MassTCL rapid development summit Kayak keynote


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Bill O'Donnell, Chief Architect at Kayak presented at MassTLC's rapid development and deployment summit on 12/15/11

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  • I was trying to think of a title for this chat, but they all sounded so tired: the mobile revolution. the app revolution. the revolutionary dawn of the new rebellious age of mobile apps.\n\nBut you’re a sophisticated, good-looking audience. And I’m a bitter, cynical, snarky old programmer, so the best title I think is “Duh.”\n\nSo I have two goals today. There’s something big happening in software today, and it’s not as simple as “computing is moving to mobile devices.” I hope I can get some of you to see this in some other ways.\n\nMy other goal is to use the most annoying slide transitions available in keynote. I’m pretty sure I nailed this one.\n\n\n
  • Funded by General Catalyst, Sequoia, Accel Europe\n\nNot really a startup any more. Just a company.\n\nIntroduce myself; the differences between a founder and founding employee.\n\n80 in Concord, Mass; 40 in Norwalk, CT; balance in Zurich and remote.\n\n8 programmers are mobile.\n\nWhy is mobile crossed out? I’ll get to that in two slides.\n\n Read all about it at\n
  • We had a mobile site, for ‘dumb’ phones 2004-2007; it was very focused on the mobile ‘use-case.’\nIt sucked. Luckily no one noticed it.\n\nWe decided to launch an iPhone app just for kicks. We liked the iPhone.\n\nWe had 1 million downloads by Jan 2010\n\nThe blackberry app launched mid 2009; we thought it would huge. Blackberry still had enormous installed base. When you think of a blackberry user, you think of the road warrior. The app was reasonably popular, and users who have it rave about it. It suffered from a few problems: bookability wasn’t great, and app downloading never really became a common experience on that platform.\n\nWhen the iPad was announced, we decided to try to build an app for the launch. We thought maybe Apple would sell 4-5 million that year, and that would get us maybe 100,000 downloads. They sold what, 15 million? We got about 300,000 downloads.\n\nWe also brought back our mobile-optimized web site. It’s as popular as our Android app.\n\n
  • With the first iPhone app, we tried to be clever. We said to ourselves, what does a mobile user want in a travel app?\nOf course, they want to search for one-way flights today because their flight was cancelled. Or they need a hotel room tonight because they are stranded in Minneapolis. So we built the app around these ideas. No multi-city; no flex dates; nothing complicated. Because who is going to plan a complicated trip or vacation on their phone? Who is going to want to do all that complicated stuff on a tiny screen?\n\nGuess who? Freakin everybody.\n\nFor the most part, a travel planning app is the opposite of an app optimized for location. What matters is where you are going, not where you are. But people still like the apps better than the web site. Why?\n
  • On a small screen, if the UX is not quite right, it’s disastrous. It’s much worse than something bungled on a computer browser. So design/test/usability is a much longer process.\n\nMoney. KAYAK makes money by having a wicked huge number of people use our site every day, some of them buy things, some of them see ads, some of them click on ads. In our business, it works because everybody travels, travel products are expensive, and advertising budgets are large.\n\nOn phones, where do you put the ads? You need practically every inch of the screen for the UI.\n\nWe make money on bookings. But many airlines and hotels have terrible site experiences on mobile. Some hotels use flash. It’s like 1996. One site is great, it’s competitor is crappy. So we had to build booking layers like we have built a search layer. First one: kayak connect; second one hotel booking. \n\nOK, so you have room for one ad. Mobile ads are great, except they are irrelevant, annoying, and have CPMs too low to matter.\n\nGetting your app noticed is difficult. There’s no way to buy placement in the major app stores. Pay per download is very expensive, especially when you have a free app. Pay per download is difficult to track: since apps are all the same, you can’t really distinguish the value of one audience based on acquisition channel.\n\nWho are the gatekeepers in mobile? On iOS, it’s Apple. On Android, it’s Google + all the carriers. On Kindle Fire it will be Amazon. Should you be in all the stores, or just the “main” stores for each platform. Can you get preinstalled? \n\nPlatforms: Objective C/iOS; Java/Android; Java/BB; C#/Windows Phone; more. That’s something to talk about later.\n\n\n
  • Should you make a web app? A mobile web site? A native app? What are you? Are you a consumer brand trying to reach the entire world? Or are you an app developer trying to make money selling software?\n\nSo, suppose you decide you want to make a native app, say for android and iOS. Should you use a cross platform toolkit? No. They suck. The app market is highly competitive. You don’t want to be second best. \n\nWhat about HTML5 wrapped in a thin shell? Some apps work well with this. It’s certainly easier. But what are you competitors doing for their apps? If they are native, and they are competent, they will beat you. More on the web vs. app thing later.\n\n\n
