Gift This App, Apple!

On October 22, 2009

Synopsis: The iTunes Store features a “Gift This Song” capability. The App Store does not feature a “Gift This App” capability. It should. Update: It does now!

In Q1 of this year, I wrote the Wheels App to address an oft-lamented problem: most apps in the store are invisible. As most of us now know, the App Store is distribution, not marketing. That’s nothing to gripe about; it’s a problem to solve.

In an adapted-for-marketing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the bottom layer of they pyramid, the most basic, core element of marketing is that people have to know your product exists. I decided to tackle app-discovery by creating the Wheels app.

Wheels was a free slot-machine app that paid out other apps. People like to gamble and paying out iPhone apps was a nice twist. Replace the cherries and what not normally found on slot machine wheels with icons and tag-lines for applications. Line up four of the same app, win a promo code for that app. Tap an app’s icon and, by launching an itms:// URL, it’ll be opened in the on-phone App Store where you can read about and buy the app.

An app would be shown hundreds of times for each time that it was paid out. Hundreds of people would discover the app. Some would buy. If enough bought, it’d be worth giving away one copy to earn the sale of others. And, of course, the app tracked everything — views, click throughs to the app store, purchases. More sales for app authors, more commission for Apple. Everyone wins.

Unfortunately, Apple rejected the App. In short form, their objection had two parts: (1) it was an abuse of the promo codes mechanism and (2) I couldn’t give away other people’s apps.

Fast-forward to last weekend. My wife Kristy, mother of and primary caretaker to our three kids, went off for a girls’ weekend. Being a thoughtful guy, I put together a gift basket of goodies for her and her friends. She and her friends all have iPhones, and there are some apps that would’ve been great additions. Unfortunately, there’s no mechanism for gifting apps. While you can “Gift This Song” in iTunes you can’t “Gift This App.”

Providing a “Gift This App” mechanism would have made good on both Apple’s issues with the Wheels app and on Kristy’s girls’ weekend. How this solves the girls’ weekend problem is obvious. As for Wheels, when a player wins an app its author (after being notified) could simply go into iTunes and gift them the app. Apple gets its full commission, there’s no promo code abuse, and the author — not I — handles the give away.

Providing a “Gift This App” mechanism would open up a universe of novel marketing, bundling and promotional opportunities — all of which would drive App Store revenues, none of which would threaten Apple’s commission. Taking a page from Amazon and providing a simple API would further support this. Lifehacker could hand pick the best personal productivity apps, negotiate a pay-per-sale arrangement with the authors, and then sell them in a bundle with a single purchase right from their site. TUAW might make a bundle — literally — of apps you can’t live without. It’s nearly Halloween; sell seasonal bundles.

I’ve created a feature enhancement request with Apple. I’m told that the mechanism to put this on their radar is for people to file duplicate enhancement requests. You can do that from Apple’s bug reporter; be sure to reference my request, which is number 7326775.

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0 responses to “Gift This App, Apple!”

  1. Zach says:

    Also, organizations could gift apps that they want their people to use.

  2. Lou says:

    There’s also a no gambling provision in the guidelines. They mention it being ok to have simulated gambling, but you actually have real winnings.

    In your case, they don’t really lose anything, but I’m surprised that they didn’t just reject on that.

  3. mare says:

    Good idea.
    As non-US based developers we can’t even give promo codes to our beta-testers. Those codes only work in the US.
    And in Canada you can’t use iTunes gift cards for buying apps (Why? Nobody exactly knows why) so the only way we can reimburse beta-testers is by sending them money by PayPal. Being able to gift an app to someone through the iTunes Store that helped you out would certainly be more attractive to me than using PayPal.

  4. Maniacdev says:

    Absolutely agree.

    Not having a mechanism to give Apps as gifts can be especially hurting to sales especially at Christmas time. Would also be terrific if somehow they could add this directly into the SDK.

  5. Ling says:

    Great idea! Especially for us underdog indies. I like it.

  6. Andrew says:

    That’s a wonderful idea. I am non-US based and I can’t send promo codes to my friends, so it would be great if we could simply gift the app. I’ve already sent a feature enhancement request and referenced yours as well, Dan.

  7. RichardL says:

    Great idea. This needs to get pushed through. As it is you can’t even buy Apple Gift Cards or Gift Certificates in amounts less than $10.

  8. Raviv Turner says:

    We have just submitted our feature enhancement request Bug ID# 7334645

  9. zs says:

    How do you even file a bug at this RadarWeb? It doesn’t recognize any components I put in (I’ve tried “XCode”, “iphone simulator”, “Safari”) … it doesn’t recognize anything. And it doesn’t let me search by your bug request number when I enter it as a Problem ID in “Find Problem”. What gives? Can you file a bug against bug report?

  10. Nina says:

    I am amazed that Apple can’t get its act together on this one. A dear friend of mine has a new iPhone and I wanted to get her a gift card so she can buy some Apps. 10 minutes on the Internet has been enough to convince me, although it boggles my mind, that this is not possible.

    What the hell, Apple? If it’s taxes you’re worried about, pay the damned things. I think it should be up to the company to figure out how to give Canadians comparable service — if there’s extra costs, then eat them, Apple.

  11. Dan Grigsby says:

    Duane: buying a gift certificate in the same amount isn’t the same thing as gifting an app.

  12. Gifting an app is a genius idea! You said it all! Great write up! 🙂

  13. Thanks for the great article. Being able to gift an app would open up all kinds of new marketing possibilities, and could be huge around the holidays. We already saw a spike in App Store purchases in December – just imagine the impact of app gift giving.

  14. Ruby says:

    Thanks for letting us know about this app. At least I will be able to regift Dreamwalk App