Steve Jobs was a stickler for detail, requiring final approval on everything from ads to wording on his Keynote presentations. It’s no surprise then that the company he built places similar attention to detail when choosing apps to highlight in its ads and new product promotions. Apple (AAPL) won’t talk about the selection process (a spokesman declined to comment), but there’s little doubt that inclusion in an Apple commercial, or better yet, a launch video at one of Apple’s major press events, can help boost an app’s popularity. Developers agree to the company’s Program Licensing Agreement before apps move to the App Store, giving the company full license to use material as it sees fit. Many app developers are therefore pleasantly surprised when their apps become part of Apple’s marketing campaign. Tread through the comments section of any Apple commercial uploaded to YouTube, and you’ll find numerous requests from viewers trying to identify the featured apps.
Astronomy apps Star Walk and Solar Walk, both created by Vito Technology, have been featured in multiple Apple advertisements, including the iPad 3 presentation. Vito CEO Victor Toporkov says that inclusion in Apple promotions doesn’t dramatically increase app sales for his astronomy apps, but it does help them retain a top position in the App Store. (Star Walk currently sits at No. 7 on the list of Top 10 education apps in the U.K. and routinely holds a Top 10 rating in the U.S.) Apple highlights apps from a number of categories, including travel, education, music, news, and games. But some simply appear more often, or with more fanfare, than others. Here’s a look at some of the company’s favorite apps.
We have all heard the story of Apple’s Maps debacle. The highly publicized app was released with major flaws back in September, prompting Apple CEO Tim Cook to issue an apology and encourage users to test competitor apps while the bugs were worked out. Apple often highlights its own apps in both commercials as well as product announcement videos, and Maps has been no different. Of course, this generates more excitement for the app, but also pushes Apple fans’ already lofty expectations even higher.
If you want to pay with a Starbucks card (which many people do), then the Starbucks app is a simple way to carry your card balance around on your smartphone. The app was utilized more than 2 million times per week on average, according to CEO Howard Schultz during Starbucks’ (SBUX) fourth-quarter earning call in October. Want to simply use your phone to pay with a credit card? Then try …
Starbucks accepts Square payments as of late 2012, but Apple has also highlighted Square in commercials, an obvious choice considering small businesses can now use Apple products as registers. Square has taken the small business world by storm, enabling mom-and-pop shops across the country to accept payment via credit card where cash was previously required. Small businesses think it’s a good idea; apparently Apple agrees.
Designed by a bunch of ex-Microsoft employees, Paper by FiftyThree may be the best drawing app for iPad. Silicon Valley evangelists range from Square CEO Jack Dorsey to Flipboard CEO Mike McCue. “I’ve been looking for an application like this for the last 20 years!” McCue recently told Fortune.
Last August, the No. 1 social network introduced a native iOS app that brought with it speed improvements and eventually, newer features like Timeline. Given that 157 million-plus Facebook (FB) users sign on via mobile on a daily basis, the app update was a welcome one.
Flipboard represents the future of media consumption. The personalized magazine app allows users to filter their content, receiving only the news, updates, and photos that they want. The company recently announced it has reached 50 million users across iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and has a valuation of more than $200 million.
Solar Walk and Star Walk
Both apps have appeared in numerous Apple commercials. Solar Walk allows users to take a 3-D trip around the Milky Way Galaxy, hopping from plant to planet. Star Walk helps smartphone users pinpoint specific stars or planets by simply holding their phones up to the night sky. An Apple Design Award winner for 2010, Star Walk has more than 5 million downloads since 2009. Solar Walk has been downloaded 2 million times since 2011.
This teaching app helps students from all grade levels better understand basic math techniques. The app falls under a category of new interactive learning apps that have become popular alongside tablet growth. Children are able to write on the app’s “chalkboard” by using their fingers as the writing utensil.
Yelp’s mobile app is just plain practical. The app allows users to better connect with local businesses by offering up customer reviews for nearly everything in their communities from hair salons to restaurants to doctors’ offices. Yelp has been vocal that its mobile presence will take priority as the company moves forward, and more than 9 million unique users utilized the mobile app every month during the company’s fourth quarter. The fact that it’s free is simply a bonus.
Lonely Planet’s mobile app gives users extensive travel guides for exploring new cities, including Barcelona, Berlin, and London. As smartphones have quickly replaced physical maps when it comes to needing directions, Lonely Planet’s app is eliminating the need for clunky travel guides, too. Some of the app’s basics, like maps, top locations, and search features, come free, but the more extensive guides cost $3.99 per city.