  • Which platform first? Look at your audience if you can. The most handsets does not mean the biggest app audience. We have a 4-to-1 ratio iOS/Android. I’m biased toward iOS because: oeynly two form factors, one OS, hugely concentrated audience, users download a lot of apps. Also, whenever I travel, I count phones in airports. But I work for a travel software company. \n\nGet the best iOS and Android developers you can find, and pay up. It’s worth it.\n\nIf you have a ton of money, you can do download marketing. Offer walls really work well, though they make you feel dirty.\n\nOn iOS, the best way to drive downloads is to get to know your developer relations rep. Make a beautiful app.\n\nOn Android, you can try to get preinstall deals, but this is a long, slow road. And then you get preinstalled on one launch of a given model of phone. Which might flop.\n\nIf you have a brand already, and traffic, use that channel to the max. Sell your app to your own loyal audience. \n\nThe app stores are built to be editorial, for the most part. But there are some things you can do to legitimately enhance your position: store SEO; get the users that are successful with your app to rate it in the app store. A low star rating will kill you on downloads.\n\n\n
  • Android, iOS have made installing software easy, low-cost and relatively risk-free.\n\nThe app stores are highly competitive and curated. This has driven up the quality of apps. The cycle is: Apple looks at apps and promotes the ones that are really good. So you have to be really good to get noticed. This means that the top apps are always getting better, and users download the top apps. Users are trained to expect quality. So they are brutal when an app doesn’t live up to standards.\n\nThese devices that are popular, iPad, iPhone, Android, are way way less powerful than a PC. You need to eek out every millisecond of performance you can get. It drives you to go native, you can’t afford, in many cases, to be a tiny bit slower than your competitor.\n\nUsers are being trained to look for apps as solutions to problems. On a PC, you think, “Gee I need do figure out how to do thing X.” or “There’s some specialized/categorizable bit of information that I need.” You go right to the browser, type in the search box, and you’re on Google. Or Bing. That’s your gateway. \n\nOn the devices, people are being trained to find an app do what they want. They download an app; it’s theirs now. They don’t care that it’s not open, not cross-platform, and not future-proof (or resistant). They like installing apps.\n\nNow that is spreading back to PCs: mac app store; windows app store. The web browser isn’t the container for everything anymore. The home screen is.\n\n\n\n\n
  • apps are the web; what’s the web? HTML? no. It’s HTTP. \n“apps are a fad because the web always wins” Always? You mean like 1995-2007? Like we’re all using thin clients laptops now? Like how all designers use a web app and not photostop?\nBut what is the web? Many apps that could also be web sites are purpose-built, specialized web clients; just like a browser, but made to do one thing; usually they do a better job than a general-purpose browser.\nThis new, easy, safe way for users to get richer software makes it easier and worthwhile to invest in new, delightful, quality software. Before app stores, think how hard it would be to get a user to download and install a native app, no matter how nice it was. \nMany users don’t distinguish betweens “apps” and “sites.”\nGo with a least common denominator solution, you give the competition an advantage. Your cross-platform solution will be the lowest cost, but the native solution will be the highest revenue. I would say that in most cases, focusing on development cost is the wrong way to do software.\n\n\n
  • MassTCL rapid development summit Kayak keynote

    1. 1. Mobile is huge. Duh.But guess what, mobility isn’t really the interesting part.
    2. 2. KAYAK• founded 2004• ~150 employees - 40 programmers• web site and 8+ mobile applications
    3. 3. KAYAK Mobile Story• 2004-2008: a web site• 2008: “let’s make an iPhone app”• 2010: iPad app• 2010: returns• 2011: 15% of traffic is mobile
    4. 4. Too Clever• mythical mobile ‘use case’• things users don’t care about: screen, processor, bandwidth• users want it all, on the phone, and they want it now.
    5. 5. Mobile is Hard• getting the user experience right• making money• getting noticed• tracking ROI• many gatekeepers• many native platforms.
    6. 6. Platforms• web vs. native• cross-platform vs. native• HTML5 wrapper vs native?• are apps a fad?
    7. 7. Practical advice• anecdotal advice is never wrong• platforms• distribution• app store optimization
    8. 8. What’s really going on?• installing software is now easy• small number of channels• low-power, zero-maintenance devices• ‘there’s an app for that’
    9. 9. A new golden age• web vs apps? wrong question• app ecosystems enable better experiences• app development costs more and makes less• embrace it