Business Tips

How to beat 2/3rds of app competitors

Our mission here at Developer Economics is to help developers create a better app business. A recent survey from App Promo highlights the pain points once again, and offers some hints about the solution.

Let’s start with the bad news…

4 out of 5 developers admit that their app doesn’t make enough money to be considered a standalone business. 2 out of 3 doesn’t break even. This confirms our results from the Developer Economics 2013 report, where 67% of developers who want to earn money live under the App Poverty line (revenues of less than $500 per month).

Despite these disconcerting numbers, and despite developers indicating discovery, making money and turning the app into a business as the main challenges, most developers undervalue the importance of marketing their applications. According to the App Promo survey, 2 out of 3 developers don’t have a marketing budget, and a quarter of developers doesn’t market their app at all.

And yet there is hope. A full 81% of developers said that they would not abandon their app. App Promo found that the survivors (experienced developers with apps that are over 3 years in the market) have succeeded in creating an interesting app business. They report revenues earned to date of over half a million, 100% of them breaks even and 78% considers their app successful enough for a standalone business. And yes, they do market their apps: over half of the respondents in this group has marketing budgets of over $1000 per month.

App Promo’s results also include differences between platforms, the use of various revenue models and marketing techniques, and more. The full results can be downloaded here.



Mobile Advertising versus App Store Promotion: a tale of woes and wins

As an independent developer, I ‘ve had my fair amount of successes and failures – examples of the former are TVPyx (Symbian, Windows Phone, Web) and TubeBusBike (Symbian).

Having developed apps on iOS, Android, WP, Symbian, Bada and Web – my experiences of all stores  has been mixed. As an independent developer it is increasingly difficult to get noticed in the sea of apps that are available on the various stores. I have had a fair amount of trial and error experiences with both advertising and merchandising across those stores. I ‘m here to share my experiences with both.

 There are a number of techniques available to developers that can be used to promote your app and increase downloads. Some of these you will need to pay for, some of which are just down to hard work and slick execution. Of course there is always an element of luck and right place right time usually built upon previous failures, think Rovio. I am going to concentrate on two methods of promotion.

 Advertising  and cross promotion – The method of promoting an app either through paid in-app advertising i.e. in someone else’s app/website or cross promotion through apps developed by the same publisher.

 App store promotion – The practice of promoting an app via app stores. Merchandisers (app store owner staffers) select apps by country/region to appear as featured or promoted apps on the store. Various ‘slots’ have different success rates where ‘featured’ is usually the Holy Grail in terms of maximizing eyeballs and downloads.


Advertising using one of the mobile ad networks like Admob or an ad exchange like Inneractive is a paid-for activity i.e. you would pay for a campaign of ad impressions to promote your application in the usual advertising model. While someone like Admob may be excellent in a market like the Germany, they may lack in a specific region like Vietnam. This is where an ad exchange comes in. If you have a truly global application or specific regional needs that no one ad network can provide the required local content, an ad exchange barters on your behalf with local inventory and then serves the ad that gives you the most return.

Not all ad mechanisms are created equal, so you should take care whilst selecting one. While the fill rate may be excellent compared to a single network, the downside is that you may not be getting premium content that would be served by a truly local provider i.e. lower CPM. So while a fixed ad network can provide targeted delivery in terms of locale, an ad exchange can level the playing field especially in those maybe hard to reach areas of the globe. You need to understand your market and choose accordingly.

My personal experience of using paid-for app promotion was very disappointing. For £1000 one of my apps was involved in a campaign that consisted of a carousel with 4 ads shown in succession. The campaign as a whole  garnered 260,000 impressions. My ad was the 4th on the carousel meaning that it would be the 4th ad served once the app the ad was in was invoked. Quite far down the pecking order. From this campaign there were 82 clicks of which it is unclear whether any of these actually resulted in any downloads. No spike, no step change, just noise. The ad was targeted at UK mainly but a few other countries were involved. So quite a high customer acquisition rate!

Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some markets, advertising in apps might even have an adverse effect on downloads, as they use data which comes at a cost to the user.

App Store Promotion

Being a ‘featured’ app on any store will dramatically increase downloads. Naturally being featured in a store is likely the result of one of the following; it’s a great app, it’s a great experience, great PR, a relationship with a journalist on a national newspaper, major marketing budget, lots of hard work and maybe a bit of luck to name a few.

