Gay apps emerge for iPhone users
by Matthew S. Bajko
Out of the 15,000 applications available to iPhone users, surprisingly few of them are targeted to LGBT owners of the Apple smartphones.
Since the launch last summer of what are known as apps, entrepreneurs and tech-savvy consumers have built apps for every conceivable need. There are game apps, educational apps, news apps, clothes apps, food apps, and music apps.
The downloads for the iPhones range from free giveaways to ones costing as much as $5.99 or more. The Silicon Valley-based tech company has even resorted to plugging the various apps in its marketing of the iPhone.
But it has only been in recent weeks that app developers have created ones targeted specifically for the LGBT community. A search under the word "gay" on the iPhone's App Store this week found a mere seven choices.
"I think like most new products, producers/designers tend to go for the general masses first and then we start seeing niche products for niche markets shortly after," wrote Serge Gojkovich, who blogs on the Web site www.gaygadget.com, in response to e-mail questions.
One of the gay apps is called iPropose. It costs $.99 and allows a user to propose to their partner. The screen shows a flute of champagne and two men in tuxes atop a wedding cake. If the answer is yes, the phone will cheer; if it is no, it will sob.
"A friend of mine was just lamenting about the dearth of queer apps for the iPhone," wrote Jerame Davis in an e-mail response to questions.
Davis recently posted a note on the LGBT-focused Bilerico.com blog about an upcoming app called the ePride Guide from Indigo 501 Creative. Both a Web site and iPhone app, the guide will allow users to access ratings on LGBT-friendly businesses in a specific location and/or category, wrote Davis.
Ratings will come from national databases or will be provided by an LGBT equality organization in the particular state, wrote Davis. Users will also be able to leave feedback about their experience with a business or to debate a rating.
San Francisco-based Web site http://www.Gaycities.com launched its iPhone app last week. The free download maps nearby gay-friendly restaurants, bars, hotels, and beaches in more than 70 cities worldwide. The Gaycities app has been under development since the fall.
"It is not easy to build iPhone apps. You need very specific expertise and effort. It has taken a lot of time to build this," said Scott Gatz, a gay man who founded the company last year and is its CEO.
According to the company, the app has already been downloaded several thousand times since going live February 12. It allows iPhone users to not only locate LGBT-friendly places but will also map out directions to the various venues using the iPhone's location as a starting point. The listings are also searchable by type of bar or restaurant.
"The reaction has been so overwhelmingly positive," said Gatz, who used the app while in London last week. "It is time to throw out the paper guides. Our editors and users update this all the time. By the time the guides come out they are already out of date."
The company is already working on ways to upgrade the app, with plans to add an e-mail function so users can send in tips on new gay hotspots in their hometowns or alert Gaycities when a venue closes. Plans are also in the works to add a review function so users can post critiques. And while it is not generating money off the iPhone app, the company is exploring ways to earn revenue from it.
"Right now we want to grow our audience base. Giving the app away for free is a really important way to do that," said Gatz.
Gaycities boasts it is the first gay media company to launch its own iPhone app. It will certainly not be the only one looking to take advantage of the mobile device to increase its brand recognition and create a new revenue stream.
When the publishers of Frontiers and IN Los Angeles magazines recently announced they would be merging, they also disclosed plans for an iPhone app called MYGAYGO. It sounds similar to Gaycities's app but will not be solely focused on entertainment information.
"In short, MYGAYGO is a one-stop information source for an increasingly mobile society. Need to find an LGBT-friendly restaurant, hotel, store, lawyer, dentist, etc.? With MYGAYGO, the information will literally be at your fingertips," wrote David Stern, a co-publisher of the new merged company, in an e-mail to readers.
Stern did not disclose if the app would be free or if it would be geared only for the Los Angeles area or have info on various cities.
It is not just LGBT media companies rushing to create gay-related iPhone apps. One of the earliest apps to come online is called Pride. Free to install, it turns the iPhone screen into a rainbow flag that fades into the word pride.
"We figured they are ideal candidates for app development," said Duvall in a phone interview. "We saw there was nothing out there for gay apps. We figured we could build something as one of our first ones."
Duvall said the men were surprised to discover that other companies had not targeted gay iPhone users.
"Gay people are the wet dream of marketers. They are cutting edge, usually better educated, and have more disposable income," said Duvall.
Since Pride went up on the App Store three weeks ago it has been downloaded 1,500 times, said Duvall. It is number 88 among the most popular free apps in the lifestyle section.
While it is free to install, the app does make money for Splaysoft. At the bottom of the screen is advertising. Each time a user clicks on the ad, Splaysoft receives a certain click-through fee, though Duvall said the revenue is negligible at this point.
Along with upgrades for the Pride app, the company is also working on a new app that would be a gay news reader. Users who download the app would receive updates about news stories posted to various gay media sites that carry RSS feeds. It should be available for free in mid-March.
"We are trying to come up with a cute icon that will catch someone's eye as the gay news reader," said Duvall.
And the company has plans to re-brand its gay-themed apps into more mainstream directions, said Duvall.
"It is so easy for us to see the gay market as a defined demographic. We can then say how can we expand this into other demographics," he said. "We have other apps that are rip offs of Pride, like My Ireland and My Canada, that has those countries flags instead of the rainbow flag. We also want to build a medical news reader and a legal news reader."