Wading Through a Sea of Apps
While the inventory of available apps continues to grow, so too does the level of confusion surrounding this burgeoning market.
App stores with libraries that measure in the hundreds of thousands are a sign of a healthy mobile content market, but those big numbers are also complicating life for carriers, developers and consumers alike, as each seeks to make the most of a market that some say is missing its potential.
The term “app discovery” has become a catch phrase linked to the aggravating bottleneck that seems to plague stores like Apple’s App Store and the Android Market. Even as iTunes offers more featured apps and granular categories, the average consumer doesn’t have a chance of sampling any significant portion of the 250,000 apps available for download at the App Store.
Here’s a look at three players with unique approaches to easing the app bottleneck and getting more exposure to more apps.
Brian Akaka is founder and CEO of Appular, a full-service public relations firm that specializes in getting the word out about their clients’ apps. Appular will user every tool available to make sure people know about an app. From spreading the word via a variety of social networks to iPad giveaways, anything is fair game if it helps an app rise above the App Store haystack.
Akaka compares the current app market to an ocean and each individual app as nothing more than a drop of water. He concedes that Apple still features indie developers, but also says that as more and more large brands enter the app market, the smaller developers are met with yet another obstacle.
Appular has found its niche with the mid-tier developers and tends to focus on clients that have already had a hit or at least have a business plan in place. Akaka counts social media as a powerful way of getting the word out about an app. With a Facebook following of over 10,000, Appular can offer its own reach, but Akaka says he still encourages all of his clients to start their own accounts, adding that there’s more to it than just signing up for an account.
“The thing about social media is that everyone wants to participate. I feel like a lot of developers don’t realize that when you start up a Facebook or a Twitter account, you’re starting at zero. There’s quite a bit of elbow grease that you need to be put in to grow that entity,” he says.
Akaka says Apple’s App Store has been its first priority but Appular sees promise in Android and already has begun promoting a few apps in that market.
ALL ABOUT APPS
Appolicious is a consumer-focused website that specializes on the topic of app discovery. The website features editorial content, lists, user reviews and more granular categories than what’s currently offered by Google or Apple at the Android Market and App Store, respectively.
Appolicious is based on the proposition that people find out about apps in three ways: They’ll read about them through editorial content on the Web; they’ll browse or search the apps stores; or they’ll hear about them via word of mouth or social networks.
“The problem for a consumer is that if you’re relying on either Google or Apple, you’re basically going to be presented with the most popular apps for a given category,” says Alan Warms, Appolicious’ founder and CEO, noting that this is but a sliver of what’s actually out there.
But Warms says that the problem with app discovery, when compared to books or music, is that apps are still not a well-understood phenomenon. “Just getting into those listings on App Store or the Android market isn’t going to be enough. I mean, you know what a book is, you know what an album is, but what the heck is an ‘app?’”
Visitors to Appolicious will find the complete listing of Android Market and App Store apps, and users can refine searches based on the platform they use. But Appolicious is more than just a search and browse site. Warms is quick to note that editorial content (app reviews and lists) and a social component that Appolicious has built into its website are perhaps the most effective ways for users to find apps that suit their needs.
He demonstrates the website by showing the way that user-generated lists and recommendations can help consumers share their favorite apps with others. When combined with the general editorial discourse on the site, the picture of what’s out there gains some depth and breadth.
When asked whether more is better in the world of apps – or if all that clutter is just making a mess of things for everyone – Warms says more is always better, even if that means there’s an excess of fluff.
“At the end of the day, I think more apps is always better. If you have more apps, you have more good apps, if you have more good apps, you’re going to have more great apps,” Warms says, adding that real danger is in being a smartphone OEM developing for a smaller library. “If I was developing for a market of 20,000 apps or less, that wouldn’t be good.”
To be sure, those little square icons on users’ smartphones are good things in the operators’ eyes. To the carrier, those little icons represent tiny revenue-generating miracles that increase stickiness and data usage.
Duane Edwards, senior vice president of product management for Globys, a data mediation company, hopes to help carriers make the right app recommendations to its customers by leveraging the consumer information to which only carriers are privy.
“One of our core concepts is that any product, service or content, has spikes and dips, in its relevance based upon context… Whatever it is, there will be times when that product, service or content will have times when it’s more relevant to a given customer and times when it’s not,” Edwards says.
Globys’ contextual marketing solution helps carriers identify those spikes in relevance, which in turn allows carriers to recommend content, such as apps, that are valuable to a consumer at a particular time or place. Imagine taking a trip to Maui and your carrier sends you an SMS that recommends you download an app that rates the best sushi restaurants on the island.
Edwards says that Globys’ solution addresses the real problem with app discovery, which is that in many cases, customers aren’t sure what apps they want or need. He references a poll conducted by an Indonesian operator, DiGi, that surveyed those iPhone customers who had not yet downloaded an app in the first 30 days of ownership.
The results are telling. Fully 45 percent of those surveyed said that they didn’t know what to download, with 40 percent responding that there were too many choices. Only 15 percent said they simply weren’t interested.
Edwards extrapolates from those numbers that app discovery is a problem that is affecting the entire ecosystem. “You can see how this is a problem for everybody. The customer doesn’t know what to download. The developer is in a position where if you’re app number 250,001 at the App Store, how are you going to be found? And if you’re the carrier, they need the customer to find that app and to be using that app from a stickiness standpoint and a data usage standpoint and a customer experience standpoint,” he says.
RECOGNIZING THE PROBLEM
Of course, the app stores out there recognize the problem. While some might argue that Android launched its App Inventor as a way of boosting its numbers, Apple itself is beginning to acknowledge that the fluff is not helping anyone.
A quick glance at Apple’s new App Store review guidelines, which are aimed at adding transparency to Apple’s review process, are clearly also targeting elimination of some of the more useless apps being submitted.
It’s a good bet that writing another fart app will result in a rejection. In fact, the second item on the list states, “We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don’t need any more Fart apps.”
The list goes on to promise that “if your app doesn’t do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted,” and “if your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.”
While clutter may not be the only problem facing the app market, it’s certainly one of the first hurdles that anyone in the ecosystem, customers included, will have to jump. For now, there may be an “app for that,” but the real question appears to be whether anyone can find it.