To get noticed by a store owner – especially an OEM – you need to consider what they as the builder of the devices are currently trying to push. For Nokia it may be imaging or mapping i.e. you are more likely to be promoted if you are harnessing one of the strengths of the business, what makes them unique. For Samsung it may be an app that integrates with their TV solutions. Segmentation considerations also work e.g. apps for a demographic that are being targeted by a particular device or devices. Building a relationship with an app store owner is a means to get promoted but this is likely to be the result of an app that meets the needs of a campaign or some quid quo pro between the developer and the likely OEM. A strong relationship or understanding of needs is required regardless of approach. I am privileged enough to have been involved a number of OEM programmes and have some close relationships with a number of OEM’s and platform providers so this approach has very much worked for me.

There are a number different areas on a store where you can be promoted; featured, staff picks etc. Some OEM’s have mini stores that usually link to their platform stores like Windows Marketplace or Play. This gives the OEM the ability to merchandise their partner apps without seeking the permission of the platform owner. Nokia has the App Highlights app shipped with all their phones, other OEM’s have their own offering.

My experience of being featured on Windows Marketplace was great for downloads as I suspect being featured would be on other stores. App Highlights worked well until Nokia changed the app due to having to try to promote more apps themselves. This meant my app started to get lost in the sheer number of apps being promoted. The latter being the inherent problem of managing app promotion on store.

Below is a graph of my own experience of being featured on Windows Marketplace and being promoted through App Highlights. There is no halo effect, as soon as the promotion stops the graph returns to the usual run rate. The implication is that you have to continue to promote and market the app to get downloads. As you can see the experience is far more positive than paid-for app advertising. Being featured represented a 1000% increase (800 downloads/day) in downloads whilst being included in App Highlights represented a 200% (160 downloads/day) increase in downloads.

Continuous promotion is crucial

There are other spikes on the graph that are not either Featured or App Highlights. The honest answer is I don’t know what caused them. I only know that my app was featured or highlighted because a) someone told me or b) I happened to know the right people. The other spikes could have been caused by promotion on other parts of the store that I was unaware of or a blog picked up on the app etc. It is usually the case that the developer is not told that their app is being promoted which seems a shame for the developer and the store owner not to be able to capitalize on the promotion.


To get downloads, you need to continuously promote and market your app. I experienced no halo effect, as soon as the promotion stops the graph returns to the usual run rate. For me, getting featured and highlighted was a far more effective solution than paid-for advertising. The key is to build close relationships with multiple OEM’s and platform providers and use it to deeply understand their marketing needs.

Business Community

The state of App Search Optimization (ASO)

The reason why ASO is getting so much attention right now is because in today’s charts-driven app stores 10% of apps gets 90% of downloads. For developers, the only effective mechanism to catch attention is buying large amounts of app installs to catapult their app into the top 25 charts where people look for inspiration. But this approach has become very expensive as app install prices soar.

Indie developers who have limited resources struggle to compete and get their app in front of users’ eyes. At XYO, our goal is to change this and enable long-tail app discovery by helping users discover what they want even though they can’t express it. To build our site we looked into search behavior to understand how people find apps. What we learned is that the majority of users has no real concept of how to search for apps and no idea about the vast supply of great apps out there, because they can’t see them.

The Super Early Days of ASO - A SImple Model To Compare SEO  and ASO

To optimize for search it’s important to understand how users are searching. On the web, there is SEO as a proven tool for which countless SEO companies provide rich insights, and tracking success is easy. For mobile apps however, it’s mostly guesswork. “These are the super early days of ASO”, said Tomasz Kolinko founder of ASO specialist App Store Optimization (ASO) at the moment boils down to optimizing a list of keywords for queries that users are likely to type.

So how do users search? Based on our data on and by looking at the publicly available studies by Chomp (acquired by Apple last year), we have identified four types of users in app search.

Our main findings conclude that app search is dominated by vaguely expressed intents and very generic queries. Users are inexperienced in how to find apps and have difficulties navigating cluttered app stores.

