Zoho, the online office suite for small and medium sized businesses, you probably know that they offer a whole lot of different applications. The 16 different apps the company has had for some time seems like a small selection now - today the Zoho Marketplace launched with hundreds of new apps built on the company's platform Zoho Creator.If you're familiar with
Developers can build their own apps for free or for sale and Zoho allows them to keep 100% of the revenue from app sales. Are these apps for real? It's hard to say. We really like the idea, but Zoho is a complicated company.
The Marketplace Apps
As can be imagined, there's a wide range of quality in the apps in the marketplace today. In its announcement Zoho says that more than 100,000 apps have been created with its Zoho Creator database program, but it appears that only about 300 of those are included in the marketplace at launch.
It's hard to know how to find the best apps, to know which ones are effectively duplicates and we expect those issues to continue as developers flock to the platform. It's one thing to rustle through scores of sheep kissing apps on Facebook, or shiny GPS baubles in the iPhone platform - it's another to try and find apps in an office marketplace to run your business on.
Some of the app demos were loading only intermittently during our evaluation and that's not a good sign for something users are going to do business with.
Some, like HelpDesk, look strikingly robust. Others, like the very similar Issue Tracker, look downright insufficient - Issue Tracker's bug tracking app doesn't offer reporting as far as we could tell, for example.
Most of the apps in the marketplace right now are free. The variety of apps available is interesting; one called Camp Registration facilitates registration for events, includes an hour of customization and costs $150. That app can be embedded on any other website. This and all the apps in the marketplace offer a demonstration you can view before installing.
To some degree your trust in Zoho marketplace apps will likely begin as a matter of faith. Readers here presumably are willing to put some amount of trust in online apps in general. There's probably a little more skepticism about Zoho apps in particular. Zoho marketplace apps, developed by people outside the company all together, will be an even further leap of faith. Whether you can make that leap will depend in part on where you started regarding online apps in the first place.
Zoho Apps in General
Google's online office apps were expected to change the world, and by some limited accounts they've begun to. Many people, though, find Google Apps too lightweight and infrequently updated.
Zoho's office suite has faced criticism about being too lightweight but no one can say they are too infrequently updated. A July report from analyst firm the 451 Group reported that Zoho was slowing down on new product roll out and would be focusing on improvement of existing apps. That prediction appears now to be incorrect, but the rest of 451's analysis of Zoho is very useful. "At present, there's still something of a work-in-progress feel about Zoho, with some key functionalities still to come," report authors China Martens and Anne Nielsen wrote.
Ask any major CRM vendor who they're keeping an eye on in their rearview mirror, and Zoho will be among the first players they name. That's pretty impressive for a vendor that has largely relied on word of mouth and user experimentation to gain notice...The company is already well positioned to address the increasing app pricing and integration pressures from customers and has made some initial strides in establishing channel sales.
According to another report from analyst firm Yankee Group though, Zoho already offers a better enterprise collaboration suite than Google. That report tracks 16 collaboration suites head to head, further comparison results still pending.
Zoho tells a good story and is certainly an exciting company to watch, but sometimes the story gets a little more oomph than it deserves. Oliver Marks at ZDNet, for example, wrote this week that a story floating around the blogosphere that General Electric dropped Google Apps in favor of Zoho was not in fact true. Marks reports that GE is still evaluating both services and hasn't made a decision yet about either.
Conclusion: These Apps Will Work for Many People, But Not All
We love platforms, good ones are fascinating in their fecundity even if they are complicated for providers and participants. Zoho does have a lot of momentum in the small business world, so we expect there to be a lot of international developer interest. Will customers come to Zoho and stay? The price and selection are hard to beat so the company will likely win customers for whom those are primary concerns. Would-be customers who prioritize robustness may have a more mixed experience, depending on the apps they select from the marketplace.