Interview with SiNae Pitts, CEO, Amphetamobile
For podcast release Monday, June 3, 2013
Q: Welcome everyone to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series, Beyond the Book. My name is Christopher Kenneally, your host. And joining me on the line today is founder and CEO of Amphetamobile, developer of mobile publishing platforms, SiNae Pitts. Welcome back to Beyond the Book.
A: Thank you very much, Chris. Good to speak to you again.
Q: Well, we’re happy to have you join us. You’re going to be presenting at the upcoming Atypon Conference on the subject of changing mobile experience. That’s just ahead of the SSP conference coming to San Francisco. The Atypon Conference takes place on Tuesday, June 4th. And as I say, just ahead of the Society of Scholarly Publishing’s Annual Conference, getting underway on Wednesday, June 5th in San Francisco at the Marriot Marquis.
So changing mobile experience – we have spoken to you several times in the past for Beyond the Book, SiNae. And we’ve been there with you from – well, not quite the beginning, but almost the beginning. And your work there developing mobile publishing platforms has taught you a great deal about where we stand in this very dynamic space. And one of the things you’ve looked at particularly, is this sort of contrasting experiences on the mobile web and apps. So I guess, one way to put it is, who’s winning?
A: There are many mobile wars. And the one I’ll first talk about is apps versus the web. So there had been a lot of talk in the early days of should we be developing native applications or should we be making mobile Websites? And we’ve always taken the position that it’s never an either or. It always depends on the use case of mobile-friendly websites, certainly service use case of creating a landing page and presenting information, but native apps give a richer experience and enable people to take that content that you’re presenting and make it deeper into their workflow.
And in fact, Flurry, which is one of the grand-daddys of app analytics companies, they’re installed in over 30 million devices worldwide. And they show that the average US consumer spends about two hours and 40 minutes a day on their smartphone and tablets. And 80% of that time, just over two hours, is spent inside apps. And the remaining 20% of time, it’s about 30 minutes, is spent on mobile web. So I think consumers are voting with their eyeballs, that they’re finding that the native experience of apps is more compelling and more useful to them.
Q: Well, indeed. And it’s not close by those measures. And what are the types activities that consumers are taking advantage of with these apps? I’m sure of things like Facebook are very close to the top. But what else?
A: Yes. You’re certainly right. Facebook is way up there. That app alone gets 18% of our time in mobile apps. Games, across the board in that category, take up 32%. Entertainment is another 8%. And utility apps, which is the area that our development focuses in primarily, make up about 8% of that mobile time.
Q: Still a fairly large share given all the various options. The other mobile war that perhaps is worth making mention of – you mentioned there were several mobile wars, which is an interesting thought. So apart from the web versus the app, is iOS versus Android. Where do things stand now for that?
A: Yes. That’s a highly talked about and hot topic and something we get asked all the time, is the platform wars – Apple iOS versus Google Android. And in fact, Time Magazine’s Technologizer column today has an article titled, If You’re Obsessed With Winning, You Don’t Understand the Mobile Market. And they’re referring to that winning of the platform war. That’s because lots of folks like to declare iOS or Android as winning, but it depends on what’s your metric. And if you’re looking at the financial war, iOS is certainly dominating. They have over 70% of the profits from the financial war. And Android is winning the market share war.
So a more accurate measurement would be a ratio of profits to market share to benchmark who’s winning. And analysis of that shows that Apple has a sizeable lead with a profit to market share ratio of 3.12%. Samsung is doing pretty well at 1.3%. And the rest of Android is really straggling behind in a fraction of a percent. So I think it shows that Apple’s certainly able to win in the profit war and that most Android-centric phone makers are struggling. So they’re selling at near losses.
Q: Right. Now you, as we mentioned, at Amphetamobile, develop publishing platforms – mobile publishing platforms. So the publishers you’re working with, the partners you have, how do they view that particular part of the war, the iOS versus Android? Are they willing to play in both spaces, just to cover their bases or do they call out a favor to either iOS or Android and move forward?
A: Sure. That’s a good question. Our publishers, they focus on – it’s one thing what might be playing out in the general consumer space, but it’s another thing what their particular audience is looking at and using. And particularly, we work with a lot of medical and research publishers. And that population, iOS continues to dominate in terms of the device installed and the devices that people use, say in hospitals or in the research setting. So the approach is to lead with an iOS app to make the best experience for the majority of the users. And given sufficient interest, depending on their population, to then build an Android app.
Q: It’s quite interesting. And of course, this is still early days yet for all of this. One of the things that you do at Amphetamobile, of course, is take advantage of all the analytics that you can gather to help improve the experience and to make the apps more successful, both for the consumer, or the user, I should say as well as for the publisher themselves. So talk about that – how you take note of usage patterns and other statistics you gather and use that to reiterate and improve the apps you’ve published.
A: Yes, Chris. In the app world, we measure different set of metrics than in websites. So in websites, you’re measuring visits, unique visitors, page views and click-throughs. With apps, you want to measure specific actions and levels of engagement that are very specific to each app. So maybe that’s sharing articles. Maybe that’s marking things as a favorite. Maybe that’s taking a note. Another difference is apps have much more privileged access. Because they’re installed on a personal mobile device, they’re going to have access to the user’s calendar and their content book and their camera roll. Whereas, a lot of web use tends to be fairly anonymous. And because apps need to be lightweight, the usage analytics packages themselves, need to be very lightweight and they need to be able to work during offline usage.
So for example, if you’re browsing a web, you’re going to be online and it’s going to measure your activity online. However, with apps, you could very likely be using your smartphone or your tablet on a plane, on a train, in the mountains and in order to get a complete picture, that app analytics package is going to need to work offline and then submit your information that its gathered once the device goes online again. So there’s unique challenges.