80% of user searches are generic category or interest searches

XYO Insights - types of search queries

Most app searches happen with only a generally expressed intent. The majority of users (around 75%-80%) type general app categories into the search box. Examples of such categories are ‘social networking’, ‘education’ or ‘racing games’. Our findings are consistent with what app search company Chomp was publishing in its Monthly App Search Analytics study.

Around 10%-15% of all search queries look for simple inspiration: These users either type ‘games’ or ‘apps’ into the search box or add adjectives like ‘new’, ‘free’ or ‘fun’. Examples of such queries are: ‘addictive games’, ‘fun games’, ‘free apps’, ‘new apps’.

Only 5% of all users seek specific app brands or titles. Our data and other sources indicate that while some users are aware of mainstream brands like Angry Birds or Facebook, other mobile brands are mostly unknown.

For apps there is another category: functional app searches where the query describes what the user wishes to achieve. Examples of such searches are ‘crop photos’, ‘block calls’, ‘view movies’. Those functional queries are super important for classic web-based SEO – in mobile app search they are marginal at around 5% of searches.


Optimizing search for users who don’t know how to search

App Store search is based on app title and a keyword list. For Google Play the app description also counts, which opens up more opportunities for developers to add seasonal or trending keywords (e.g. ‘easter’ or ‘gangnam style’).

In general, it’s advised to use a keyword tool such as, MobileDevHQ, SearchMan , and These tools give an idea of keywords competitors are using and where the sweet spot of high search volume and low competition lies for a specific app.

[sectors slugs=’app-store-optimization’]

“Longer phrases are 70% of search volume on the web (indicator), they’re less competitive, and probably see higher post-click conversion (download) rates because the user explicitly searched for ‘free video poker game’, Niren Hiro, CEO at SearchMan told us. His conclusion: Developers can take steps to get the No. 1 rank under each of their ‘long tail’ keywords. That is, developers can optimize their rankings for keywords that will give them better results on the App Store when users go searching for certain kinds of apps. Optimizing for the long tail is key, because generic keywords will have high search volumes but a lot of competition and often lower conversion.

“We go from low(er)-volume, high-conversion keywords (such as ‘golfcoaching’), all the way to what we call secondary and tertiary market keywords, like ‘coaching’ or ‘sports’. Conversion for branded and function searches are likely to have higher conversion rates than inspiration or interest searches – and interest searches may have even better conversion rates than inspiration searches,“ explained Patrick Haig, VP, Customer Success  at MobileDevHQ. If history from the web will repeat itself, then it will become cumbersome for users to browse results, and they will start entering more descriptive phrases to get relevant results fast.

Apart from optimizing the keyword list, an app’s title is of utmost importance. We recommend including the most important keywords in the title to get found.

Showtime: App description and screenshots increase conversion

When users browse search results, two things matter most to increase conversion: app descriptions and screenshots. Over and over again we see the first three lines of description wasted by developers babbling about achievements that are meaningless to new users. Sure, a “Game of the Year” award is great news – but it’s secondary information as long as users don’t have a clue what the game is about. That’s why the app description should explain what the app does in the first 2-3 lines. Bullet points can be used if necessary, as well as precise and short copy. Later in the text authoritative reviews can make sense to build trust, especially for Android where this text is also indexed for search. “For Google Play, it’s even better if you can include reviews that include targeted keywords,” said Patrick Haig.

Screenshots have gained relevance significantly and are a popular medium for developers. Users rely on screenshots to see if they like the look and feel of an app they’re about to download, and –again– to find out what this app actually does. Jai Jaisimha CEO at Appnique: “Moment of truth: iOS6 design increases importance of the screenshot because that is mostly what they see in the App Store client on the phone.” That’s why adding explanatory text is useful – and developers should get creative about it. Patrick Haig: “Treating screenshots like a stop-motion commercial can be powerful.”

Reviews turn users into app ambassadors

Once a user has downloaded an app, ratings become priority because they are crucial for ranking: “We have an article here from Inside Mobile Apps that illuminates how important ratings are, segmented by each store (Google Play and iTunes). Also, it’s becoming even more important for publishers to improve upon their current version rating, as that’s the only rating seen by a searcher in-device (i.e., searching on their iPhone or iPad). Users have to dig in order to see the All Versions rating, which just doesn’t happen,” Patrick Haig from mobiledevHQ told us.


