How Apple Aims To Improve App Store Discovery With iOS 8

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Sometimes you can’t find the app you are looking for.

A single app in Apple’s App Store is just the perfect one that you are seeking. With 1.2 million apps, it has to be in there somewhere, right? It may be a new calendar app to that syncs your iCal, Google Calendar and Outlook meetings. Or it is a messaging app that focuses on standard and proper English, eschewing the craze of emoji and emoticons endemic today’s popular communication methods. You know somebody at some point must have built this app, but it is impossible to find.

App Store discovery has been a massive problem for developers, users and Apple for the last several years. App Store search is inadequate for most people’s needs and the top lists that Apple relies upon have created a top-heavy capitalistic market that breeds poor quality apps.

Apple is not ignorant to this problem. In 2012 it spent a reported $50 million to improve the App Store and acquired app search engine Chomp to enhance discoverability. The improvements proved minimal and Apple eventually shuttered Chomp and rolled its intellectual property into iOS 6. Judging by the current discourse among the iOS developer community, Apple still has a lot of work to do to help app makers sell their wares.

Apple has some more improvements for the App Store coming with iOS 8 that it hopes will arrest the issue.

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Why The App Stores Need A Human Touch

ipad_zite A robot can cook. But it can’t taste.

A robot can follow directions as well as any human chef. Programmed correctly, a robot will be able to measure ingredients, apply the right amount of heat for the designated period of time. The result will be edible cuisine, wholly uninspired without the qualitative love that a human culinary artist brings to the table.

The robot chef metaphor is the state of app discovery in Google Play and Apple’s App Store. The two most prominent app stores make discovery of new, quality and interesting apps nearly impossible. Indie developers and mid-sized app publishers suffer from an ecosystem that has too many apps, too much spam and copycat apps, too much reliance of algorithmically-based top lists and poor search capabilities and results.

The issue of lists and discovery on the App Store and Google Play has been an ongoing issue in the mobile developer community for several years. The top lists reward the very select few apps that manage to crack them and usually only for the duration that they are on the lists. The lists usually do not denote the quality of the app, but rather the popularity based on download volume or revenue generated.

Flappy Birds & The Issue Of Lists

The perfect example is the wild success of Flappy Birds. Built by an indie developer in Vietnam, Flappy Birds took off for the most inane of reasons: its retro, low-quality graphics and the fact that it was amazingly difficult. It was as if the lords of viral hipster Internet memes proclaimed, “this app is so bad that it is actually good.” Continue Reading

App Stores Have Become The Epitome Of Capitalistic Markets

 

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Apps stores are the epitome of a capitalistic market.

In the beginning, everybody is equal. The most enterprising and ambitious individuals then realize a market is ripe to be plucked and rush to fill the void. These early entities gain traction and network effects, consumers and revenue. Eventually these early movers are mimicked and copied, replicated and refined. One company comes to dominate a market (it is often not the company that set the market in the first place) and takes the lion’s share of revenue and profits, leaving all others to middle or lower class status, attempting to carve out their own niches.

In this capitalistic system, the top 2% of all individual companies and products can make between 80% to 100% of the profit. In the United States, we have seen this with the ethereal “1%”—ultra rich individuals that comprise and inordinate amount of the economy—represent 17% of total income in America (while paying 37% of taxes) in 2009. Capitalism, almost by definition, creates an income gap where the rich are extremely rich and then there is everybody else.

Over the last six years, the app stores have created a nearly identical income gap.

A recent report by app marketing and analytics firm VisionMobile found that 1.6% of app developers make more than the other 98.4% combined. Only 6% of Android developers and 11% of iOS developers make more than $25,000 per month. VisionMobile defines the “app poverty line” at less than $500 a month, a realm where 69% of app developers live.

The economics seem baffling if you are a casual observer of the industry. But when you drill down into the actual behavior of an average mobile app user, the results make perfect sense.

