While the growth of the mobile apps industry in the last few years has seen the creation of products targeting a whole range of niches, there are some product categories which are more established than others. Although games are the traditional industry bellwether, navigation apps also score highly in user surveys, and in many ways represent the quintessential app – with mobility at the heart, and using core smartphone features such as GPS and 3G connectivity.

This, of course, means that there are already a number of established players in the field, including giants such as Nokia and Google as well as specialists such as TeleNav and Telmap. And it is not an easy sector to break into: last year Vodafone aborted its entry into the mobile navigation space following its US$30 million acquisition of Wayfinder Systems, after Google and Nokia began offering free services in what had previously been an established value-added services market.

Despite this competitive landscape, there are still opportunities for new entrants, as demonstrated by the growth of Navmii. Earlier this year this company said it had passed the two million user mark, 12 months after launching low-cost products using a freemium business model. Mobile Apps Briefing spoke to Peter Atalla, its CEO.

What have you found to be the most effective ways of raising the visibility of your apps?
Navmii has not invested in marketing, but has relied on word of mouth and PR to raise the profile of the apps and we have had great success. Articles in publications like USA Today, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph and the Gadget Show all help to raise the profile, and when we were featured on moneysavingexpert.com we saw a big rise in the number of downloads. The first few days after the launch of the app were critical. We have always managed to get a large amount of downloads which propels us to the top of the apps charts in turn allowing more people to discover our apps.

How do you differentiate yourself from other navigation apps players?
From the outset we always wanted to deliver ‘free’ navigation to users. In the early days this was difficult as the map data was controlled by two large companies, so we had to start with low-cost solutions, using professional map data under our Navmii GPS Live brand. Then in September last year we were able to launch the first version of Navfree. Navfree was the first truly free navigation app using crowd-sourced map data from the OpenStreetMap project. From the outset we were determined to deliver a quality experience to users.  Navmii GPS Live and Navfree have always had outstanding graphics, been easy to use and intuitive, which are qualities we think that many other navigation providers lack. 

From a product perspective, the main difference between us and other navigation app providers is that the maps for all our apps are downloaded onto the phone as part of the app, not downloaded over the air.  We believe the user experience should be outstanding and having the maps onboard means that users don’t experience data roaming charges abroad, nor do they risk losing their way when the mobile data network is slow or missing.

How have you been able to deliver navigation apps at a lower price than rival products?
We have been able to do this in two ways. Firstly, we work with map providers who are interested in new business models in the industry, allowing lower priced map data. And secondly we keep our operating costs low; we only develop software not hardware and therefore don’t require hundreds of staff to run the business.

Does fragmentation in the device industry make it difficult to serve the widest possible customer base?
To an extent this is true. The mobile device industry has always been fragmented and devices and platforms change quickly. However the huge success of the iPhone and the iPad have been great for developers as it has created a global market of people using one platform. Android is almost doing the same, however it’s still much more fragmented than Apple. We are happy to support platforms that have proven themselves not just in the number of devices available, but the usage of apps on them.

What types of features are your users requesting for future updates?
Most requests are for enhanced safety camera and traffic information. We are also launching live services, which will incorporate crowd-sourcing features such as, our ‘TrafficFriend’ feature that provides traffic alerts in real time, thanks to user feedback.

How is the volume currently split between GPS Live and Navfree?
Navmii GPS Live and Navfree have been downloaded over 2.3 million times. Approximately 2 million of these are Navfree and 300,000 are Navmii GPS live.  If you are going on holiday to France for a week, you won’t want to spend £50 or more on an apps for navigation or more than £100 on a new Personal Navigation Device. Navmii GPS Live makes it possible to have a better quality service for less than the cost of a paper map.

To what extent are customers upgrading to the premium features from the free app?
One of the interesting developments within the iOS platform has been the ability to make ‘in app’ purchases.  We now sell an advert-free upgrade to Navfree and a safety camera database – both from within the app itself.  What is important to us is to ensure that the low cost ethos covers all of our products. The cost of most apps and ‘in app’ purchases is low. As an example, to go advert-free in Navfree costs only 59p and safety cameras cost £1.79, which are competitively low prices. 

To date, upgrades have been strong and we expect to enhance our ‘in app’ offerings more and more as the app develops.

Have you any plans to offer support for third-party developers to integrate with your products?
Currently we do this on an ad-hoc basis, but as navigation becomes more commoditised it is likely that we will offer the opportunity for third party developers to integrate Navfree into other apps.  We expect that navigation will evolve further to deliver location-based services and location-based gaming and we are currently developing new apps to reflect this. 

What are your main revenue streams?
For Navfree it is in-app advertising (which we have just started and is taking off well) and ‘in-app’ upgrades.  We also generate revenues from sales of Navmii GPS Live products and we continue to roll out new countries with both the low-cost and no-cost navigations apps.

How is your business split geographically?
Currently Navfree is available for France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the UK & Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico and India. We find that downloads depend on local awareness, but in certain countries competitors are stronger or weaker and that impacts popularity as well.  We have consistently been at the top or near the top of the iTunes charts in all countries.

Navmii GPS Live is also available for France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, UK & Ireland. 

While we would like to have apps for every country, bringing a new app to market depends on several criteria. For Navfree it depends on the quality of OpenStreetMap data for the country and the overall size of the mapping download. The USA, for example, is a very large download and this could put people off.  We are now bringing out State-wide versions that are smaller in size.

How much B2B work are you currently doing?
B2B work represents about 20 percent of our business at the moment. While we are very focused on consumer products the sheer number of users gives us great experience and reliability for B2B projects.

Where do you see the main opportunities moving forward?
Crowd-powered apps. Seeing the success of Navfree and how using crowd-sourced data can change an entire industry has been very inspiring. We are taking our experience of this to develop new apps that make use of the power of crowds into other markets.

Steve Costello