Though important, ratings are not that meaningful to base a download decision on: The average rating is 3.8 making it difficult to see the nuances within the star rating system. To increase conversion, internal and external reviews are getting more and more significant. Being proactive in asking for reviews can save a lot of pain: Prompting users for feedback makes them convey a problem before they post a negative review, recommends Appnique.


At the moment, a big trend in app store optimization (ASO) is trying to overcome the obvious discovery problem by stuffing app’s titles with keywords, longer descriptions or almost complete sentences. The race for the best phrases keywords is in full swing. Obviously user experience will suffer in the process if keyword optimization will be used too excessively by a large number of developers. A backlash might be the result, similar to when Google punished some of the shadier SEO practices with their Panda update.

The ASO tips presented above are not meant to be a ‘silver bullet’ for app discovery. ASO is a useful set of techniques used to increase discoverability through keywords, complementary screenshots and –most importantly– understanding how users are looking for apps. But it’s just one of many approaches to attract attention in a crowded app store, the main one being: having a great app that’s worth discovering in the first place.


TapJoy (53%) leads in cross-promotion networks, Flurry and Chartboost are chasing

Building a great app is not enough – to get lots of users, those users have to be aware that you exist. As app stores focus on top apps, which amount to less than 1% of all available apps, discovery has become a major problem for app makers. One solution is to band together in a cross-promotion network: “advertise” apps within other apps, making it easier for users to discover similar apps to the one they are already using.

Numerous models of cross-promotion exist

Cross-promotion networks (CPN) are used by developers both as a means for promoting their apps and monetising apps. When used for promotion purposes, there are numerous models out there, some being free, based on traffic exchange between apps, enabling developers to run low cost or free promotions. However, several CPNs operate on a cost-per-install basis, with developers paying for each user acquired. A special case of cross-promotion is incentivised installs, a practice that Apple has been trying to restrict on App Store.

Used by 7% of developers overall, usage of cross-promotion services is not very high and does not vary significantly by platform. Usage is higher among developers that develop games (13% of all games developers) and higher than average among developers working on comms & social networking apps (9%), entertainment apps (10%) and music & video apps (10%). These app categories are mainly addressing young consumers with limited purchasing power; using CPNs and incentivised downloads in particular, allows easy access to this target audience, which would otherwise not be able to acquire such apps. Developers who use CPNs tend to use one network (59%), but 18% use more than three networks. Overall, developers using CPNs will use 1.7 CPNs on average.

CPN usage increases with the number of apps developed, rising to 15% among developers who work on more than 16 apps per year. CPNs provide opportunities to cross-promote across one’s own apps, allowing developers to leverage the popularity of the most popular apps to drive usage of less popular or new apps. For developers working on several apps it usually makes sense to cross-promote across their app portfolio.


Tapjoy leads, with Flurry and Chartboost following behind

TapJoy is leading in the cross-promotion space, used by 53% of developers that use CPNs. Flurry AppCircle and Chartboost, follow at some distance and are competing for second spot (20% and 18%), while there are numerous other providers who have over 5% market share.

The most important selection criterion for cross-platform tools is the number of users reached (36% of developers using cross promotion networks) but it is only marginally higher than cross-platform availability (35%) and ease of integration (34%). Obviously, depending on how developers use these tools, the decision criteria may vary. For those developers who use CPN for promotion purposes, cost is important. We found that, on average, the typical CPI (cost-per-install) was $0.60 among iOS and Android developers, with no notable difference between these platforms. When used as a revenue source, the revenue potential becomes important, as indicated by 25% of developers using CPNs. About a fifth of developers rely on recommendations for selecting a CPN.

[doritos_report location=’DE13 Article – Cross-promo networks’]

Which cross-promotion networks are other developers using?

[toggle title=”Important things to know about this interactive graph”]

  • All the filters in the graph refer to survey questions in which respondents could select multiple answers. This means that there is no direct link between the filter and the use of the tool. For example, filtering on “Android” means that the respondents develop Android apps. It doesn’t imply that they use the tools for their Android apps specifically, or even that the tool supports the Android platform. Use filters as a guideline only.
  • Keep an eye on the sample size. If the sample size is low, the graph doesn’t offer strong conclusions about the popularity of different tools. Use your good judgment when making decisions.[/toggle]

    Find the best cross-promotion tool for you!