User Behavior Defines The App Economy

In a report last week, ComScore noted that mobile apps have become the top method for spending time with digital media in the United States with 52% of time spent (above mobile browsers and desktops). Smartphone users spend 88% of their time in apps over browsers (82% for tablet users) and 60% of the average user’s time is spent on their smartphone over the desktop.

It is safe to say that we are currently entrenched in the era of the app.

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How Google Plans On Conquering Fitness While Apple Focuses On Health

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: despite the popular lexicon, health and fitness are two very different categories.

Google wants to own your fitness data. Apple wants your health data. The battle between the forthcoming Google Fit and Apple’s HealthKit is an extension of the war between Android and iOS and two fundamentally different approaches.

Health is a messy world reigned by old laws and government regulation. Any entrepreneur that thought they can make a huge dent in the world of health—how doctors and healthcare professionals conduct their business—has been met with a rude awakening. Doctors don’t like change and the rules around the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) make it difficult to build the next generation of health and medical applications. If you want to see everything that is wrong with the health software development system in the United States, just take a deep look at what really happened with the rollout of Obamacare in 2013.

Fitness is a much more open and technologically advanced ecosystem, at least in the realm of consumer electronics. Fitness software is not governed by HIPAA or subject to stodgy rules by physicians or insurance companies. Wearable fitness trackers devices like the FitBit, JawBone Up and Nike FuelBand are common and socially accepted and do not take a doctor to set up and understand. Fitness is unencumbered by the restraints of the medical system and plays to the ego of the user, a combination that makes it a much more appealing (and profitable) target for app developers.

Google is well aware of the difference between health and fitness, especially from an app development perspective. It has already been down the tangled web of health and medical software when it launched Google Health in 2008 as, “a safe and secure way to collect, store, and manage [your] medical records and health information online.”

Keep this tag line in mind.

Google shut down Google Health in 2011 and the company was forthright in saying why.

Google senior product manager Aaron Brown wrote at the time:

Now, with a few years of experience, we’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would. There has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people.

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For Google’s Android TV: Less Is More

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Not every product needs to “disrupt” or “revolutionize” an industry to be successful. Sometimes, a product just needs to be simplified. At least that’s what Google is hoping for with the upcoming launch of Android TV.

This is not Google’s first foray into television. Back in 2010, you may recall, the search giant launched Google TV, which essentially turned the television into an all-inclusive computing platform, promising to bring “the Web to your TV and your TV to the Web.” It was both disruptive and revolutionary, but it didn’t catch on with consumers or developers.

As it turns out, consumers didn’t want to turn their TVs into massive computers; they wanted to watch TV. So this time around, as noted by The Verge and several other media outlets, Google is keeping things simple for both for consumers and developers.

Content Comes First

For the regular user, Android TV is all about being able to find the right content with the least amount of effort, or what Google describes as “cinematic, fun, fluid, and fast” user experience. To that end, Android TV includes several notable traits distinct from its predecessor. Aside from the obvious (it will run the Android operating system), Android TV includes voice search capabilities and easy access to a variety of popular apps and games. It also requires a set-top-box and remote control, but that’s where the similarities end.

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How Google’s Material Design Is A Massive Modification Of Android

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Design is often the neglected stepchild in app development. How it looks and feels, how a user experiences an app is often forgotten when developers start creating the futuristic capabilities of their dreams.

Google long eschewed design in favor of development. A company founded by engineers, design has always tended to the simplistic at Google. The de-prioritization of design showed in the first several years of Android. But that has changed in recent years. Google has placed an emphasis on design in the Android L Developer Preview, fundamentally changing the aesthetic principle of how Android apps are made.

At first glance, Material seems like the least interesting aspect of the Android L. Throwaway comments abound about Material, calling it a direct copy of Apple iOS and Windows Phone. Many people find it hard to get excited by anything described as “guidelines,” especially if it is about app or Web design. Beyond the surface-level examination of Material, a more in-depth investigation reveals that Google’s new design language contains great depth mixed with a sound strategy.

