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Five Qualities of a Great iPhone App

By Tom Kaneshige, CIO
November 17, 2009 02:41 PM ET

CIO - Retailers spend a fortune each year promoting their brands in all sorts of venues, and now many are turning their sights to the creation of an iPhone app to bring brand awareness to the most popular smartphone in the world.

Clothing retailer Gap, for instance, is mulling an iPhone app to get people interested in its products. Gap teamed with Mobclix, an operator of a mobile ad exchange marketplace, to come up with a contest to find out what a good Gap-branded iPhone app might look like.

The contest attracted some 400 iPhone app developers--many from Mobclix's network--who jumped at the opportunity to develop an app for a well-known brand, as well as have a shot at winning a $1,000 Gap certificate and $1,000 Mobclix advertising package. Developers, of course, also hoped that winning would lead to a little publicity and a chance to rise from the crowded iPhone app developer space.

[ Retail apps better have cool iPhone logos, reports | Check out 10 great iPhone hobby apps. ]

After three months, Gap announced its winners earlier this week:

Intuapp's "Gap" app took the grand prize ($1,000 Gap certificate and $1,000 Mobclix ad package), while Mobiteris' "Dance Off" app came in second place ($500 Gap gift card, an iPhone 3GS and a $500 Mobclix ad package). Consumers were also allowed to vote in a People's Choice portion of the contest, and they selected Infosys' "GAP4Me" app (Gap jeans for a year, iPhone 3GS and a $500 Mobclix ad package).

The winning apps, however, are not available on the App Store--nor will they be anytime soon. "We do not have plans to use the winning app at this time," Gap spokesperson Olivia Doyne wrote in email. Contestants were allowed to develop iPhone apps under a special Apple program for a select few iPhones for judges. Youtube videos showing each app are below.

Nevertheless, we can learn a few things about what makes a winning app, as well as why apps miss the cut. Here are five best practices for building a great iPhone app.

1. Give 'Em a Reason

Many apps that didn't get chosen made the mistake of being too narrowly focused, says Bill Westerman, principal and CTO of Create with Context, a design and research firm, and one of the judges in the Gap contest. They might have had shopping functionality or coupons or a store locator, but not a good combination of these features.

The bottom line is that they relied too heavily on consumer loyalty to the brand to draw people into an iPhone app, which leads to the question: For some retailers, should there even be an app for that? Other brands have shown success. "Some brands can leverage an iPhone app well," says Krishna Subramanian, founder of Mobclix. "This year eBay made over $400 million off their iPhone app, and the app hasn't even been out the entire year."

Brand loyalty alone rarely drives people to download an iPhone app that clutters their screen and uses up memory. As you'll see, the winning apps didn't just peddle Gap products; rather, they provided a range of fun features and activities, from games to music videos to a virtual dressing room. The Gap brand almost seemed secondary.

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