What's Your Android Distribution Strategy?

Digital Innovation Gazette: Dollars & Distribution

By Tim Kridel for Digital Innovation Gazette

What’s Your Android Distribution Strategy?

435,502. That’s how many Android apps were available on April 28, 2012. Depending on when you’re reading this, that number may have grown by at least 5,000.

Those numbers are good news for Android developers because a broad, deep and growing selection of apps helps attract more users to the platform. However, it can also be bad news -- or at least a challenge -- because the more apps there are, the more difficult it is to stand out from the pack.

How can you make sure your app gets noticed by Android users? Try these distribution strategies to overcome the challenge.

Play by Google’s Rules
Android Market’s March 2012 transformation into Google Play was more than just rebranding. It also expanded the store’s lineup to include books, movies and music, which means more shoppers and thus more potential customers for your app.

Google Play’s online store and app both have an Editor’s Choice section on their opening page. Google doesn’t explain its selection criteria, but developers whose apps have made the cut say they’ve got a few hunches.

“As far as I could tell, Editor’s Choice and Staff Picks are exactly what they sound like: apps that people at Google happen to like,” says Sterling Udell, whose apps have been featured twice. “As with any other group of people, there’s no real way to predict what they’ll like, nor is there any published way of bringing potential candidates to their attention. It appears to be that they find apps just like anyone else, and they’ll feature those they like. And because the editors and staff are Googlers, apps that have geek appeal probably have a better chance.”

The editors and staff also seem to prefer apps that don’t play fast and loose with Google’s rules, particularly its terms of service. Quality also matters, including a user interface (UI) that looks great on any device.

“There are a lot of bottom-feeder, low-effort apps that can be discounted right away,” says Udell. “Apps that closely follow Google’s various UX guidelines probably have a much better chance. I suspect Google wants to feature apps like that. For example, I have little doubt that you get points if your UI scales nicely between phones and tablets.”

Sell Through Amazon
The Amazon Appstore launched in March 2011 and provides another opportunity for mass-market exposure. If you’re targeting Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which now has 54 percent of the Android tablet market, Appstore is the place to be because Google Play is available only to Fire owners willing to root their device.

Some developers say third-party stores such as Amazon’s are useful for making a sale, but not necessarily for getting on customers’ radar screens in the first place. “I’ve had a fair amount of sales from third-party stores -- enough to make them worth doing,” says Udell. “It’s generally quite hard to tell if they’re raising awareness of my apps, though.”

If that’s the case, it could be yet another example of the showrooming that Amazon and other e-tailers are known for. One reason is because each day, Amazon selects a paid app to give away, so parsimonious buyers might hear about an app someplace else but then wait for it to go on sale at Appstore. Of course, not all customers are willing to wait. So becoming Appstore’s freebie doesn’t necessarily cannibalize sales -- especially if you have additional revenue streams.

“If your app involves in-app payments, you won’t have any worries,” says Joseph Farrar, president of JoeDeveloper. “I’m not even sure you would need to worry about one day’s worth of sales for your app. The amount of exposure and word of mouth might just be worth it in the long run.”

Know Who Knows Your Market
Another strategy is to identify bloggers, websites and magazines that have a devoted following in your target market. For example, if you have an app for shortwave radio hobbyists, trying pitching it to the editors of enthusiast publications such as Popular Communications.

“Tech blogs are a great way to build awareness,” says Farrar. “AndroidPolice.com, for instance, has an entire series dedicated to profiling new apps, as well as longstanding apps in the Android Play store.”

But even large, well-staffed websites don’t always have the time to ferret out cool apps to bring to their audience’s attention. AppCarousel aims to eliminate that hurdle by doing the research and then bundling those apps into a mini app store that websites can embed.

“We offer people with particular verticals the ability to showcase a bunch of apps,” says Terry Hughes, who developed apps such as momentem before becoming AppCarousel’s managing director. “They don’t have to write special app-showcasing code for their website or add deep links to Android Market.”

AppCarousel’s existence is just one more example of how challenging it is for Android apps to stand out from the pack.

“This whole notion of curating is really the buzz for 2012,” says Hughes. “As the market segments itself, that’s a better approach than hoping these great, big app stores do everything for you.”

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/juniorbeep

Tim Kridel has been covering all things tech and telecom since 1998 for a variety of publications and analyst firms. Based in Columbia, Mo., he still enjoys the childhood hobby that led to a career writing about technology: ham radio.

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