Material suffers from a bit of a naming issue—the word Material has many different interpretations and therefore can cause different reactions based on what definition a person attaches to it. In one early account of Material, an author thought it referred to being actually tactile—as in something you could feel with your fingertips.

Google describes Material as:

“A material metaphor is the unifying theory of a rationalized space and a system of motion. The material is grounded in tactile reality, inspired by the study of paper and ink, yet technologically advanced and open to imagination and magic.”

Google’s description might sound a bit pretentious and precious, it is actually a very accurate description. “Material” doesn’t mean it is something you can feel. Rather, Material is something that behaves like it is made of real stuff—real substance that exists in the physical world. That means that interfaces and objects live on “paper” and react as real objects would; with a sense of mass and size. Objects appear and disappear with some sense of logic, because, in the real world, objects do not appear and disappear (generally) in a random fashion. Material is an interface with intent.

My colleague Dan Rowinski covered the basics of Material in his primer on Android L Developer Preview. If you haven’t read it, you should start there as it provides a good understanding of all of the components of Android L. This article, however, will concentrate on a specific portion of Material: Layout. Specifically, the Paper metaphor for constructing basic layouts and user interfaces.

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The Present (And Future) For Android Wear Apps

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Wearage is what brings us together, today. Android Wear, that is.

Google and its Android manufacturing partners have fired the first major salvo in the smartwatch Arm Race to control the computers we will strap to our wrists. Android Wear is just the beginning of popular wearable technology. Apple will eventually get in on this game and so will a plethora of would-be contenders, some which may actually ride the wearable wave to a seat at the big table in Silicon Valley.

But we must remember where we are in the evolution of the wearable computer: the very beginning.

Android Wear is a perfect example of this nascent wearable world. At its most basic level, Android Wear and its first two smartwatches—the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live—are notification devices with simple hardware, development and design principles. Android Wear devices are not the culmination of years of advancement in computer science and technology … they are flawed first-generation consumer products that will continue to grow in features and functionality over time.

As we are at the beginning of this road, it is a perfect time to take stock of the current landscape and offer a little insight into what is coming on the horizon.

What Android Wear Apps Can Do Right Now

To get started with Android Wear development you are going to need an Android smartphone with Android 4.3 (API Level 18) or higher, the latest version of Google Play Services and an Android Wear Device or a Android Virtual Device (AVD) available either in Eclipse or Android Studio integrated developer environment.

Android Wear smartwatches are fundamentally notification devices paired via Bluetooth to an Android smartphone. That is how Google designed the software and that is how smartwatches are being used by the handful of people that have bothered to pony up the money to get a ticket on the early adopter barge.

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Android Auto: Taking Android Everywhere

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

“Android everywhere” was the theme of Google’s I/O developer conference earlier this summer, where the media and consumers were given a first-hand look at how the operating system would soon be implemented on a variety of personal and mobile devices, including the most mobile device of all: your car.

Everywhere indeed.

Android Auto is scheduled to hit the road by the end of 2014. While the concept of the “connected car” is hardly new, Google’s vision is unique in several ways.

Essentially, Android Auto uses the Android operating system—the forthcoming Android L release—to control features such as navigation, messaging, Web searches and music. A user simply connects their smartphone to the mounted head unit via USB and they’re off and running. Obviously, Android Auto will only work on supported cars. As of now, Google had already signed agreements with a number of automobile manufacturers, including Audi, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, VW and several others.

If you’re in the market for a new car between now and forever, you might have a few questions as to how this technology will work, so let’s take a closer at a few items in Android Auto.

Update Or Outdated?

When GPS systems were first embedded into automobiles, they represented the pinnacle of auto technology. A few short years later, they were seen as woefully outdated—both in appearance and functionality—with consumers often deciding to navigate the roads with their smartphone via Google Maps or Nokia HERE. The shelf life of technology is extremely short.

