App discovery is a zero-sum game


How do you find new apps to download for your devices? Many developers seem to be banking on the fact that users are willing to turn to apps to find other apps. A recent rash of app discovery tools available for iOS (s aapl) devices (including one out of left field from Yahoo(s yhoo)) definitely identifies a problem, but I’m not sure it provides any real lasting solutions.

Last week, Kevin covered the new Yahoo app discovery tool. He found that it worked only as well as (or worse) than the App Store itself, and while it might appeal to Android(s goog) users because the Google marketplace is a little more discovery-challenged, it seems like a longshot for wide-ranging iOS user adoption.

Yahoo isn’t the first to attempt to navigate app discovery, and it won’t be the last. Appsfire has attracted users and investment based on its ability to recommend apps based on a user’s interests. Chomp and Quixey, and Zwapp are three other solutions we’ve talked about at GigaOM in the past. Discovr Apps, from the makers of Discovr Music, recently garnered a lot of press and success on the iTunes charts by offering what the company calls a “Pandora for apps,” which provides recommendations based on connections and similarities between apps and presents them as visual networks using app icons. Explor (vowels and discovery don’t mix, apparently) is another recent entrant, described by its developer as “Netflix for apps,” which stems from a machine learning Y-Combinator startup and has managed to raise 1.2 million to date.

All of these offerings take a slightly different approach to app discovery, and I won’t deny that the tech behind each is interesting. But in terms of providing something markedly better than the App Store’s own discovery tools, including search, charts and the Genius recommendation feature, I’m not blown away by any. I noted in an article a while ago that a tech demo built by Hunch was one of the better recommendation tools I’d come across for iOS software, and I stand by that. But even then, I’m not firing up the Hunch engine whenever I feel like buying an app.

Have I found apps using app discovery tools? Yes, but generally not more than one or two, and then these apps join the long list of those that either get deleted or moved to a seldom-checked folder, simply because its much easier to use the App Store itself, and any benefit that other services might offer is outweighed by inconvenience. Especially since Apple seems to be committed to improving the discoverability of its growing library of apps through measures like rejiggered chart rankings.

App discovery has potential, since a library that’s 400,000 strong is ripe for intelligent sifting, but to really have a noteworthy and lasting impact in this space, developers have to fight against the natural instincts of consumers to just go with what’s easiest. And in order to do that, they have to present us with an option that dramatically changes the game. Do you think anyone’s already there yet, and do you consistently use any app discovery tool besides the ones built-in to the stores themselves?



Some very good points made. I am a developer myself and just for fun, I created my own discovery tool ( and use it all the time for finding the apps I want. It’s better than iTunes and similar in approach to many of the tools that exist already. AppsFire, for example, is a great tool. I highly recommend it.

To me, the process of purchasing apps tends to be more impulsive than deliberate. Even with my own tool, I will often buy something I didn’t expect or plan to buy. I just happen to see it, click on it, and purchase it without much hesitation. After all, with so much free and relatively inexpensive apps available, it’s easy to make quick decisions and throw away $0.99 without much heartburn. For this purpose, iTunes and the App Store work just fine.

There are times, however, when real “discovery” is needed. It’s those times when we don’t necessarily know WHAT we are looking for so a good tool allows us to filter the search results based on personal interests (price, features, ranking information, device compatibility, etc) and find something meaningful and valuable.

With ZoomAppy, my approach was to create a web-based tool that caters to both consumers AND developers. I wanted to create a tool that allowed consumers to filter search criteria across multiple data points to get better and more relevant results. For developers, the tool provides insight into the competition and/or business opportunities that have yet to be tapped. Today, I work with several small iOS indie devs to provide customized reporting and analytics to show the performance of their apps relative to their competitors. I am not getting rich off it, but I believe my customers are getting valuable insight. Without discovery, how would you otherwise know your competition. Achieving success in the mobile market would be like throwing darts.

ZoomAppy is still kind of a side-project for me and I wish I had more time to implement additional features like tagging (as suggested in other posts), wish lists, social-networking, and more on-demand reporting capability. I will get to those some day…assuming the interest is there to do it.

At the end of the day, “discovery” is becoming a bigger deal with increasing digital content. When the mood strikes to find something new and interesting, a good tool can saves loads of time. On the flipside, I can’t deny that even a good discovery tool is overkill at times. It’s like using Google to get your local news. Regardless, discovery tools are convenient when you need them and I expect to see continuous refinement and improved services that make it easier.