    [sectors ids=’45’]

Business Platforms

The Darker Side of App Store Optimization

As long as there are algorithms impacting revenues there will be people trying to game them. In the world of mobile apps there are two sorts of algorithm that can be routes to success, chart rankings and search rankings. Chart rankings are very simple and typically just use some time-weighted download volume. Search rankings are much more complex, involving keywords, reviews and other social or similarity-based data as well as downloads. Developers can use a range of tactics to improve their ranking in these algorithms, some of them much more legitimate than others.

There’s no such thing as a bad download

Whilst there are very good practices for optimising search ranking, such as using tools that monitor competitors and analyse their keyword usage to suggest improvements to your own, the single most effective way to improve all rankings is to increase downloads. For paid apps, all downloads generate revenue, whether the app gets used or not – temporarily reducing the price or making the app free is an effective technique for boosting downloads, which boosts rankings and subsequent revenue when the price is returned to normal. For apps that are free anyway, it can similarly be worth spending some of the revenue earned through advertising or in-app purchases to increase downloads. On one level this is obvious, it’s worth spending money to market the app and try to reach new users. However, the winner takes all nature of app store discovery at present makes it worthwhile for some developers to chase downloads purely to enhance their rankings. Even users who will never open the app are worth attracting if they can be acquired for a low enough cost.

Paid placement

There are lots of advertising options available that drive users to your app in the store. The vast majority of them are pay-per-click and thus cannot be used cost effectively to inflate downloads of an app that doesn’t generate significant revenue per user anyway. Most of these are clearly advertising products, others look like app discovery tools to end users. Hooked is a good example of an app that blurs the line between discovery and advertising. They have a popular social discovery app for Android games where developers can pay to generate installs. For developers this is a very logical option because they have a fixed cost for installs which they can compare against average revenue per user. On the other hand, users may believe they’re getting a recommendation when in reality they are seeing an advert. It’s the same argument that surrounded paid placement for search results in the days before Google launched AdWords.

Cross Promotion

Another way to reach users is through similar apps. Apps promoting one another is a great way to reach a common user base. There are several cross-promotion networks with a variety of business models. Ironically the one with the name most suggestive of ranking manipulation, Chartboost, is at the most ethical end; they provide completely free technology for developers to organize their own cross-promotions and also a marketplace to connect developers where they take a cut of the transactions. At the same time, the most popular cross-promotion network (according to our latest survey), Tapjoy, plays much closer to the lines of acceptable conduct. One (and in fairness it should be emphasised only one of several) of Tapjoy’s services is incentivised downloads, a practice that Apple have repeatedly cracked down on – they pay users (in virtual rewards such as in-game currency) to download apps which have paid for that service (in cash). Clearly a large fraction of people who will download other apps to earn a bit of virtual currency are those unable or unwilling to pay for the same. These users almost by definition are unlikely to monetize, so the only obvious reason to seek them out is to increase rankings in order to be discovered by other paying users that would be more expensive to reach directly.


At the extreme end of ranking manipulation, with no pretence of being anything else, is Shaubang. This manipulation is primarily practiced on Apple’s App Store, made possible by the fact that a credit card is not required for an iTunes account in China. Companies with millions of accounts make use of extremely cheap local labour to pay people to download and review apps. These services often guarantee to boost an app to a desired category ranking for a fixed fee. This practice is heavily frowned upon by store owners but also extremely hard to police, since it involves real users (sometimes bot-assisted for efficiency) with real accounts.

Where’s the harm?

Users are mostly getting what they want out of these deals and so are the developers involved. Store owners have higher download stats to boast about. Even at the extreme end we have job creation in China. The main people losing out are the developers not taking advantage of these strategies. However, if ranking manipulation becomes the norm rather than a fringe behaviour then two problems become very serious. First, the top ranked apps are simply the ones that paid the most to be there, rather than the best ones – this makes discovery of genuinely great apps harder and reduces the overall perception of app quality. Second, a feedback cycle further concentrates revenue at the top of rankings – only those who pay to be at the top can afford sufficient manipulation to stay there and the rankings will begin to stagnate. App store owners need to ensure their markets are as honest and fair as possible, or users and honest developers will suffer in the long run.