Recognizing this, Google has taken a more future-proof approach with Android Auto. As described by Engadget, “Rather than the more traditional model that sees smarts baked into the car’s head unit, your phone will project its OS and the app in play onto the car’s screen…The big benefit here is as your phone updates, your car’s center stack gets better without you needing to fiddle with it.”

Unlike GPS (and other traditional smart car technology) Android Auto offers the consumer an experience that is constantly being improved and refined, not one that diminishes the instant it’s driven off the lot.

Apple CarPlay Vs. Android Auto

The focus on software is wise move on Google’s part, but not dissimilar to Apple’s solution, the rival CarPlay system. Although Apple’s system utilizes a lightning cable (as opposed to Android’s MicroUSB), the two are highly similar in that they are both “plug-and-play” solutions and not overly reliant on hardware. But will a consumer have to choose between these two options depending on the brand of vehicle they wish to purchase? Jared Newman of TIME.com has the answer: Maybe.

Newman writes:

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are similar enough in their underlying architecture that some auto makers–including Honda and Volvo–are planning to support iOS and Android at the same time. So at least in some vehicles, you won’t have to pledge allegiance to a single platform when you buy your car.

The plug-in system doesn’t just provide more choice for users. It also allows auto makers to retain some control over the dashboard, and frees Google and Apple from having to support things like FM radio, climate control and Bluetooth connectivity. For all those things, you’d still use the car’s built-in system. But when you want your car to be a little smarter, you’ll just bring along your cable of choice–MicroUSB or Lighting–and plug in the phone you’ve got.

For now, it appears that some automakers are willing to support both platforms. It would not be much of surprise—given the rivalry between Apple and Google—to see exclusivity agreements with certain manufacturers in the near future.

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The App Developer’s Primer For Android “L” Beta

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Editor’s note: This week is Android Primer Week here at Applause where we will be looking at everything coming down the pipe for the Android community and app development.

Android developers always play catch up. But that may be about to change.

Over the past six years, Google has released a new version of its Android mobile operating system once or twice a year. Then most everybody that makes Android smartphones, tablets and apps had to scramble. Google gave developers no lead time, no advanced warning that a new version of Android was about to drop. Three to six months would pass before state-of-the-art Android smartphones and apps were optimized to the newest version.

In 2014, Google is finally breaking this cycle of release and scramble. Instead of unveiling the new version of Android and making it immediately available to the public, Google has released Android into a beta period—a developer preview—where app makers and manufacturers can build new devices and apps before the new version of Android is officially ready for the public. It is a simple tactic that both Apple and Microsoft use for iOS and Windows Phone and should ease the burden on the entire Android ecosystem.

Android L—as the beta period is called—should go live in the autumn this year. Last year Google announced Android 4.4 KitKit on October 31st. The “L” Preview looks like it could be on a similar timeframe after being unveiled at Google’s I/O developer conference in late June.

Why Android “L?” Google names each successive version of Android after a dessert in alphabetical order (Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, KitKat), so Android L will be a tasty treat, maybe Lollipop or Lemon Pie.

Android is beginning to be defined not just by what it can and cannot do on smartphones and tablets, but on any variety of devices. Google has announced various extensions of Android, such as the new Android TV, Android Wear, Android Auto and Google Fit. We will focus on the varying aspects of Android this week, starting today with the L Preview.

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Join Us For Wednesday’s Webinar: “Creating Winning Mobile Commerce Experiences”

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The mobile commerce experience is becoming a key differentiator for retailers–and, perhaps more importantly, a factor in how consumers judge the retail brand.

Players in the mobile commerce space need to understand and optimize their mobile experiences to protect their brand and win.

Join guest speaker Sucharita Mulpuru, VP and Principal Analyst from Forrester Research and Ben Gray, App Quality Evangelist from Applause—this Wednesday, August 20th at 1 p.m. EST—to discover the elements that winning retailers use to deliver high quality mobile commerce experiences.

Join Applause and guest Forrester Research on Wednesday to discover:

  • The state of mobile commerce.
  • Which retailers are winning.
  • What retailers need to do to win.

Register for our webinar today!