App Insights

How we find apps is getting better

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Finding apps through Google Play and the App Store has always been a long way behind the kind of powerful web search we’re all used to. Developers have, so far, had to aim at getting featured on the front page of the stores to get boosts in user numbers, with little room for organic growth strategies. But companies are starting to challenge this narrow funnel of app discovery in new ways, and we’re on the cusp of things getting better.

What’s the problem?

All of us have come to expect search engines to give us organic, almost pre-emptive, results. Over the years, search engines have developed complex ways to make this work as well as it does, but the app stores are way behind.

One of the reasons is that web pages usually contain a lot of text and links to each other, which makes it easy for computers to log, process and categorise – so it’s much easier to apply algorithms to the content. Apps however, currently rely on their titles, descriptions and loose-fitting category options to provide context. So, one of the main ways to find success is to get featured on the front page, which isn’t easy.

What this means is that people are missing out on finding valuable apps, just because the app stores aren’t providing a more open way to find them.

Solution 1: The “App a Day” Model

One solution that’s already had major success is the “App a Day” model, which recommends a new app each day, based on 24-hour discounts and user reviews. These apps provide a simple mechanism to discover and download apps instantly, and usually provide extra value with daily offers.

There are quite a few of these already out there, like Appoday on iOS and Freapp on Android; but the most well known is AppGratis. Apart from being one of the most popular, AppGratis was a casualty of Apple’s defensive approach to preventing developers by-passing the narrow structure of the app store.

Controversially, Apple decided to drop AppGratis from the app store in April 2013, sparking frustration of the company, millions of Apple users, and even the Minister of Digital Industry in France.

Luckily, AppGratis haven’t given up. They still reach the millions of users who downloaded the app before Apple pulled it from the app store, and developed an Android version of their app. They also have a website that continues their promotion. But there are a few companies trying a more competitive tactic: Alternative App Directories.

Solution 2: Alternative App Directories

Web-based app search engines have been around for a while, sites like Quixey and Lookitap, but now we’re seeing companies going a bit further – going beyond listings and developing new mechanisms to find apps in the first place. One interesting example is Xyo.

Xyo’s approach is social, pulling in data from your Facebook profile give you recommendations of apps you might like, based on pages you like and apps that your friends have found through Xyo. This gives people a more organic way to discover apps that could be relevant to them, and leverages social potential in a way that the app stores have not made room for.

On top of their social approach, they’ve introduced their own sub-categories to make search results more accurate. People looking for “skiing” apps no longer have to trawl through the “Sports, Health & Fitness” section, or only seeing apps that have “skiing” in their name – but can get a cross-section of different apps from the “Ski & Snow” subcategory, providing opportunities for people to discover complimentary apps that could enhance their experience.

The future of finding apps

Xyo aren’t just relying on themselves though, having secured a deal with Nokia to power the Windows Phone app searches. As Windows is years behind both Apple & Google in the app market, they’re planning to snap-up existing smartphone users by offering alternatives to the most popular apps on both platforms, making the transition easier for new customers.

Of course, Apple’s dominance and defensive approach could make it difficult for these new search engines to get established. But the opportunity to work with large companies like Windows, and the large amount of data that it will likely provide, Xyo could be the start of a new route to find apps, regardless of what platform people choose to own.