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"Our challenge was: How do you empower [SMBs] to do what the big guys are doing when they don't have the big budgets?" said Appsbar founder Scott Hirsch in an interview.
The Appsbar platform allows users to create and customize apps from a series of industry-specific modules--there's also a general business template--without much technical expertise. The apps can then be listed automatically in Apple's iTunes Store and the Android Market. Appsbar handles compliance with both marketplaces. Its tools also help optimize for smartphone displays and provide previews of how apps will appear on a variety of mobile devices, including Apple's iPad and Android-based tablets. SMBs also can use the platform to develop internal facing apps for functions such as sales or inventory management.
Hirsch likens the current state of mobile apps to websites in the mid-'90s. "People think they should have them. They don't know exactly why," Hirsch said. "They know they can benefit from them, but a small business--and even a midsize business--can't necessarily afford them." In addition to cost, Hirsch sees application development cycles--between six and 12 weeks is typical, in Hirsch's opinion--as too slow for most SMBs. "It's both cost-prohibitive and time-prohibitive in today's marketplace for most [SMBs] to have a mobile app."
Much like Appsbar itself is free of charge, so too are the apps it produces. Hirsch acknowledged his service isn't for businesses hoping to create an application for sale, even at a minimal price point. He said he thinks that paid apps aren't viable long-term aside from a handful of all-stars or tools that deliver a very specific value that can't be had elsewhere.
"A couple of years from now, nobody is going to be paying for applications unless they happen to be extremely targeted and extremely sophisticated," Hirsch said. "Unless you created Angry Birds, there's not a B-to-B or even a real B-to-C play where it makes sense to me to charge even 99 cents, versus the value of getting your business promoted via iTunes and the Android Market and to have it on phones."
That might be true for a wide range of SMBs currently building out their mobile strategies, and certainly for internal application development. But how is Appsbar making money? The short answer: It's not, at least not yet. It's a fact that Hirsch seems quite comfortable with--his comparison between the present stage of mobile application development and the '90s-era dot-com boom comes to mind. "If you can attract a significant enough audience, you can find a way to monetize it," Hirsch said. "If you build it and they come, you're going to make money."
In the first 24 hours and counting since releasing Appsbar to the public, Hirsch has been heartened by the fact that more than 70% of visitors to site have signed up, and roughly half of those new accounts have built an app. He said he had expected an early, unintended wave of consumer interest, but that hasn't been the case. The majority of early users have been businesses, which is exactly what Hirsch had in mind in building the platform.
"The whole goal here is to open up [mobile development] and make it a level playing field so small and midsize businesses can have applications and compete with the big boys," Hirsch said.