I just read Andrew Chen's Mobile app startups are failing like it’s 1999. He raises a good point about the closed nature of mobile app development, which for the most part is a reflection of the Apple way of doing things and especially the appstore review process.
Most software products are not a billion dollar business
Before I touch on how that process can be improved, I want to talk about what I see as the core problem here - many of those VC backed apps, are not in fact, startups. They are startups in the old-school sense, in that they are a new business starting up, however they are not what VCs are claiming they want to back - in short, they are not appropriate for VC funding.
Once you take VC money, the game and expectations change completely, and the vast majority of those failed mobile "startups" never had any chance of living up to those expectations in the first place. Some of those actually have decent launches in relative terms, if they were considered as normal software products and not as startups that were hailed as the "next big thing". If they had just raised regular funding, via friends and family, loans and personal funds, they could have been a nice small business that generates a decent revenue stream for their founders.
As it stands though, with VC money, those apps will be considered a failure, which is too bad. The mobile trend, just like any other funding trend (social, local, offers etc), makes VCs take a leap of faith and buy into the dreamy future the creators of those apps are painting, while in fact they are just building regular software that is derivative of existing products with a small, fairly insignificant twist. There are exceptions, but most of the apps I see founded leave me wondering how someone can consider them a possible billion dollar business.
In fact, I'd go further and say that the fact those founders have no initial product actually helps them raise - as it's easier to sell dreams than reality. I have a post coming up on that exact topic, which I call the funding paradox.
Reducing costs and time to market
What can do we do to combine the agility we learned in the past decade with the requirements of the App Store?
Back to the original point of Andrew's article - lack of agility and relatively high time to market in the mobile space. This problem is not unique to mobile and many software products have this process - despite the introduction of more agile development models in the last couple of decades.
I co-founded my current startup, Binpress, to counter that exact problem. While each app has its own concept and core features that are unique to it, the fact of the matter is that many features are shared across apps. Things like in-app notifications, sharing options, review reminders, UI elements and so forth - are developed from scratch at each company. Those are solved problems that do not need to be developed over and over again.
At Binpress we build a curated inventory of code components for any development vertical, including mobile apps (our fastest growing category right now). We are a marketplace and a discovery tool for free and commercial mature code solutions that solve common needs in software development.
Our main goal in building such a service is to promote code sharing as a business that improves the software industry as a whole. There's no need for every app dev team to build their own solutions for everything, when much of it has already been done to death before. You waste time and money building it, and you waste time and money debugging and QA'ing it, when mature solutions are already available.
I like to make the analogy to car manufacturing which is a mature market compared to software development. Consider that no car company makes their own wheels, or their own screws, and some don't even make their own engines. They focus on designing cars that best integrate those various components which are built by companies that are experts at it.
I am convinced that this kind of component-based development is the future of the software industry. Cherry pick mature solutions to fill out necessary but not unique core features, shorten your development cycle and concentrate on the unique value your product delivers to your target audience. It's really a no brainer.
Check out Binpress and let me know what you think is the solution to the app development life-cycle.