The Six Biggest Challenges for App Businesses (and what to do about them)

In our Developer Economics 2012 survey, we asked developers about their biggest challenges. Here we discuss six of them, with some basic tips on what to do about them. The challenges are split between marketing and post-launch app and user management. The three biggest marketing challenges were: keeping users engaged, targeting the right users and identifying the right revenue model. The three biggest post-launch challenges were: Tracking bugs and errors, getting users to review your app and updating applications in the field.

Keeping users engaged

Keeping users engaged was the challenge cited most often overall, by 39% of developers, irrespective of primary platform. This is consistent with data from analytics firm Flurry, who report that user engagement falls sharply over time, with only 24% of consumers continuing to use an app after three months from download. “Developers must focus on tracking user engagement & usage patterns rather than just on downloads” notes Jai Jaisimha, founder of Open Mobile Solutions, a brand-to-developer matchmaking service.

There are many techniques for improving user engagement and retention. Social buttons like Follow or Like, especially when integrated with social networks are known to increase engagement. “‘Follow is the most common social feature used by our users” notes Yiannis Varelas, co-founder of Weendy, a weather app for surfers, with 6,500 monthly active users and 80% retention rate (in May last year). Where direct social integration doesn’t make sense, push notifications are another tool to help keep users engaged.

Gamification is another retention technique that rewards users for achievements (e.g. FourSquare-style badges) or for inviting other users (e.g. for each user you invite to Dropbox, you get another 250MB free storage space). Moreover, Tom Hume, founder of Future Platforms, argues that developers need to fundamentally rethink user retention. “To improve retention, developers need to build up value for the user that increases with usage. A natural way to do this is to build in a history of usage data – for example in the Nike Plus the value and stickiness of the application increases as more data is recorded in the application”.

Targeting the right users

The second most oft-cited challenge is targeting and getting through to the right users – mostly because existing app stores offer little in the way of user targeting. App stores, for example, provide no means for developers to reach existing customers or gain information about them. The only way developers can target users via app stores is via coarse-grained methods based on app categorisation or keyword selection.

Consequently, we found that developers using app stores are more concerned about targeting (39%) and engagement (46%) than developers using most other distribution channels. The situation in carrier portals is even worse: around 55% of developers using them are challenged by targeting and engagement.
Customer information, as with any business, is a key source of competitive advantage. As such, app stores have little incentive to share customer data with app developers. Apple has done so in part, after considerable pressure, but only to Newsstand publishers, and only where customers opt in. There’s more to it than just control: app store owners are loath to jeopardise user privacy contracts, lest their platforms become marketing “wild wests.”

The inaccessibility of customer information will likely remain a thorny issue, and one that hampers developers’ marketing potential. For the moment, it generates a flurry of innovation, as evidenced by the proliferation of in-app and external app marketing channels. However, seeing as this will remain a pain point, there may be opportunities for app stores to differentiate, if they manage to balance their priorities against those of developers – as Apple arguably has with Newsstand publishers. In the meantime, app developers would be wise not to wait for the app stores to fix this. Try to reach the right users for your app wherever they are currently, via blogs, forums and more traditional media. Arrange cross-promotions with similar but complementary apps. Experiment with alternate discovery solutions and find out what works for your app.

Identifying the right revenue model

Developers were becoming increasingly confused (36%) about which revenue model to use. There are over 10 revenue models to choose from and no guarantees as to which revenue model will work best in the long run in terms of reach vs. monetisation. Moreover, the revenue model needs to be optimised to the platform and app category. The decision should also take into account factors such as customer paying propensity (which varies across platforms), competitor pricing and positioning (which varies by app category). For example, paid downloads are extremely unpopular on Android, whilst apps aimed at children often need to use that model, since parents are very uncomfortable with in-app purchase or advertising based models for apps their children are using. User needs should also come into perspective when considering
your pricing strategy. “You may only need one Facebook, sports or weather app, but you will want to play many games. Mobile games are like movies – users are always looking for the latest one,” notes Markus Kassulke, CEO at Germany-based HandyGames.

