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Is it becoming harder to get an app off the ground?

While the marketplace for mobile applications continues to grow, it is getting harder for app developers to successfully launch an app and build a business thanks, in part, to mobile platforms that are not always hospitable.

While Facebook says it has cut ties with a growing number of third-party apps because it wants to reduce spam and restrict apps that do not offer enough value, some think the social network is trying to squash competing apps. At the same time, there are bigger players in the app market, more well-funded apps, more innovative launch plans and users who have higher expectations of apps ? all of which is making it harder than ever to compete.

?It is absolutely much tougher today than it was one or two years ago to successfully launch mobile applications globally,? said Alan S. Knitowski, CEO of Phunware, Austin, TX. ?Across all platforms, operating systems and application stores, there is more noise than ever.

?The days of applications going viral or being easily found still exist, but they are much more the exception than the rule,? he said. ?The number of permutations of operating systems such as Android has made the development more complicated, more timely and more stringent in terms of QA/QC across multiple devices.

?Developers are finally catching up to the harsh reality that there are no free lunches in mobile application development. The days of the ?Staples Easy Button? are permanently over.?

Customer-focused apps
The ability to offer users a wide array of applications is key to the success of a mobile platform. However, companies such as Facebook and Apple have not always had the best relationships with app developers.

Some of the apps blocked by Facebook include Vintage Camera, Voxer and Twitter?s Vine video app.

Also, last year Apple started rejecting apps using UDIDs to track users because the growing iOS platform has been coming under pressure from regulators to insure that its apps adequately protect the privacy of users.

?I think Apple and Facebook are trying to filter out the spammy or less customer-focused apps,? said Patrick Emmons, director of professional services at Adage Technologies, Chicago. ?How many beer drinking apps does one app store need?

?In the case of Facebook, so many of those apps are built just to collect information about the users,? he said. ?If your app is something that the user needs or wants, then it will be successful.?

Built-in audiences
Increasing competition in a maturing market is another reason some apps are having a hard time finding users. Apple said at the beginning of this year that there were 775,000 apps in the Apple App Store and industry estimates put Google Play at approximately the same number.

For developers working with large name brands, they will always have an easier time getting noticed because the large brands have built-in audiences and can support an app with advertising.

However, for developers creating original applications that do not have many of these benefits, it is increasingly important that they support their apps with a well-thought out marketing plan.

Additionally, developers need to focus more than ever on creating great mobile experiences that users will love now that users are familiar with what apps can do.

?It comes down to reviewing your competition, and realizing that you can't be just as good, or only slightly better as they have beaten you to market, and gained some mindshare that you must overcome,? said Scott Michaels, a partner at Atimi Software, Vancouver, Canada .

Opportunities remain
This does not mean there are not opportunities for smaller developers to get an app launched, for example by creating games with a combination of great design and playability.

Another opportunity is with apps that try to improve users? everyday workflow, per Mr. Michaels.

?There is still room here, and you see some of the players in the space going after the trio of mail, contacts, calendar,? Mr. Michaels said. ?Some are trying to make your contacts a more 'live' view by bringing in more of the social networks into the mix, while others are providing a better cross-device sync or an innovative UI.

Developers can also focus on some of the less developed ecosystems such as BlackBerry and Windows Phone, where there is not as much competition.

Developers also need to react to feedback once an app is live and quickly respond with updates. Users are demanding value and utility and will not tolerate slow or un-engaging apps.

With so much more needed to go into launching and maintaining an app, developers need to have a budget of at least $100,000 per app per platform to be commercially successful, per Mr. Knitowski.

?The likelihood of success depends much more on treating the applications like products, including the launch, ongoing management, maintenance and regular updates and upgrades over time,? Mr. Knitowski said.

?The days of launching an application and not having the time, effort or money to back it up when in a live production environment or of not needing to consistently update and upgrade the applications in rapid fire order are also over,? he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York