Planet of the Apps, Apple's first foray into series television, brings viewers into the high-stakes -- and high-stress -- world of independent application developers who have (hopefully) novel ideas and are looking for venture capital funding.
Developers have the time it takes to ride down an escalator to give their elevator pitch to the celebrity judges -- Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, will.i.am and Gary Vaynerchuk -- and if at least one of them is interested, the developers have the chance to actually show off the app and answer questions. If a judge is excited about the app, the developer can also be mentored by him or her.
The goal: Get the app, the developer, the developer's resume, the business idea and everything else nailed down and pitchable to some very big names in the venture capital (VC) industry. Along the way on Planet of the Apps are the usual setbacks, course corrections, stressful moments and, in some cases, rejections.
So, what's not to like about Planet of the Apps? Perhaps a few things. We asked our Application Development group to watch the first episode, which is streaming for free on Apple Music (you'll need to join Apple Music to see the rest), and give us their perspective. Spoilers ahead!
Fred Churchville, editor, SearchMicroservices: I felt that the show showcased two apps that had a lot of potential: the augmented reality app and the app that allows your friends to help you stay secure.
However, to me, the two apps had important differences: one was trying to solve a fundamental problem, and the other one appeared to really just showcase a cool development technology [whose] only goal was to be distributed as some sort of exclusive SDK. Overall, it seemed like the judges leaned more toward the safety app (despite the issues with the Google copy down the road), which makes me wonder if, at the end of the day, the goal of the app should be to solve a real, specific challenge or issue rather than just attempt to showcase the latest and greatest development tech.
But, on the topic of Google copying the safety app, why was this team not able to patent their app and prevent a copy? Why is it that developers that have an idea for an app aren't protected from the wrath of big technology players who steal or mimic their ideas?
Darryl Taft, news writer, Application Development Group: The biggest takeaway I got from the Planet of the Apps episode is that a well-conceived idea for an app is absolutely necessary to even enter into the competition. If the idea is flawed, the app is bound to suffer, no matter how technically proficient the team is. For instance, the notion behind the dating app was not well thought out. It was kind of sad, to be honest. And their pitch was shot down in a hurry.
On the other hand, the app Companion was well-conceived, but the team had not adequately considered competition from major platform vendors that could easily add the Companion app's niche capability to their mega-platform and wipe that opportunity off the map.
Meanwhile, the guy who did get to the VC stage with his AR [augmented reality] app was evolving his strategy in real-time, and it showed.
I thought it was an interesting show. I did not mind that the judges were not primarily tech folks, but users and business minds. However, as someone who focuses on app dev, I would have liked a bit more detail regarding the technology and the choices the developers made in building the apps.
Bree Matturro, managing editor, Application Development Group: The premise of Planet of the Apps is great -- similar to Shark Tank, in terms of logistics and choreography, but different in that the technical aspect of the content is not for your average viewer. Does the average American have any interest in apps? Perhaps. But, does the average American have any interest in VM [virtual machine] creation and geomapping? Doubtful.
It [is] odd that this very technical programming includes pop culture personas like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba, who, like many others, know virtually nothing about software technology. Though these two people are skilled in the business world, the techies have no idea who they are. And vice versa; the pop culture folks are likely to have little interest in the technical side of the app world. My takeaway: Apple needs to pick a lane and stay in it.
Scott Wallask, editorial director, Application Development Group: From a business perspective, Planet of the Apps made the rift between developers and ends users very apparent, in the sense that what programmers deliver and what end users want can be quite different.
A good example of this problem was the guys who had created the online dating app that was based on the user's choices of events to attended. The creators had an idea to tweak a dating app and make it different -- they looked at it as a chance to capitalize on possible common interests between couples. But Jessica Alba, stepping in as a possible end user, immediately brought up the question of how a woman would be able to stop 25 gents from congregating around her if they all went to the same concert. We see that kind of miscommunication often in app dev.
Joel Shore, news writer, SearchCloudApplications: While some of the apps demonstrated could be seen as genuinely useful, especially for personal safety, the challenge that the developers faced was twofold: Getting their pitch across to the panel of investors and designing a user interface [UI] and user experience [UX] that is easy to comprehend, looks attractive and is a pleasure to use. Those who write program code sometimes find the logic of processing easier to deal with than the nonlinear navigational needs that a nonexpert user has when using an app for the first time.
If the interface and experience are not immediately obvious to the user, the result is likely to be quick abandonment of the session, with a lowered likelihood of that user returning for another try. What this demonstrates is that, while developers and engineers can sprout wonderfully useful ideas and concepts for an application, teaming with experts in UI/UX can lead to a better product.
Valerie Silverthorne, senior technology editor, Application Development Group: While I admit I fell right into Planet of the Apps (though I've never seen Shark Tank), I do think it suffers from what we journalists used to call insider baseball. Due to the arcane nature of the show, producers are forced to keep flashing definitions across the screen in order for the lay viewer to even try to keep up. That does not enhance the viewing experience, nor is it necessarily easy to explain an SDK in a single sentence or two.
I think it did a good job of showing market forces at work -- yes, Google may outthink or outplay you -- but the celeb piece of it left me cold.
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