Blog Post

How Carriers Can Crack the App Discoverability Nut

Stay on Top of Emerging Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

A lack of discoverability has long plagued the world of mobile applications; it gets worse with each new title that’s added to Apple’s App World and Google’s (not-yet-as-massive) Android Market. While there isn’t much Apple’s carrier partners can do to crack the discoverability nut (the App Store exists entirely outside their realm), operators who support Android have a chance to regain their lost relevance in the space by connecting consumers with the perfect apps for their needs, and easily too.

Verizon Wireless is hoping to address this discoverability issue by offering its own branded app store. Sprint is taking a different tack with its new Sprint ID, which packages apps and content based on themes that can be chosen and tweaked by consumers. But Verizon’s new store doesn’t bring much to the table, as James noted last month; Sprint ID, meanwhile, is but a very a small step in the right direction for carriers. For operators to fully take advantage and make discovering useful apps a far easier process, they must address four crucial challenges that I discuss in-depth in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro:

1) Stress quality over quantity. Instead of addressing the abundance of apps, carriers should play the role of app curator, distributing the best and most innovative titles and letting Android Market play the role of app warehouse.

2) Leverage high-profile brands. Newbies to mobile data will embrace brands they know and trust, which is why Sprint’s strategy of partnering with brands like ESPN and Disney is wise for Sprint ID.

3) Build a better recommendation engine. Such an offering would have to enable users to adjust their personal settings and must take into account things like download histories and suggestions from friends.

4) Don’t load up the phone with crapware users don’t want. Android’s openness is a double-edged sword: It can be the platform for an attractive, easy-to-use UI, but it also means operators have the opportunity to preload apps that can’t be uninstalled. That’s the mobile equivalent of this guy from the film “Fargo” pushing TrueCoat. Don’t do it.

Read the full post here.

Image courtesy Flickr user Elsie esq.

9 Responses to “How Carriers Can Crack the App Discoverability Nut”

  1. Cupertino Engineer

    Carriers are still running the old school playbook and are only about brutally raping their customers and stuffing the wallets of the fat cats that run those government protected monopolies.

    Apple should buy Big Red (aka Verizon) and show these loser telcoms how to do network properly. Steve knows better than all the so-called experts. Don’t believe. Steve got bank! Mr. Jobs sleeps extremely well these days with $48 billion in CA$H under his pillow and NO DEBTS whatsoever.

    With Apples super advanced mobile search technologies soon coming aboard App Store searching will become even easier. Apple will know what you are thinking , your personal tastes in all multi-media and Steve will know what you want before even YOU DO !. So sit back and relax while the Apple takes care of you and let the Android fools keep getting massive headaches in the cesspool of a market place they got on the dark side. True evil resides in Mountain View make no mistake about this.

  2. I think the only angle from which Carriers can still be relevant in the mobile apps game is ” Customer Service”.
    They have the infrastructure and at least customers are in a trusted area.
    If you are a yound startup in silicon valley, providing business critical app worldwide….you cannot only rely on user groups or online central support site/FAqs.

    This is where MNOs have a role. A subs in Spain can call their local MNO in local language and get “dedicated” support instantly…
    but that is not for all apps. I mean business critical apps …example Square for example.

  3. Mark Hernandez

    I agree with Todd that carrier app stores will likely be heavily influenced by corporate promotion. Interestingly, why would carriers want to influence what apps Apple promotes in their App Store if they didn’t get something out of it.

    You didn’t mention the availability and access to websites and magazines such as those which promote apps for the iPhone, and how they actually CAN meet some of your requirements.

    You also didn’t mention the coming Amazon app store which is a horse of a different color since it will be decoupled from carriers, and how the dynamics of that experience might be different. Amazon is one company that consistently has their act together.

    What are the challenges of “recommendation engines”? One is hooking up to the social sphere such as what Apple is attempting (with resistance) with Ping. And looking into your download history has its challenges, too. Apple would seem to be the only one that can be guaranteed to see all of your downloads if Android users can download from multiple places. In addition, looking into your downloads hopefully will trigger recommendations of what you don’t have, rather than more of what you do have.

    Lastly, with the current flat 2D human interfaces, which 1) use the messy and ambiguous English language (or any language) or 2) pre-set keywords or 3) limited screen space acting as a “showcase”, how are these things a major impediment for app discovery?

    We humans move easily through our 3D space and have little trouble to, say, pop down to the Container Store to look for specialty items with ease.

    Unfortunately, your list will likely be ignored by the carriers to whom money is primary and quality is secondary. And Apple and Amazon will continue to innovate and now create competition for each other.

    And I’m quite certain that new (3D) human interfaces are really the key to cracking the “discoverability nut” because myself and my associates have given it a lot of thought. The discoverability nut also exists for music, books, games and video.

    Your article does little to entice me over to a paid site to read more.

  4. Mike Meyer

    The whole reason that the App Store has taken hold with developers is that the carriers have been historically tone-deaf about what to offer on their carrier stores, and have kept very tight control over what was offered, and allowed no side-loading.

    To this day, even major brands like Disney have to schmooze the carriers to even get them to carry their games. When a major carrier wants to pass on offering a tie-in to a Pixar movie, it’s obvious that they aren’t as savvy about marketing apps as they think they are.

    Before the App Store, less than 3% of all cell phone users bought any sort of downloadable content for their phones. This has shifted to over 30%, and there is an ample supply of free content that would never have “cluttered up” the carriers’ decks.

    App discoverability is a problem, but one that would be easily fixed if the app stores provided APIs and affiliate programs for people to build more focused storefronts on the major services. Even today, you could build an iOS app that provided links to a curated list of content your community likes, say best word games, but of course that app is buried in the store along with the rest. Really it’s the developer’s job to find the best way to reach their target audience, and not rely on random luck.

  5. Colin Gibbs

    Thanks for the comments, guys. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that operators actually will help solve the problem. (And you’re both right that their track records with this kind of stuff is dismal.)

    But I am saying that they have a rare opportunity to help their customers and make some money by becoming relevant again in the world of mobile apps. I don’t think there’s any denying that.

  6. Android user

    Why should carriers do this?
    Independent third party services, like AppBrain, seem to be doing exactly this. As these services are dependent on users liking their product, it seems like a much better thing for users than carriers which pre-install their own apps without giving users a choice.

  7. Great summary of the issue, Colin. Smart, customer-centric app merchandising isn’t something most carriers have had to think about before but it’s a strategic need in an app-centric world. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d encourage you to try AppESP – a new personalized app discovery engine for Android devices from AppStoreHQ. As you suggest, it uses a combination of statistical analysis, social recommendations and a focus on the most talked-about apps to deliver smart recommendations directly to the customer handset. You can find it in Android Market or at