Is Apple going to be overhauling the way apps are discovered?

As you may have heard by now, last week, Apple acquired Chomp – an app discovery engine. This strategic move will play a crucial role in Apple’s effort to renovate the App Store, particularly in search. TechCrunch reported the story first, stating, “investors should be very pleased with the outcome.” Since then, numerous other sources have estimated the deal to be in the ballpark of $50 million. After a record year in sales, Apple is sitting on about $100 billion in cash however they don’t generally put much emphasis on making acquisitions – this one is suspected to be a symbolic jab at Android. We’ll revisit that later. Other improvements we expect include; increased speed, interactivity, and a simpler design.

What does this mean for iOS users?

I think it’s fair to say that most of us with iOS devices have browsed the App Store at one point or another and failed to locate the app we were looking. As a result, we either left the store empty handed – so to speak, some resorted to Google for further research, and others probably skipped over to the Top 25 and found a different app. Regardless of the outcome a clear problem exists.

In all fairness, Apple isn’t a search company. They are certainly familiar with search but it’s not their forte and with the number of available apps exploding from 15,000 in January 2009, to over 575,000 today, they have been quite busy riding the wave but the time has come for an upgrade in the discovery process. This problem is not breaking news, in fact, in January 2009 when the App Store was merely a toddler, 300,000 users downloaded Chomp – indicating they wanted better results. Still today, if you search “arcade games” in the App Store your search will retrieve a list of games that either include “arcade” in their titles or descriptions. If you perform the same search in Chomp you will receive a completely different list of games that is much more relevant – for instance, actual arcade games!


App Store



What does this mean for game developers?

As a developer, you should feel giddy about this acquisition! Most app developers have been waiting (impatiently) for such an upgrade because this means their apps have a better chance of reaching the users who want to use them. For a long time app developers and app promoters alike have universally recommended that Apple improve its ranking algorithms and search results for discovering apps. Apple’s current systems are archaic relative to how content discovery works on other popular platforms, relying on velocity of downloads and verbatim keyword matches. With improved rankings, the true value of user acquisition can be accepted by Apple and given their proper placement. In attempt to temporarily fix the issue, Apple launched Genius – a feature that suggests apps to users based on their current apps and the apps used by others with similar tastes. Although the intention was good, Genius required extra work for the user and thereby never made a big enough splash for developers to pay attention.



Other Chomp headlines

Chomp and Verizon reached a deal last September in which Chomp agreed to power search for Verizon’s app store (Venture Beat). Although for Android, the motive behind Verizon’s deal was similar to Apple’s – they too wanted to improve app discovery for users! As of today, Chomp is still available as a standalone app on both iOS and Android, as well as the Verizon app store but their futures are in question. Traditionally after acquisitions, Apple has shut down services on competing platforms and implemented them exclusively on their own products. It isn’t official but I would expect them to do the same in this case, living up to Steve Jobs’ vow to “spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong.” In other words, they’re looking for ways to crush the Android.

The big question is will it work?

It’s certain that if you are an iOS user you can expect improved discovery in the near future. Android users may also get an upgrade but I wouldn’t expect the solution to be Chomp, even if you are on Verizon’s network. In my opinion, Chomp does not have any reason to fail unless it is isolated like Genius. To make this venture with Chomp successful Apple needs to avoid branding the Chomp experience as an added feature that requires extra learning. Instead, they should simply build the technology into the natural search process and alert users that the process has changed. From there better search results, rankings, and features will take care of the rest.

As app promoters we are very pleased to see Apple make this move. In September 2011, we published a study that proved incentivized traffic can be more valuable than organic – you can read the full report here. A better app discovery process will better reward promoters who have the ability to focus on quality as well as velocity, whereas today’s App Store emphasizes velocity.

Rob Weber is the Co-Founder of W3i, a Minnesota based application marketing company with over 10 years of experience. His interests include app marketing, mentoring tech startups, and his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @robertjweber

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