But when it does became available, be sure that Apple's vice-president, Phil Schiller, will be one of the first in the queue to get one.
In his launch presentation last week for the new iPhone 3GS, he bragged that there were now more than 50,000 iPhone apps available - a psychologically important barrier for the company because it means it outscores its nearest challenger, Google Android (around 4,900 apps), by more than ten to one, with offerings on the Nokia and BlackBerry platforms trailing even further behind on just over 1,000 apiece.
The iPhone's detractors (and there are more than a few at the technophile end of the market) seized on this with glee. The reality was that the 50,000 milestone hadn't in fact been reached (close, but no cigar), thus proving that this latest wave of iPhone hype is even more ridiculously out of control than the previous waves.
And this, of course, is the fourth wave. The first came in January 2007, when the company announced that it was launching the iPhone - but not quite yet.
Wave two came in June 2007, when the product actually hit the US market; while the third wave washed over us last year when an upgraded, 3G, GPS-enabled device became available.
Last week's launch was for a slightly faster (thus the S for speedy) version of this device. So the bandwagon rolls on - and there are those who argue that the iPhone has already attained iconic status as the most desirable piece of kit since the iPod.
This, despite the fact that it's terribly expensive. UK customers, for instance, will have to pay more than £180 upfront for a new entry-level 16GB device on an 18-month contract. And we're not exactly (not yet, at any rate) witnessing the revolution that some enthusiasts think we are. There are only 15 million iPhone users globally, with roughly one million of them in the UK.
That's why the app count is so important. It's a far more encouraging measure of the iPhone's potential popularity. And the app is central to the iPhone's appeal as a conduit for mobile marketing initiatives.
Mobile marketing evangelists have seen all sorts of techniques fall by the wayside.
SMS messaging was a cul-de-sac and mobile television was a non-starter; while conventional online advertising (banner and search) models clearly haven't worked so well in a mobile context. The launch of an even faster iPhone, more a mobile infotainment centre than a telephone, ensures, some say, the imminent arrival of richer and more potent marketing techniques - such as streamed video. But, for now, the focus is still the advertiser-funded app.
1There are scores of brand-supported apps out there, divided into two main categories - the frivolous and fun, on the one hand, and the functional, on the other. In the UK, the most celebrated example of the former category is the Carling iPint, which filled your phone with a virtual pint of cold lager and allowed you, virtually, to down it. It was, for a while, one of the most popular free apps on offer.
2One of the most often-cited examples of the practical iPhone marketing app is one from the US company Nationwide Auto Insurance, which tells you what to do - and helps you through the process - if you've been involved in a car accident. Another more whimsical example is the Charmin "Sit or Squat" app that tells you where your nearest public toilet is - and how hygienic the facilities are.
3But we'll undoubtedly see a whole upsurge in activity exploring the iPhone's versatility in a marketing context. Last week, for instance, CBS Outdoor announced that, in partnership with the digital agency Clusta, it had developed a way for passers-by to engage creatively with ads showing on the company's LCD screens - using their iPhones to distort or move images or change the colour balance.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR...
- For many advertisers, the most exciting thing about the iPhone is the fact that it is GPS-enabled - the prospect here is for search and app to begin dovetailing powerfully. An advertiser can tell a potential customer where, for instance, the nearest branch of a store can be found and deliver instantly mapped-out directions.
- Jean-Paul Edwards, the executive director of futures at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says the iPhone is driving a genuine revival of interest in mobile marketing strategies. He adds: "Of course it's true that there are good apps out there and some not-so-good ones. And we're not yet at the point where we can say we wholly understand the economics of the apps market. But if an app is useful and interesting, people will certainly use it and talk about it. There's a feeling that the potential is huge and it really has propelled mobile forward. The brands that jump early will feel the benefits."
- On the one hand, it's an expensive proposition; on the other, it's not just a phone - and the design and functionality are beautifully executed. There's evidence from ad hoc surveys conducted by ad agencies that the iPhone is capturing the imagination of a wide spectrum of people, from younger early adopters to pensioners who've found previous generations of internet-enabled mobile devices rather daunting.
- If the iPhone phenomenon maintains momentum, prices will fall, the units-shifted graph will ramp up exponentially - and we'll see a genuine step-change in the adoption of mobile technologies and funding models.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk