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Keeping everyone appy – the dilemma of the modern app platform marketplace

by on August 20, 2013 in Apps, Apps & Software, FaceBook, Gadgets, Google, iPhone, Lead story, LinkedIn, Metrics, Mobile, Mobile Marketing, Pinterest, Twitter, Uncategorized, Websites

In a bid to bridge the gulf between an ideal app store for users – and an equally ideal one for developers, earlier this year Google revamped and re-launched, Google Play.

The new Google Play design is “simple, clean and – most importantly – helps you find great entertainment, fast”, says Michael Siliski, group product manager for Google Play.

The re-launch is both smart and necessary, if a tad overdue. Google strongly relies upon Play in attracting users of android phones to the store (most users have an alternative choice of entertainment right there on their handsets) in large numbers. Equally, Google needs to attract developers to put their apps up on the store quickly – preferably at the same time if not before they do the same on the Apple App store.

In other words, it must efficiently and effectively populate the space with buyers and sellers to create a thriving digital marketplace. Google needed to up its game with Play not just to stay competitive with Apple, but to stave off challengers in the app platform market.

Building an effective mobile ecosystem is like assembling a burgeoning political party: a complicated business which if not managed well, can create a culture of mediocrity.  Hence the Android Market was a mess compared with The App Store. And the competitors are currently struggling to keep up.

However, there is some weight to the view that ‘two is company, three is a crowd’ when it comes to platforms. To some extent the developer should be grateful, that in a saturated mobile market, users can easily ‘fish where the fish are’ – in just two very big ponds, requiring just two versions of the app to be developed. That has to be better than what games marketers have been dealing with for years – fragmented distribution (though this includes coping with a variety of both physical carrier formats and digital platforms).

However, the flip-side for developers, when it comes to supplying only two dominant marketplaces, is visibility. With over 700,000 apps available on Google Play and the App Store, it is impossible to put each available offering in the customer’s field of vision.


According to apps analytics group Flurry smartphone users launch up to eight apps each day. Flurry says that “while consumers use only eight apps per day among the million+ available between the AppStore and Google Play, one also needs to remember that the eight apps each consumer uses varies widely. This creates a marketplace that can support diversified apps”.

But the issue is, it doesn’t. Last summer the mobile analytics start-up Adeven claimed that some 60 per cent of apps on the App Store (then harbouring a mere 650,000 apps) were never downloaded, by anyone. It’s surprising why more isn’t made of this, since it starkly exposes the gross inefficiencies of the apps marketplace system.

There has been much more research done on poor engagement. Last month, Compuware found that while 79 percent of users will give apps a second chance if unimpressed on the first go, but that number plummets to just 16 percent that will go back for a third attempt.  Now, multiply the first stat by the second. Only 40 per cent of apps get seen and downloaded – and most of those are a let-down! It’s depressing arithmetic for developers.

Without drastic changes to the way platforms market their product, we face an innovation bottleneck in mobile, where only developers ‘with muscle’ – previously accumulated capital advantages – can spend their way to the top, despite unexceptional offerings.

Imagine you are a small developer, with an app that you know is great. Getting your app to the users you know will benefit is akin to being a first novelist posting your manuscript off to the world’s largest book publishers. Good luck.

Google’s revamp of Play is a step toward redressing the balance of power to the developer, improving the discoverability of apps, upgrading its product recommendation platform and redesigning the interface. Google could – and probably will – go further. Does the store really need so many products?


App discovery platforms will see their day. Ooompf didn’t quite fly, but the idea was right – make it easier for users to find the apps they really need. Ooompf’s new strategy to become a B2B marketplace linking developers with projects is not a bad move though – and will help direct developers to fruitful, well supported projects.

The pendulum might swing soon. Arguably the bigger opportunity though is for a third major player to emerge – and the candidates are there: Windows 8; Firefox; BlackBerry and now Samsung’s Tizen. As a route to growth any of these can play smart, challenger roles – largely through offering developers exactly what the big two cannot: exposure; discoverability; support and better integration into products and services offered – a clearer path to monetisation.

It seems that Facebook has a job of work to do here too. Social discoverability for apps, as with social search, holds promise but is in its infancy, and will require greater synergy between operating systems and social media to become successful. So far they have not been comfortable collaborators.

Another route is specialist app stores – provided they make intuitive sense to customers, and provide relevance and value-add. Amazon’s store is polished, easy to use and less crowded (though obviously it leans heavily towards being a ‘Kindle’ store). Others, such as GetJar (independent developer champion) and Slide ME (payment option friendly including PayPal) are finding their purpose. But just how many stores an oligopoly will support is an unknown at this stage.

But with two major players what we don’t want is complacency when we need continuous, flowing innovation. With Samsung/Tizen and Firefox coming, Microsoft & Nokia and BlackBerry still in the game, there are challenger brands on the horizon and the OS space will continue to evolve in a fascinating, almost biological fashion.

Keith Jopling, Senior Vice President, KAE





Keith Jopling, Senior Vice President, KAE

Image credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr

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