A recent example…Microsoft recently announced the ability to use Kinect and Bing for searching content through Xbox using voice recognition. This is huge because the discovery experience on the console is brutal in its current form and it takes discovery to the next level. I see this as only the beginning for discovery capability in home entertainment…where Apple, Google, and Microsoft will be major players.


Quite a while ago, I spent the better part of 2 days searching the App store for a wild flower identification App. I finally found one listed under travel Apps. That, I think, is a major problem with the App store. No sensible Index, just a 500000 piece pile of stuff, mostly silly, that you have to dig thru to find anything.

Ouriel Ohayon

Darrell, the discovery experience provided by the app store is monolithical. 1 store, built the same way for all. You see what i see, i see what you see.

Categories are not deep enough (take kids for example, or art…), browsing experience is that of a directory. the metadata is not helping you make a choice (price and rating are not enough…).

If you were right, users would not feel the frustration of not being able to find what they need. Users would not ask friends for recommendations, services like ours would not double size every quarter…

Look at music and movies for a parallel. Itunes is #1 delivery platform but far from being the #1 platform for music and movie discovery. Why? because an ecommerce platform is not the right format for discovery: It is aimed at selling first. Paid apps comes first, Free second. They don t have marketing channels developers can control and so on….

And users get this. At least a few weeks after they downloaded so many apps they don t use.

Would apple surface the app that become free every day? no. Would apple put the free apps in preference to the paid apps? no. and the list could go on…

An ecommerce platform is not the right discovery platform for users and this is why discovery guides are poping up. Some will win, some won’t

The reasons nothing strikes yet is because this industry is still young. But it will shine just like Pandora won attraction for music, or flixster for movies,….

ps: would be great to add a link to appsfire in your post.

cathy Brooks

Finding the right apps is important, but what about a world in which it doesn’t matter what apps you have on your phone? Or even more to the point not even needing to know which you may or may not need? How about just doing a search for the topic on which you’re trying to find information or take action and get results that are directly to mobile sites (web apps) that don’t require downloads and give you everything you need – from top publishers you trust as well as new publishers of which you may not have heard. In some cases, perhaps you do need a native app and so what if this world was one in which that aforementioned set of mobile-web based results had a connection to apps you had on your phone and if you didn’t have an app you needed you were prompted to download it. There’s a company called DoAT ( that’s doing just that. Would be interesting to talk about how these worlds come together.


meh, i have stopped buying iphone apps year ago. Especially the games, it’s just useless excuse for a game.


I’ve been thinking about this too and I think there’s a number of problems not being addressed by the current offerings:

Single “point of entry”: I have an Android device, my friends have iPhones and Blackberry’s. How do I share an app with them? The only way is to find the developers website and send a link to that. App discovery needs a single place with links for mobile web, iPhone app, iPad app, Blackberry app, Android app, web app, and any other platform a developer supports.

Sharing: Right now it’s very difficult to Tweet/Facebook/LinkedIn/Etc. a link to an app. In addition, if you share that link, it may not work for other platforms.

Stored list: Why can’t I store a list of the apps I’ve installed? When I reset my Android or Blackberry I can’t remember all the apps I used.

Recommendations: By using social media, ratings, and related apps it should be very easy to suggest additional apps a user might like.

Tags: The Android store is horrible, and the iTunes store isn’t much better, for tagging. An app should be able to be tagged as “business” and “productivity” for example and users should be able to browse those categories or search for apps with multiple tags.

Web browsing: I only discovered recently that the Android app store is browse-able in a desktop web browser. The iTunes store is but I don’t think the Blackberry store is. I much prefer to browse on my desktop and then send an app (or at least a link) to my phone for installation.

I’ve been seriously considering writing a web app that solves these problems but I’m swamped and hesitant to enter a crowded market place. If I get enough positive feedback I could probably build it pretty quick.


If you are looking for educational and family-friendly apps, I would take a look at Moms With Apps ( It’s a curated catalog of apps that goes above and beyond the App Store “Education” category and provides additional categories to search by (e.g. Art, Creative Play, Math, Science, etc.). Every app also comes with a recommended age range.

The app has been featured on the front page of iTunes and was a “Best App for Mother’s Day” so I think the approach is appreciated by the folks at Apple.

Comments are closed.