Meet the Makers: Lisa Sullivan-Cross of

Sep 3, 2010

How important are mobile applications to and related reference properties? Mobile apps are extremely important for us. is the most comprehensive, trusted, up-to-date mobile source for word discovery with 15 million app installs and growing! Our goal is to make available anytime, anywhere helping people become more effective in their social, academic and […]

How important are mobile applications to and related reference properties?

Mobile apps are extremely important for us. is the most comprehensive, trusted, up-to-date mobile source for word discovery with 15 million app installs and growing! Our goal is to make available anytime, anywhere helping people become more effective in their social, academic and professional lives. The popularity of our apps shows the power of being able to access reference information in the moment. When people need a word definition, they need it immediately. mobile apps enhance the entire learning experience, helping users to retain information by giving them access to their word needs right then and there in the context they are learning.

Describe the different development challenges associated with developing apps for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry platforms.

Our goal is to release multiple versions per platform per year to keep up with new devices, new operating systems, evolution of our web product features, and emerging technology. This ensures our apps are fresh and that they leverage new device features to optimally serve user needs. With each new release, we see a spike in installs and a high unprompted, organic conversion to each upgrade proving our users are interested in frequent, quality releases. Development scheduling and build prioritization is based on device/OS release schedules and potential revenue impact on our business.

The biggest challenges are: to quickly adapt development and design for new devices and operating systems given we don’t get specs and SDK’s from OEM’s until very close to product launch date; and understanding how each platform differs—developing innovative features and a user interface that leverage those unique attributes. continues to innovate while looking for ways to realize economies of scale. We focus on making our apps robust across all platforms—keeping the differences in mind during new feature conception and design while developing similar features cross-platform where it makes sense (based on device/OS capabilities and usage data).

From a marketing perspective, do consumers behave differently within each platform? If so, how?

We are seeing a trend with our user data where apps on various platforms are starting to perform similarly. Android and iPhone are especially close in usage patterns. iPhone, Android and Blackberry users are most like our desktop users, accessing the app the most during the weekdays. BlackBerry search queries are similar to iPhone with users searching for words most likely for school and work. Android and iPad have the most similarly top searched words.

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As far as usage time, the iPad has the most usage on the weekends and higher usage of the audio feature, supporting its “entertainment” value and its high page views per visit and time spent vs. other apps (25% higher than iPhone) prove it to be a “browsing” device.

We leverage these usage patterns and device feature similarities/differences in developing our apps. We are building similar features and design for iPhone and Android—realizing economies of scale. Although Blackberry shares some similar usage patterns most of the devices aren’t as visual so we approach development differently (for example, we have a shake for random word feature on iPhone, Android and Blackberry Storm but not on other Blackberry devices).

We approach development of app features for iPad differently given our data shows it is more of an entertainment device with larger, more visual format. In addition to our core app, we develop word games for iPhone and iPad (Miss Spell’s Class and Agent X).

What are you learning on the mobile application side that is impacting the rest of your online initiatives?

We analyze user behavior on mobile apps and keep that data in mind when designing new online features as we believe more and more people will be accessing our service via mobile in addition to online (not instead of online). Making major updates to our mobile web ( is also a priority for us in the coming months. The mobile web market is projected to continue to grow 100 million unique per month for the remainder of 2010 and as devices get bigger and more visual mobile web becomes a more feasible content distribution channel.

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How are you approaching tablet computing (not just the iPad, but Android and perhaps HP-based devices as well)?

As a core utility and language learning content discovery source, we think it is essential to develop partnerships with tablets and eReaders to become an integrated service enabling word discover and learning at home, in the office, and on the go. We are actively working with many tablet and eReader companies on this type of integration.

Compare consumer behavior online relative to how they engage your service via mobile apps.

The engagement and frequency of visits for all mobile apps is 2x to 3x more compared to our online site, further solidifying that our users want access to words in the moment. With a total reach of 50 million monthly unique users, we are seeing continued growth on both desktop web and mobile proving that our audience has a need to access content from multiple places. We are developing initiatives to meaningfully tie mobile with online in upcoming releases.

What is the biggest surprise you’ve encountered since entering the mobile application space?

We monitor user reviews and customer service input very closely in regards to our mobile apps and were surprised recently by the high demand for an ad-free, paid iPhone app. As required for success in this space, we listened to our customers and developed a paid app within a couple weeks—this app is now available on iTunes for a promotional price of $1.99.

Where do you see the mobile presence of one year from now?

We plan on continuing to innovate, creating apps that users can’t live without—apps that impact people’s success in their academic, professional and personal lives. We see mobile becoming an even more important distribution and usage channel and continuing to be a compliment to our desktop web service.

You can see more information on’s mobile apps on the following web pages:

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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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