Global Observer

Movistar teaches Madrilenos why there's an app for that

Posting in Design

MADRID -- Spanish smartphone powerhouse Movistar brings together the most original and most successful application designers to share with the next generation.


MADRID--"España es un país tan en crisis, pero información no está en crisis," said speaker Mikel Lejurza last Friday at the Movistar TheAppFest. "Spain is a country too much in an economic crisis, but the IT sector is not."

This is certainly true, as the little investment the Spanish government can spare flows toward research and development in technologies and Internet-based companies. Of course, one of the fastest-growing Internet marketplaces is that of applications for smartphones and tablets. If you can think it, there's probably already an app for that. But just because it exists, doesn't mean it sells.

Last week, Spain's top mobile company Movistar brought together some of the most successful and most creative app companies in the business to share their tales of what made them a success and why. SmartPlanet stopped by Day Two of the techno-circus to listen. Situated at the Teatro Circo Price, TheAppFest was surely more like a cabaret than your typical technical fair. The unusual setting was the perfect background for short, energetic speeches by app pros, separated by performances by the Impromadrid improv group who hosted the show.

However, a thousand of Spain's "frikis" weren't just lying on the beanbag chairs or plugged in around the charging stations for the show, they were there to learn from successful marketers and programmers, as well as to network during the many coffee (or beer) breaks.

One of the highlighted speakers was Igor Posenjak, as he shared some of the secrets to the success of Doodle Jump, "the third most-sold app in history," (though we are, of course, talking about a brief history.) He compared apps to digital snacks. "You can look at apps as snacks: just one more game," Posenjak said of their junk food "moreish" addiction. "And you can play them anytime, anywhere," even for a minute or two.

Posenjak, essentially a veteran of the app world, had his first app success came with "Bubble Wrap." For just 99-cents, people could pretend to pop bubble wrap. "Addictive, familiar, silly enough to be noticed." There were 10 million credit cards on-file when it premiered in 2008. "It only takes a moment to click 99-cents."

However, Doodle Jump didn't have the same quick sale, starting off with a measly 21 first-day downloads. Posenjak rallied, sure of his product´s potential. He first started in the usual way of reaching out to app blogs, but then started taking more unusual routes, like cross-promotion. DoodleJump would feature characters from other games--like the pygmy from Pocket God and E.B. from the movie "Hop,"--while the little Doodler can be spotted in other games, too, like Parachute Panic. Then, Posenjak added the simple posting of scores automatically onto Twitter and Facebook, and, as soon as a few celebrities and one U.S. senator posted their scores, the sales began to skyrocket. One of his strongest successes comes with frequent updates. "People love new content because we find that, even if the app was finished, people expect updates." Doodle Jump is currently the number 10 app sold in the U.S., though it doesn´t make the top 10 list in Spain, Europe's smartphone capital, where WhatsApp Messenger and Angry Birds dominate rankings.

App stores are marketplaces over-saturated with choices. Designers must work to create something that customers want, but that stands out from the million other potential clicks.

Right before lunch was punny presenter Phil Gonzalez of Canal Cocina 2.0. This app-based, short recipe cooking channel exemplifies the task of "transforming the fried egg into making a Tortilla 2.0," playing a word game on the favorite Spanish tapa. Gonzalez said apps are just "dead-time killers...What would we do in a bathroom without our mobiles?" Gonzalez and his company have been incredibly successful in not only selling apps and their short recipe videos for mobile deices, but by taking advantage of new locations to watch. They've created a pick-and-choose food network for pay-for TV, like TiVo. With 100,000 downloads in the first two months and an exclusive contract with Dannon, Canal Cocina is looking to the future of mobile integration toward building their success.

The theme song of the conference was ironically "Video Killed the Radio Star." One of the final speakers was Mike Lejurza, president of free channel Antenna 3's films and founder of the Spanish television academy. "The World Wide Web is eating TV," Lejurza said. He, like Gonzalez, spoke of how the flailing Spanish television industry must look to other screens as they look toward surviving in the future.

One of the funniest presenters was the quirky team behind Zombies, Run!--a fitness game with a story. Popping over from England, writer Naomi Alderman and developer Alex McMillan described with palpable enthusiasm their app audio story, which contains a detailed interactive soap opera and horror movie, where a zombie apocalypse becomes real. "We are rewarding you for running with a story," Alderman said, as well as for walking and biking. "Because no one wants to run, but we all want to want to run." She said its the first fitness application-based game with a story;  increased speed and endurance saves lives and earns supplies. "Games are extremely good at making you do things," Alderman said.

They funded their quirky application through Kickstarter, a crowd-funding site, where people bet money on the app. "If people don't like it on Kickstarter, you know before" spending two years developing something, potentially wasting yours and other people's money. Kickstarter only charges these investors, small and large, if the goal dollar amount is reached. But Zombies, Run! wasn't at-risk, as their project nearly tripled their goal crowd-fund.

Now, over 700,000 miles have been run from zombies and at an unusually high cost--it's an $8 app. Alderman described this price point as "very dangerous and high," but peanuts compared to the cost of a gym membership. The pair priced the game so high to make it comparable to something of similar value to a runner, like a pedometer or a diet book. She believes this is the future of exercise.

Twenty-two million Spanish people--about half the population--subscribe to the Movistar mobile service. Spain has the highest percentage per capita of smartphone usage in Europe. Movistar is owned by Telefónica, Spain's largest company. Movistar and its brands are also mobile phone leaders across much of Latin America and Europe. It is no surprise that Movistar's future is rooted in smartphone applications.

Photos: TheAppFest.com (All of the speeches are available on this Web site, though many are only available in Spanish.)

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Jennifer Riggins

Correspondent (Barcelona)

Jennifer Riggins is the content manager and community builder for two SaaS Quote Roller and PandaDoc, as well as she teaches sales, English, and public speaking for Spanish small business. She holds a degree from William Paterson University. She is based in Spain. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure