Needle in a Haystack: App Discovery

Think about the last time you downloaded an app. What was the process behind it? Were you influenced by a friend talking about it on a social media channel such as Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn? Did you see a commercial on the television, in your Web browsing, or even in a magazine or newsletter? According to the latest research by industry thought leaders, all of these methods are how people are primarily finding apps, especially search.

“Search is the top app discovery tool. According to Nielsen, 63 percent of Android and iOS users have utilized search to discover new apps in their respective app stores.While most developers focus on cracking the top 25, search is becoming an increasingly important tool in the "long tail" of mobile apps. App revenue is no longer as concentrated with the proliferation of apps.” – “How Do People Find Apps?”,

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The issue for developers is two-fold: there are literally millions of apps available, and there seems to be no good system in place for helping people to find what they are looking for in an intuitive way. Thousands of apps are launched every week, some good, some bad, some mediocre. There is a major signal to noise problem, and in-store app discovery is at its earliest stages. How do developers get their apps to rise above the rest? Merely building an app doesn’t translate into getting people to notice your app. How do you get consumer to notice the app, and what will they do with it once they get it? How do developers start connecting with their users more, and getting their app into the hands of the people who really want to use it? Here’s a thought on this from ZDNet:

“Take Apple's 600,000 apps. That's a lot of apps, and it's impossible for someone to look at them all. If you looked at an app a second, it would take you almost seven days to look at them all - but I don't recommend you try it.

Having the ability to search gives the impression of making my life easier, but I have to admit that unless I happen to know the name of the app I'm looking for, I don't hold out much hope of finding the app. Finding the Facebook app or Instagram app or Angry Birds app is easy, but if I'm looking for something off the beaten track, things aren't as simple.

Here's a sobering thought for any developers reading this. Unless your app is in the top 25 list for a particular category, or I come across mention of it online or by word of mouth, chances are probably higher of me winning this week's lottery than there are of me finding your app.” – “600,000 apps in Apple’s App Store, yet I can’t find anything I want”

The app discovery ecosystem is somewhat of a misnomer; “discovery” is not really what we do when we’re browsing through curated lists of items that are mostly already on our radar. While we have relative signposts to direct our paths on the Web, we don’t see this kind of structure around app discovery, other than in-store structures that can be gamed somewhat easily (top downloads, top views, etc.).

Most app downloads are coming directly from curated “most popular” lists that don’t necessarily give us a real picture of how popular or even how good an app is. App store optimization does help in the app discovery process, but until there is a better in-store search process in place, it’s somewhat difficult to figure out what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. Plus, as already stated, the sheer volume of apps seems to overwhelm any meaningful search or hierarchical structure. There are a lot of really fantastic apps out there that developers put a tremendous amount of time and energy and talent into, yet they are drowned out by yet another iteration of Family Guy soundboards. 

Are we approaching app overload? 

With the mass proliferation of apps that are out there multiplying on a daily basis, are we as a whole becoming so inundated that we are getting burned out on apps? Or are we simply finding out that our use case for apps is much less broad than we initially thought it was? One writer weighs in:

“Although I download new applications constantly for my job, it is rare that one becomes integral to my daily routine. I just don’t have the time to use more than I’m already using. Does anyone?I asked a few friends, and their behavior is similar to mine. One friend who lives in Los Angeles said he had 150 applications installed on his phone. He estimates that he uses about 15 on a daily basis. Another friend, this one in New York, told me he had 104 apps on his phone and used around 20 regularly……This seems to correlate with a larger study by Nielsen, which found that the average number of applications per smartphone was rising, but that the amount of time people spent using apps had not changed much. The most heavily used apps were Facebook, YouTube, the Android Market, Google Search and Gmail.” – “Are we suffering from mobile app burnout?”, New York Times Bits

Between the sheer number of apps uploaded on a daily basis, making those apps discoverable, and apparent “app blindness” of consumers, it’s apparent that developers have their jobs cut out for them. Overall, app discovery is something that is evolving incredibly rapidly. No one strategy or solution is going to be the one that is going to solve everything. App developers have to stay ahead of the curve, and while building an app is definitely a means to an end, it is by no stretch of the imagination the end of the story. The way that people discover apps shows us that merely building an app will not guarantee visibility, especially with how many apps are uploaded on a daily basis. 





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