Johnny has done us all a great service here by maintaining a relatively current listing of media and product brands now present on the iPhone. Eventually he will broaden coverage to include the Android, Blackberry and Palm platforms. For now, let's pitch in to keep the list alive and updated. It should be the first point of reference for mobile marketers even contemplating another branded app. Finally we have the semblance of a top-down view of the branded app marketplace and some basic stats to reflect upon.
Johnny points out in his blog that branded apps are not floating to the top of the ratings charts, with only 15 of the group hitting 4 stars or above. Granted, there is a built-in bias to the way voting is collected on an iPhone, since you are prompted for a vote as you delete an app.
Moreover, popularity in terms of downloads does not always correlate with ratings. ESPN Radio, which costs $2.99, garners fewer than 300 ratings but those who bought in really liked it (4.5 stars). Nevertheless, I think we can let the number of votes for an app stand as a very rough proxy for popularity. Clearly Facebook is the closest thing to a killer app in terms of media extension (420,946 votes for 4 stars). Barclaycard's superb Waterslide Extreme (135,959 for 3 stars) is one of the standout examples of a product brand that found the right way to extend an identity that the user appreciated.
Curiously, The Gap's StyleMixer, which attracted the predictably uncritical attention of the mobile marketing press for its clever design, gets slammed by the overwhelming majority of its users. Note to brand managers: If you are going to make a mobile app, remember that user feedback will be very public.
While the number of paid apps from major brands is small, I am struck by the high ratings many of them get from the smaller pool of users who buy in. With three stars, Zagat-to-Go seems to convince most of its users that $9.99 is not too high a price to pay for mobile media. CNN's new app has suffered some critical hits for omitting 24/7 live streaming of the network. Instead it offers occasional live streams of the CNN Live feed during major breaking news. Nevertheless, that $1.99 app is getting 3.5 stars and is among the top-grossing apps right now. Meanwhile, the free extensions of both Sirius XM and Comcast are getting tepid receptions. But I am going to have to pony up the $5 to get the Weber Grill app, which seems to have hit its target of manly chefs right on the power spatula with 4 stars. It seems to be a great mix of information and utility: grill guide, cooking tips, shopping list and a grill timer (OK, that part is genius).
I am afraid the biggest takeaway from Johnny's list of branded apps is just how underwhelming many of them are. Users see right through the cute, clever and useless approach. Mastercard's 3D extravaganza Priceless Picks is flat (2 stars). The two-star General Motors app seemed to leave a lot of users wondering why exactly they would want a GM news service, while it just gave others an opportunity to dump on "Government Motors." The Gillette uArt app lets you paste different facial hair styles on your own photo, but it gets mixed (2.5 stars) reviews. What is a brand to make of a marketing project that gets a plurality of one-star ratings and a select group of fans who say things like (and I quote), "I always wanted to shave my initials into my face, and now I can."
You go, Bubba.