Overall, we found that pay-per download was the revenue model used most frequently, by 34% of developers irrespective of platform, followed closely by advertising, which was used by 33% of developers. Wherever possible, the best advice we can give for now is to try some sort of freemium or virtual goods model using in-app purchases. The growth of in-app purchase revenues across iOS and Android is significantly outpacing paid downloads.

Tracking bugs and errors

Tracking bugs and errors was, by far, the most frequent post-launch headache, as reported by 38% of developers in our survey – and particularly so for WP7 developers. There is no direct feedback channel between users and developers, and no out-of-box
means to monitor the performance of an app. App reviews work and feel more like post-mortems, rather than a live feedback tool. As a result, developers will often find out what’s wrong with their app too late, through users’ negative feedback. “Our biggest headache after launch is the lack of a two-way communication channel with our users” notes Hong Wu, Director of Android Engineering at Peel, makers of a personalised TV guide app.

The first line of defence here is to remove as many errors as possible before launch, both through good engineering practices during development and extensive beta testing. The second line of defense comes in the form of crash analytics and bug tracking services. These services track app errors by monitoring crashes and reporting the type of error, platform, device and environmental variables like location, time and transaction flow. As such, they can provide useful insights, helping find and fix errors before they drive users away.

Updating applications in the field

Updating apps was highlighted as a challenge by 25% of developers irrespective of platform. Interestingly, the difference in the update process between iOS and Android has no impact on developers’ attitudes – as both iOS and Android have their own update challenges. On iOS the process requires full certification and approval by Apple, plus explicit opt-in by the user. On Android, the update process can be automatic and near-instantaneous. This however requires that users opt-in for automatic updates for specific applications. In effect, these challenges with the update process on both iOS and Android increase the average application “age” and escalate both code maintenance and customer support costs for developers.

One solution to this is to have the app check for the availability of a newer version at launch. Although it may not be possible to have the application download the update, it could prompt the user to do so. Another option here is to track application versions via analytics and send push notifications to users with sufficiently old versions, highlighting the benefits of updating to the latest version.

Getting users to review apps

Last but not least, another frequent post-launch challenge was getting users to review apps, reported by 30% of developers irrespective of platform. At the same time, there have been some success stories of apps boosting their review numbers, usually by nagging users after they have used the app for some time. For example, to solicit reviews, DrawSomething shows a motivating alert where “Rate 5 stars!” and “Remind me later” are the only two options, wrapped in a friendly pop-up box. The example shows that the runaway success of DrawSomething was more science than luck. However, DrawSomething’s grossing ranking was declining in the run-up to the all-important Christmas sales season, showing that even successful and well funded apps with highly social components can struggle with our first challenge – keeping users engaged in the face of all the other shiny new offerings in the app stores.


Different Ways of Winning on the App Stores

A recent report from Canalys highlighted the extreme concentration of income distribution across the iOS and Android stores in the US. The top 25 publishers make 50% of the revenues. 24 out of 25 of those are games publishers (the 1 exception is the Pandora music streaming service). During the first 20 days of November these 25 publishers made $60m from paid downloads and in-app purchases in the US alone. Is there still room left for smaller publishers? How can smaller companies succeed and start winning on the app stores?

News and Resources Platforms

Appsfire Infographic illustrates once more difficulty to get to the top

Appsfire Infographic shared figures for the iOS App Store in 2012.

  • The growth in the amount of apps, while still high, seems to be slowing. This might indicate that the market is maturing.
  • Only 1 in 10 apps gets any reasonable traction at all. Only 1 in 1000 manages to get to the top 10 of the App Store. For non-games, only 1 in 1690 reaches the top.
  • The percentage of paid apps has dropped dramatically.

Here is the Appsfire Infographic:

AppsFire 2012 - A year in the App Store


The changing landscape of app discovery

[The explosive growth of app ecosystems is creating serious bottlenecks in app discovery that only popular apps can overcome. Having 700,000 apps is great for platform vendors, but not so great for developers, whose apps are lost in the heap. Andreas Pappas takes a look at the app discovery problem and considers whether social discovery is a better solution than the alternatives available today. This post also appeared on the VisionMobile blog. Follow Andreas on Twitter: @pappasandreas]