Making Apps for Political Junkies The 2012 Presidential election is the first one where people are tethered to their smartphones, and this fact hasn't gone unnoticed by scores of app makers.
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A quick search of Google Play for the word "politics" brings up at least 1,000 apps -- most related to political news, election commentary and state-specific politics. The candidates themselves even have their own: Romney for President and Obama for America. Both apps, presumably, were developed by in-house engineers, though neither campaign returned requests for comments. (Romney also used an app to announce Paul Ryan as his running mate, though the rollout didn't go quite as promised.)
Some entrepreneurs are developing "disposable" apps that are germane for the 2012 election season but may have little relevance later on. Others have more broad-based political apps, not tied exclusively to the presidential race, and hope the upcoming season will boost sales, recognition or user counts.
To be sure, political-app-building is still somewhat of a new market, and business models vary. Some entrepreneurs are creating free apps, hoping to make money from ad revenue down the road. Others are charging fees to download their app or levying ongoing subscription fees to some users. And still other small businesses are profiting by helping politically minded, but less tech-savvy individuals build and publish their own apps for cheaper than they could on their own. (The expense of doing it solo can be prohibitive, with costs ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 or more.)
Here's a sampling of some political apps on the market, all made by independent shops. Some are so new they have few ratings on either iTunes or Google Play.
Politix -- One of the newer apps, it was created as a forum for political chatter. It allows users to take a stand on issues and candidates central to the 2012 election, and then share those thoughts with their social networks, virtual and physical communities, and fellow voters. The free app was launched in early May for iPhones and certain iPads and iPods. Chris Tolles, chief executive of Topix, the Palo Alto, Calif., company that developed the app, hopes to eventually make money through advertising. He says the app was developed to meet user demand for a political forum. "There seemed to be a huge hole in the market," he says.
Filibustr -- This free app, available on Apple devices since May, allows users to find congressional lawmakers across the U.S. and view information about their voting records and positions on important issues. Users can also debate issues and throw a virtual tomato, tip their hat, wag a finger or give a bouquet of flowers in response to candidates' actions. Reneldy Senat, who volunteered for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, came up with the idea after an interaction with then-candidate Obama. He declined to disclose the number of current users or plans for making money, but said the app attracted thousands of users in its first few weeks.
Presidential Election Race 2012 -- Developed by London-based Grand Parade Ltd., the app has been available on iPhones for $1.99 since late March and tells users what's going on in the presidential election race: who is leading nationally according to opinion polls, betting odds and Twitter sentiment; which way every state is leaning, historical data, daily news stories, and a map and scoreboard of how the election would play out if held this minute. Grand Parade says it created the app partly as an opportunity to "test the appetite of the market for such apps as the race heats up" and is hoping the app will showcase its mobile development capabilities.
Parity Politics -- This app, available for Android devices since July 2011, displays real-time election polls and graphs related to the race for president and Congress, as well as approval ratings for certain officeholders. It's also got data, news, editorials, and articles from across the political spectrum, including original content. It costs 99 cents and has a 3.3 star rating on Google Play. "I wanted [poll] information daily and no app could do that, so I built it for myself," says developer Erhan Kartaltepe. There's also a free, watered-down version of the app. But that one only has a rating of 2.1 on Google Play.
VoterMap --This free app for Android devices has been around for about two years. It was an offshoot of an app called SpillMap, a forum related to the BP oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The developers of SpillMap decided to create a separate app for political discussions since so much of the dialogue on their other app was political. Nowadays, the real-time communications forum is almost all about the upcoming presidential election. It's rated 4.1 stars on Google Play. "We'd love to find a way to make money with the app, but we haven't yet," says Brian Cohee of Seattle, the app's co-developer.
AngelPolitics -- Another app due out in September for iPhone users is called AngelPolitics. The app will allow political donors to pledge support to candidates and connect with other donors, free of charge. Candidates who want the app to connect with donors will pay a fee ranging from $29 to $499 a month. It is too soon to tell how successful the app will be, but potential abounds, says Jesse Sandoval, co-founder and head of products at AngelPolitics in New York. "The market that we're addressing is a $13 billion market. That's how much money goes into political contributions on an annual basis."