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Why your law firm should forget about building an iPhone App

February 9, 2010

Since the advent of iPhone applications in July, 2008 over 134,000 iPhone applications have become available at the Apple App Store. Over 3 billion of such applications for news, information, entertainment, and more have been downloaded by iPhone users.

With ESPN, The New York Times, Facebook, LinkedIn, CNN, and MLB all having applications, why not our law firm? Everyone could read our blog posts, articles, and alerts on an iPhone. It would be so cool. We’d look so hip.

I’m in agreement with online PR and social media professional, Niall Harbison. Forget about building an iPhone App.

Couple reasons. First your law firm’s app will never get found or used widely. Follow Harbison’s analogy of a European football stadium.

Cork stadium

Every single one of the 80,000 people in this stadium is an iPhone app that does something that it’s creator thinks is amazing and will deserve your attention.

Among these 80,000 are some of the really big boys including Google, Facebook, Twitter, News organizations, game manufacturers, professional publishers and huge brands to name but a few. These huge companies will be putting massive amounts of cash/labor and marketing dollars into just one of the 80,000 people (iPhone App’s).

The app store is very much like the stadium in that it is closed off by the people who own it. They don’t want all 80,000 people getting the attention equally. Just like the 30 players who will line up on the pitch, a small select group of apps will be featured by Apple to be showcased to the wider public. There is very little guarantee that it will be your app.

Although many people will have a huge interest in the stadium and what happens there, they are not going to come along and pay every single day of the week for a ticket. This will reflect how people use the app store. Sure people will stop by and make purchases, but they will choose the bigger apps and the trusted brands and they won’t be doing it every single day.

Second, the logic motivating a law firm to develop an App is flawed. Consider Arnold & Porter’s iPhone app for their Consumer Advertising Law Blog, the launch of which is outlined at Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing Blog.

Arnold and Porter’s iPhone requires that iPhone users download and install a separate application to get their blog. Arnold and Porter is presuming such an App would make it easier for their blog readers to follow their blog while on the go and to get their blog’s content more widely disseminated. Doesn’t work that way.

Following Arnold and Porter’s logic, iPhone users would download a separate application for each entity and publication distributing content. I want to stay up with a couple hundred blogs, something I easily already do with my newsreader, on my iPhone or at my desktop computer. Arnold and Porter would have me download 200 iPhone Apps. That’s nuts.

Look at widely successful iPhone Apps such as Yelp, a user review site with 25 million users, ESPN with millions of sports fan users, Urban Spoon with millions of users in major cities receiving restaurant reviews, and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal disseminating edited news stories covering hundreds of ‘topic channels’ to millions of readers. Each one of them aggregates content into one iPhone App making the App an attractive one for you and me.

You are not going to see successful iPhone Apps for each restaurant, each NY Times column (already with a 1,000 times the readers of 1 law blog), or for each college sports conference. Why? Because we don’t consume content that way. You aren’t going to get more people to your restaurant by getting off Yelp and Urban Spoon and having your own App, you’ll get less people.

Having a separate iPhone App for each law firm and their blogs is akin to a law firm developing a separate RSS reader for their content. How crazy would that be?

What’s the answer? Get your law firm’s content where content is being aggregated. That’s where people are consuming content.

Consider getting your blog on Kindle so it can be read on the Kindle. Apple’s upcoming iPad is run on an iPhone operating system so the Kindle App will presumably run on the iPad as well.

Get your law blog into edited law blog networks such as the LexBlog Network or the Blog Network. These networks which are aggregating content from leading lawyers are producing hundreds of law blog posts a day across various subjects. JD Supra is also aggregating content by subject.

Such networks are apt to develop iPhone Apps aggregating blogs allowing users to select the type of content they want ala what ESPN does with separate sports, teams, and conferences.

The way we consume content is changing at lightening speed. I expect Apple’s iPad to be a game changer making us laugh at how we used to consume information on a computer. We may have any number of iPads laying around our office or house for easy access to more and better content than we have today. Many of us will add the iPad to our must haves when we leave the house each morning.

Sure it sounds sexy and cool to say you have an iPhone app for your law firm – and it’s easy and cheap to get an App developed.

But you’d much better served to think things through than to waste resources and time on an iPhone App and, in my mind, look silly by demonstrating that your law firm doesn’t understand how content is consumed online.