Pathable : Event App Technology Blog

Are Event Apps Dead? What Event Planners Need to Know

A recent TechCrunch article and rumors from Apple’s developer conference have people in our industry asking: are event apps dead?

Short answer: no. And the longer answer: still no. Let’s dig in why…

Why People are Predicting Event Apps’ Death?

Folks have been predicting the end of this or that since the beginning. Indeed, if you were to Google the phrase “The Internet is dead” you will find a disturbingly precise 666,000 results (or perhaps 666,001 after this is published).

The latest in the long line of predicting the end of event apps: this past week, DoubleDutch CEO Lawrence Coburn wrote on their blog that “Apple has just killed the White Label Event App”.

Citing “several conversations with a worldwide developer relations leader from Apple”, Coburn predicts that shortly Apple will begin blocking the introduction of new (and updates of existing) stand-alone event apps, in favor, apparently, of monolithic vendor-specific “Universal” apps. He goes on to applaud the move as “the most exciting development for event tech since the iPhone itself.”

As the CEO of Pathable, a nine-year-old event app company, and a twenty-year technology veteran (I earned my stripes with a decade of service of Microsoft), I couldn’t disagree more.

Let’s Look at it from an Attendee Experience

Why do I disagree? Well, let’s look at a white label event app versus an universal app experience from an attendee’s perspective.

Let’s suppose you are attending Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) and you want to view the agenda, the convention center maps, speaker list, trade show map, etc. on your iPhone or Android. Or maybe you want to personalize your event agenda with selected sessions or schedule some time to meet with your fellow attendees to build your network and make connections.

The Attendee Experience with a White Label Event App

In order to accomplish these tasks with a white label app, the attendee would need to search for the WWDC app in the app store (which is found here) and download it to his or her device. So, the steps would be:

  1. Open the app store
  2. Search for WWDC or a mix of the words “Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference”
  3. Click install

Voila! You’re done! The mobile event app doesn’t need to be downloaded again. It stays on your attendee’s device so that your attendee can easily access it as needed.

At the discretion of the event planner, attendees might need to register for the conference itself to access the conference app, or at least to access certain areas of the app. However, either way, it was no problem for your attendee to find and install the white label event app to his or her device.  What’s more, the attendees can easily revist during and post-event this app to find all the connections they’ve made, download handouts or notes they need for work, or simply look at pictures to help them relive the fun of the event.

Event planners also have the discretion and usually do send out prior to the event, a know before you go email which sends a personalized download authorization link that gets your attendee immediately to the app and their conference experience.

The Attendee Experience with a Universal App

Now, suppose there is no stand-alone app as demonstrated above for WWDC. Instead, there is the Univeral App, produced by one of the literally dozens of event app vendors in our industry.

So, now your attendee’s steps would be:

  1. First, you have to find out which one event app vendor has been contracted by Apple to share WWDC information through their app.
  2. Then, you search for that app in the app store and install it.
  3. Now, you open that app
  4. Search within it for the WWDC
  5. Open and access the agenda and other information from within this Univeral, vendor-branded app.

A few more steps and a bit more confusing for your attendee, for sure. But wait, there’s more!

When your attendee is on-site at the event, and he or she wants to quickly get to his or her personalized agenda and other information, your attendee can’t just glance at the device home screen or search for the name of the event he or she is attending.

No, that won’t work. Instead, the attendees have to remember the name of the vendor that produced the app, load it, and again, choose which event from within that experience to load.

And you thought getting the attendees to remember the wifi login code or their member username was challenging.

Losing the Ability to Engage Easily Before, During, and After the Event

The challenges keep coming though. The aforementioned issues allude to difficulties your attendees will face accessing a universal event app before and during an event. What about post-event?

Still a worse attendee experience than if the industry continued to use white label event apps.

Let’s say a month or two post-event your attendees should decide to return to the app to access handouts or materials or to re-engage with people they met onsite. They at this point kind of remember the highlights they enjoyed but don’t remember all the specifics and have grown used to not having to because our industry has had them focus on the name of the event or organization hosting the event.

To get the information they’re after though, the attendee will need to remember the name of the vendor of the event app company who did the universal app instead of easily searching for and bringing up the app by the name of the event. Or by just clicking on the event app icon that still exists on their device.

If you’re shaking your head because you know your attendees won’t waste the time, know that we’re standing there with you.

Attendees shouldn’t have to remember the vendor when the attendee is likely more invested in your event and organization (as they should be!).

We vendors are providers who make customized tools that help you create great meetings. We aren’t the important foci. Your event is.