Q: Well, indeed. And I’m intrigued by that notion of engagement as being the most powerful of metrics. How do you, as a developer, respond to all that? What are the kinds of things you’re thinking about when you’re developing an app then that’s going to strengthen that engagement and encourage it to grow?
A: Sure. One of the things that we think about is how do we get people to return to the app. So it’s one thing to get that initial download and have people check it out. And that’s why we often encourage publishers to make that initial app free and then give them subscriber content or paid content later. So at least people can check it. But to get them to come back, you need to give them compelling reasons. So maybe that’s reminders and push notifications. And push notifications are getting more and more sophisticated. So you can actually target your market. So you could target it geographically. You could target it based on their user profile. Say, send this to dermatologists, but not to general practitioners. You could also target based on their activity in the app.
So for example, we have a plugin called AppRater, where the fifth time that a user has launched the app, we request that they make a rating for the app in the app store. So it’s something that doesn’t make sense to bombard someone right away. You know, please rate this app. But maybe it makes sense if they’ve used at least five times. And there’s other ways that publishers could use that if say, a user has reviewed three articles within a subject category. Maybe they could be prompted with, would you like to subscribe to this category?
Q: Well, indeed. And we are talking right now with SiNae Pitts, who is the Founder and CEO of Amphetamobile, developer of mobile publishing platforms. And I wonder if we can do a little bit of a very quick case study because you are the developer for the app published by CHEST Journal, which is from the American College of Chest Physicians. And we’re familiar with that here at Copyright Clearance Center. I think we’ve spoken about it in the past on Beyond the Book. What are some things you learned from working with ACCP and CHEST Journal that have really pointed them in a very successful direction and that you think maybe serve as lessons for other publishers.
A: Sure. So we’ve been quite privileged to work with ACCP pretty much since our inception in 2009. And we actually started with a professional education product, which was a self-evaluation tool that doctors could read case studies and answer multiple choice questions to study for their board exams in different subspecialties. That app has been out since the fall of 2009. And every year we’ve renewed it and refreshed it with new content and tweaked the feature set. And now we have a companion app that allows for continuing medical education credits. So the user has a choice between just using as a study product versus getting CME credits for that. And it’s generated quite a positive ROI. In fact, during peak board review season, these two apps are regularly number one and say, number four in the top grossing iPad medical apps, which is quite significant, given that these are kind of niche products.
So what we learned is understanding the use case for the physician. So I was actually having dinner with one of the docs from ACCP who was in town for a conference. And he told me how he loved the app because he was able to take it on a flight to France and just run through all the questions, keep track of his progress, dig in deeper. So the app is made so that you see right away if you’re right or wrong and you’re shown a rationale, but if you want to dig in deeper, it links to primary research articles. And the fact that he said he could just pick it up when he’s got a few minutes here and there to finish the course, he really appreciated.
Q: Well, I think that whole activity of sort of checking in brief intervals is one of the things that characterizes our use of smartphones. And so that really seems to ring true for me, whether you’re a physician or someone in college, whatever it is. The engagement and the importance of it, I suppose, is measured in time, but it’s more frequency that’s important.
A: Yeah. That’s true. So we do look at the number of average sessions per day or per week.
Q: Indeed. Well, finally, SiNae, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what’s happening in the mobile world, which is a proliferation of devices out there. And you talked about one aspect of the war, which is Apple versus the rest of the world. The rest of the world sort of using the Android system. Now that we see so many devices, and some of them becoming very successful indeed, what’s that mean to the end user and how they will engage with apps and sort of show their preferences for one app over another?
A: That’s a very good question because now it’s very common that not only do I have an iPhone, but I have an iPad. And I do some work on one of my laptops. And I also do work on my iMac. So one of the important trends is having cloud-based services that enable all these satellite devices to connect to one common database. And it has the benefit of not only allowing a user to have a more synchronized experience, so it’s seamless from one device to another, but it also allows the individual devices to be lighter weight. So for example, my iPhone doesn’t need to have as much memory because I can always access the cloud and access all my files or access a larger set of pictures or additional content.
And the cloud can also do some of the heavy lifting and processing of the content, so the app can be lighter weight and more responsive. And that’s something we consider when we are building apps, is how much of the content should live locally on the device and be downloaded with the app and how much of it should be synchronized to the cloud. So for example, to bring up the ACCP again with their CHEST app because CHEST is a periodical, of course it made sense that it should synchronize in the cloud through Silverchair’s APIs, so that the current issue on their website and on the device would be in sync.
Q: Well, indeed. And I think that would all be to the advantage of the publisher to really make sure that they have the content under their control and management, as well.
Q: Well, indeed. We look forward to chatting with you again, SiNae, very soon. And we hope, in fact, to – we should preview for our listeners that we may have a chance to do this as a video podcast and get people a chance to see what you’re talking about. At the moment, they have to sort of use their mind’s eye. But SiNae Pitts, who is founder and CEO of Amphetamobile, based in Philadelphia, but working around the world, of course, thank you so much for joining us today on Beyond the Book.
A: Thank you very much, Chris.
Q: And we will remind people that SiNae will be presenting and speaking this coming Tuesday, June 4th at the Atypon conference on the changing mobile experience just ahead of the annual conference of the society of Scholarly Publishing, which opens in San Francisco at the Marriot Marquis on Wednesday, June 5th.
Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers and magazines and blogs, as well as now images, movies and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find us on Facebook and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at the Copyright Clearance Center website, copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book. Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of BurstMarketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. From all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.