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App Distribution: Crowding Begets Curating
Android and iOS users each have about a half-million apps from which people can choose. That kind of selection makes it challenging for users to find ones that interest them. Sure, store rankings and user reviews help separate the wheat from the chaff, but in crowded categories such as games and utilities, it’s more like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Enter the concept of curation, where a third party such as AppCarousel researches one or more categories and then creates a showcase of recommendations. That mini store then is made available in a place frequented by people with that set of interests. For example, a website that caters to fitness buffs might have a curation company create a mini store of apps for running, counting calories and staying motivated.
We recently spoke with Terry Hughes, who developed apps such as momentem before becoming AppCarousel’s managing director, about how the curation process works and what it means for developers looking for new ways to reach users.
Can you describe the concept of app curation and what’s driving it?
Terry Hughes: The headline grabber is: too many apps, too hard to find what you need. However, it’s more than that. Today, users have to think about where to look for apps and what keywords to search for. Why should they? Why shouldn’t a baseball fan be presented with a highly relevant and targeted set of apps and associated content related to his beloved sport, without him having to think about what type of app he needs and where that might be located? If that same fan is putting together a sports den room in his house, does IKEA make him search for ideas for the new room in their big warehouse area that’s full of brown boxes? No, they take him through themed sports den showcases where he can see all sorts of furniture and associated items in context. Then he goes to the warehouse area to get them. That is the essence of curation.
How exactly does a curated store work? For example, with iOS apps, does the curated store link back to App Store to complete the download? Are there any royalties on top of what Google, Apple, et al, charge?
T.H.: First, it’s important to know that there are two kinds of curated stores: those that host, deliver and bill for apps, and those that showcase apps that are available elsewhere.
The first option is much more complex to set up, especially when there’s billing involved, which is why there are specialist app store companies. Also, the first option can’t offer Apple apps because Apple doesn’t allow anyone else to sell its apps. Therefore, the second option -- stores that refer, recommend and redirect -- is where the growth in app curation is happening.
These days, anyone can create a mini store that’s relevant to a particular audience and make money in the process. Some curators use their store as a means to an end -- for example, bloggers or journalists who use it to draw more people to their work. Others make money from the established business models of:
- Cost per install (CPI) commission payments, paid by the app developer to the store owner when someone downloads the app.
- Paid placement, where an app developer pays to be promoted in a store.
- Affiliate commissions, of which Apple’s is one of the most established.
- Regular online advertising.
What do curation companies consider when deciding which apps to put in a client’s store?
T.H.: Curation is all about the human touch. For example, here at AppCarousel, we have teams of people that understand the entire app landscape. For any given store, they research the target demographic and the goals of the store, whether that’s awareness building, brand showcasing, monetizing or complementing an existing service. Then, we work with our clients to hand-select apps and associated content that users will love.
However, that’s not to say that technology isn’t also used. A few months ago, we and our partner Myriad demonstrated Dynamic Deck at the mobile industry’s biggest tradeshow. Dynamic Deck combines algorithmic learning and user profiling with personalized app recommendation. In one way, it’s an automatic, self-curated store.
Aside from being as innovative as possible, what else should developers keep in mind to improve their app’s chances of making it into a curated store?
T.H.: Developers need to avoid being generic and instead focus on niches where they will get noticed. A time-tracking app in a large app store doesn’t mean much to anyone and is not discoverable. However, when targeted at lawyers, consultants and other professions that bill their time, they can immediately relate to it. We call it the circle of discovery:
- The time-tracking app gets mentioned and recommended on professional services blogs.
- Downloads in the stores go up.
- User reviews become more and more positive.
- Curators doing research on a showcase of business professional notice the app and incorporate it in the curated store.
- The store gets featured by more blogs.
- The app gets discovered far more because it’s one of only a handful in that curated store.
- And on it goes.
How might the concept of app curation evolve over the next few years?
TH: Let’s take the fast emerging “apps for TV” market as an example, where TV viewers are able to discover and run apps while sitting on the sofa. TV is ideal for curation because viewers don’t want to browse thousands of apps on a TV. They are in a mode where they want to be informed and shown new things, and there are subsets of apps more relevant to the TV environment (e.g., leanback experiences, entertainment apps, companion apps to shows).
TV is only one example because as users engage with more and more smart devices, each of which is for a different purpose, the last thing they want to do is search through half a million apps to find something relevant and useful. Curated mixed media showcases based on the device, mode of use, context and user profile will become the discovery points, relegating the big app stores to the roles of warehouse and fulfillment.
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