Other Evidence on Why An Attendee Loses in this Event App Situation

The high-level attendee experience I just outlined shows pretty clearly, I think, why we at Pathable disagree with DoubleDutch’s statement that “the biggest winner in the death of the White Label Event App will be the attendee.” 

The DoubleDutch CEO lays out several reasons why he believes the attendee will win though there’s already a compelling case against it:

“Simpler event app discovery leading to higher adoption/engagement”

The “simpler app discovery” claim, I addressed above in describing an attendee’s experience in locating, downloading, and using the app.

From my perspective, it is just the opposite: a Universal App is harder to discover because it requires knowing the vendor’s brand, rather than the name of the event you are attending.

“The ability to deliver cross event functionality”

As for “cross event functionality” and “year round value”, Pathable has delivered hundreds of white label multi-event apps and association apps: single apps, white labeled with the dedicated name of the association producing the events or the name of the event series, that can be downloaded once and used continuously, year-round for all their events.

But this is still very much a white labeled experience: the brand belongs to the event(s), not a “Universal App” vendor like Slack or Google’s Gmail.

“The opportunity to efficiently roll out feature updates (or security patches)”

As for the “opportunity to roll out feature updates” and security patches, I can’t comment on the architecture chosen by DoubleDutch, nor the willingness of that company to perform this kind of work.

But, the opportunity to ensure that your event app is up to date on features and security is not something we at Pathable think twice about: our architecture was built from the ground up to support exactly this model at scale.

“The chance to deliver year round value, just to name a few”

We at Pathable assume that you as the meeting planner always want to deliver year round value, before, during and after your event. We designed our event apps to support you in this goal if that’s your intention.

And if you don’t, we support you there too. Why? Because we’re a partner in this business with you, but not the person who works day in and day out with your attendees, conference committees, CSuite, and board of directors. We assume you know what you need and we strive to help you deliver that.

And when you aren’t quite sure, we work with that too because sometimes the discovery of features you thought you needed (or find out you don’t need!) can be some of the most exciting and valuable work we can do together.

What about those rumors?

The source of the worry comes from Apple’s recent decision to ramp up its enforcement of Rule 4.2.6 of its guidelines, which states that “Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.”

Why should Apple care how an app is generated? They don’t really, but the problem is that services that make it easy for anyone to quickly and easily create an app also make it easy for people to quickly build apps that are knock-offs of legitimate, successful apps, as well as to churn out thousands of apps with very little functionality. These spam apps clutter up the App Store, making it harder for consumers to find the app they’re looking for, which in turn degrades the “Apple Experience”.

Imagine if your attendees went searching for the WWDC app and, instead of finding the one official app, there were hundreds of knock-offs competing for their attention?

Kind of like that bad attendee experience. Confusing and time-consuming. Not to mention credibility hurting for your event app.

But doesn’t Apple and Google police spam?

Both Apple and Google enforce trademark laws, which is the reason that Pathable includes the signature page of our customer contracts when submitting event apps to Apple on your behalf: if we don’t provide documentation that we are allowed to create apps on our customers’ behalf, they would be rejected.

Which is just one of the many reasons we don’t believe that Apple will be going to after white label event apps: they don’t pose a problem that Apple needs to solve.

The functionality of event apps can be similar (e.g., they all put a conference’s agenda online and all Pathable-produced apps allow attendees to negotiate private meeting times). However, the content and, more importantly, the purpose of the apps are as different as the events they are supporting.

The WWDC event app would not be a “clone” of the Google I/O conference app even if they were produced by the same vendor: they’re supporting different conferences.

So yes, Apple has removed literally hundreds of thousands of clone and spam apps from its App Store in the past year, but that culling has focused on apps that lack significantly unique content or functionality.

No white label event apps have been rejected or even warned. Furthermore, we don’t think they will be because the alternative vendor-specific Universal Apps is a terrible solution for attendees.

If attendees can’t find the app for their event, they won’t use it, and that will degrade the “Apple Experience” more than anything else.

In Conclusion

White Label Event Apps Will Continue to Live to Create Great Attendee Experiences Another Day.

When it comes to the assertion that “There is no longer an option to use a White Label, custom branded event app, at least not through Apple,” that is simply not true. 

Pathable produces dozens of white label apps every month, and we haven’t seen a hint of resistance from Apple. It is absolutely an option and one that our customers (and their attendees) continue to enjoy every day. 

Of course, Apple keeps its own counsel, and has been known to buck expectations and logic (e.g., the iPhone 7 headphone jack controversy), but from where we sit, the sky is not falling, and white label event apps are here to stay.

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