How does a computer geek from Perth with an aversion to exercise develop one of the biggest fitness apps in the world?

Developer Stuart Hall credits the key reason for his success was a decision to give the app to the public for free, using a so-called freemium model that would allow him to make money through advertisements, affiliations or in-app purchases.

In a four-part social experiment, he found the difference between a free app and one that cost $1 was about 72,000 hits a day.

In the first stage of the experiment, he charged $1 for The Seven Minute Workout on The App Store, and it sold 28 copies a day.

Next, he moved on to marketing, spending three hours sending press releases to reviewers but failing to attract any coverage or boost sales.

The next stage was to expand the market size by adding iPad support, which took him another two-and-a- half hours, but again failed to budge sales.

Finally, the last part of experiment was to give it away for free.

“I was floored at the response, with 216,718 downloads in three days, an average of 72,000 per day, ” he said.

“This was from an average of 28 per day as a paid app, or over 2500.

“It became the No. 1 fitness iPad app in 68 countries and the number one fitness iPhone app in 49 countries.

“It was in the top 10 overall in 12 countries, and made the top five overall in countries like the Netherlands.”

For the uninitiated, an app — short for application software — is a program designed to run on smart phones and tablet computers.

Some apps serve to repackage freely-available internet pages specifically for mobile devices by adjusting the screen display and drastically improving loading time.

Others apps offer unique services or information, often at a cost.

Mr Hall, who also developed the popular Discovr app, said free apps tend to get noticed on charts which record new freebies.

Once the app starts gaining popularity it moves up the chart, attracting more and more attention.

But being free doesn’t mean the developer does not make any money, with money-making options including advertisements or in-app purchases.

This means the app gets a cut of any purchase made by a user who is directed to an affiliated store, such as i-Tunes, through the app.

Cookies are able to track purchases made over the next three days, giving the app developer a cut of purchases made in that time.

Mr Hall said the key lessons learned from his social experiment was that free apps attract more downloads, they don’t have to be complex to be popular, and descriptive names are useful.

But while his experiment may make apps seem easy, he warns most are unsuccessful. They cost from $15,000 to $150,000 to develop, and earnings were hit and miss.

“Most apps never sell more than 10, ” he said.

“Making it big with an app is definitely a Gen Y dream, but the reality is that success is more an exception than the rule.”

The story of the smiley face app exemplifies the Gen Y dream.

A heavily-indebted, 20-something real estate agent jotted some thoughts down on a napkin and hired developers to turn the ideas into code.

One app was a simple collection of digital smiley faces, known as emojis, which began earning him $500 a day within six days of hitting an online store.

Several apps later and the Napa Valley’s appreneur, Chad Mureta, now has a seven-figure empire selling digital tat to nerds.


© The West Australian