App stores are suffering from the tyranny of the charts

Mobilize 2012 Chris Dury GetJar John Ellis Ford Motor Company Tomer Kagan Quixey Ouriel Ohayon Appsfire

While thousands of apps are crowding into stores like Apple’s App Store and Google Play, too much of their success comes down where they rank on app store charts. That was the consensus of several app experts at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference, who decried the importance of rankings on the app discoverability.

Ourial Ohayon, co-founder of app discovery platform Appsfire, went so far as to suggest that Apple do away with its charts in order to help people use other tools to find the right apps for them. He said at the very least, Apple should break out games from the App Store because they dominate the charts and keep other apps from being discovered.

Chris Dury, CEO of third-party app store GetJar, said only 1/10 of 1 perent of apps generate 50 percent of all downloads. That’s due in part to the power of charts on informing consumers’ download decisions. But he said charts make it appear that all consumers are alike and enjoy games. He said his research found that only 14 percent of users like casual games, but because the second most popular category grabs only 8 percent of users, games dominate the charts.

The reliance on charts also prompts developers to game and manipulate the rankings because they factor so heavily into their success. Even with Apple’s work to cut down on incentivized downloads and the use of bots, Tomer Kagan, co-founder and CEO of app search engine Quixey, said chart manipulation is still a big problem. In China, a developer can pay $40,000 to guarantee a spot in the top ten list, he said. 

“Charts are very detrimental. Consumers think (an app on the charts is the) only app that can do that. Very few apps have ever made it to the charts,” said Kagan.”

So what can developers do if they don’t want to play the chart game? Kagan suggested putting their efforts into a big launch with a lot of mentions, reviews and social media buzz because some app stores are taking into account more search engine optimization.

But what isn’t needed is more app stores, said John Ellis, Chief Technologist of Ford’s Connected Services and Solutions. He said companies don’t need to create their own app store, but are better off making catalogs of curated apps that leave the actual transactions to the big players.

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2012 coverage here, and the live stream can be found here.

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