How Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter conceives its mobile applications

Jun 17, 2011
Health

Most app developers and brands have a hard enough time getting their apps discovered in a universe with more than 425,000 iOS titles and at least 200,000 more on Android. Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter’s challenges are compounded by the fact that its target market will have little use for its applications no more than nine months after they are first downloaded.

“Because of the nature of pregnancy, there are new moms coming to BabyCenter every day,” explains CTO David Weiss. “In addition to making sure existing BabyCenter Moms know about the app when they purchase a new smartphone, we need to make sure we are constantly promoting the app to our newest users.”

In addition to the My Pregnancy Today apps on iOS and Android devices, BabyCenter offers a $39.99 Birth Class iPad app among other titles.

In this edition of Meet the Makers, Weiss discusses development variations between creating apps for iOS and Android, how BabyCenter engages social networks to drive downloads, and his efforts to adapt to emerging mobile technologies.

Appolicious: When apps like Baby Bump and others like it debuted in 2009, most expecting mothers for the first time had the opportunity to track their pregnancies and their babies development on their smartphones. With scores of options now available for iOS and Android devices, how does BabyCenter My Pregnancy Today differentiate from the pack?

David Weiss: BabyCenter has a unique blend of developmental expert content and mom-to-mom wisdom that you just can’t get anywhere else. BabyCenter’s My Pregnancy Today app captures the essence of the BabyCenter experience allowing moms to access their favorite daily pregnancy content, reminders, videos and links to all of the resources she can’t live without on BabyCenter everywhere she goes.

APPO: BabyCenter is part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. How do you tap into J&J’s vast mobile marketing and development expertise?

DW: At BabyCenter, we work with our Johnson & Johnson partners in a consultative manner and share expertise, best practices, and consumer insights. It is a great partnership and we are very fortunate to have such a strong network of companies to work with.

APPO: My Pregnancy Today is available on both iOS and Android devices. Walk through how you generate awareness of the apps in both platforms?

DW: Given the explosive growth of both iOS and Android, we decided to release our apps on both platforms. We generate awareness by communicating with our moms through several of our channels. We tell our moms about new features and tools through our social channels like Twitter (http://twitter.com/babycenter), Facebook (http://facebook.com/babycenter), and the BabyCenter Community (http://community.babycenter.com). We also use onsite and email promotion including device-based targeting to make sure that we get the message out and connect moms with the right apps.

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APPO: What are the unique development challenges and opportunities that exist on both platforms?

DW: Each platform has interesting features that we can take advantage of in our apps. For example, we deliver a Home screen widget with our Android app. This helps mom by showing her the developmental content that she needs right on her home screen without needing to remember to open the app.

Regarding the development challenges, some of them are unique to the platform and others relate to the fact that apps are still relatively new technology. This means that the emulators, testing tools, and deployment technologies have not yet had time to mature. From a platform perspective, Android presents some challenges because of all of the different device types and screen sizes. Conversely, iOS has more standards and only runs on one device type. However, iOS programming is done in Objective C, which is not as widely used as a language like Java.

iOS runs on a standard device and published the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), so that apps function similarly and there is consistent navigation and gesture support from app to app. Android, however, has several different versions that run on different handsets with different screen sizes. This requires a significant amount of additional testing to make sure that the app functions and renders properly on each device.

The bottom line is although there are challenges and things are moving quickly, it’s exciting to be involved in a technology as it is growing.

APPO: After the initial publicity pop once the app is released, how do you best drive downloads over time?

DW: Well, the one thing to remember is that because of the nature of pregnancy, there are new moms coming to BabyCenter every day. So in addition to making sure existing BabyCenter Moms know about the app when they purchase a new smartphone, we need to make sure we are constantly promoting the app to our newest users. To do this, we leverage effective social, onsite, and device targeted promotions to generate awareness and drive additional downloads. We also focus on both making sure that the app ranks well in the app search results by providing the right keywords and driving a large download volume. Most importantly, we want our apps to provide a great customer experience so that every mom will use our app on a daily basis. This shows in our ratings, reviews, and the fact that moms tell other moms about BabyCenter and our My Pregnancy Today app.

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APPO: BabyCenter offers the $39.99 Birth Class app for the iPad. Are there plans do offer apps specific to Android-based tablets?

DW: We are extremely proud of the BabyCenter Birth Class app and have received great feedback from our moms. We always have our eye on new platforms, such as Android-based tablets, and balance several factors including priority relative to other projects, market penetration for the device, etc. The landscape has been changing so rapidly, that we continuously update our app and mobile web strategy and our platform support. Though we are not actively working on an Android-based version of the Birth Class, that could change as the market shifts.

APPO: How many employees does BabyCenter have working on mobile media initiatives, and how much (if any) of that is outsourced to independent developers?

DW: Though BabyCenter’s global footprint is significant, we support our entire operation with relatively small engineering team. This is partially due to a highly refined agile process, but mostly due to the fact that our engineering team is extremely talented and hardworking. Regarding mobile, we have had several spikes in terms of mobile work in order to provide a mobile optimized interface for our sites and to deliver the first version of our apps. We see mobile as a critical initiative for the company and have a strong and skilled resource pool working against mobile projects. Regarding consulting, we augment our team when we need very specific skillsets. The consultants pair with our team and work in our methodology as a part of the project.

APPO: How do you envision the company’s mobile media capabilities evolving over the next year? Five years?

DW: We are constantly working to drive new capabilities for our marketers. In addition to display ads and integrated placements, we are working closely with several firms that provide mobile specific solutions, such as location-based advertising, click-to-call and mobile coupon delivery. As the market evolves, we will continue to provide more robust solutions for our marketers to reach BabyCenter moms.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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