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The Apple / Google / Facebook Message War Starts Now

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We’re on the cusp of a global conflict that will see the three most powerful consumer Internet companies fighting to win control of interpersonal communication. The war will pit Facebook’s unified Chat / Messages / Email vs Apple’s cross-device iMessage system vs. Google’s Gmail / GChat / Hangouts. If one emerges as the definitive victor, it could sway the future of digital human interaction.

Read on as we survey the battlefield, review the weaponry of each company, and assess who could win the epic message war and the fortune that comes with it.

Last week we saw Facebook fire the shot of this war when it changed everyone’s profile contact info to display their @facebook.com address and hide their previously selected Gmail, MobileMe, or other email addresses. Why? To box out Google and Apple. Even with natural advantages like a firm grip on identity and the social graph, plus the fact that it works across both iOS and Android devices, Facebook still felt like it needed to attack.

We’ve likely reached “peak SMS” — next year fewer text messages may be sent than this year due to the rise of data-based alternatives. Now is the time for one of these three messaging platforms to take the place of SMS.

Preparing For Battle

Over the last few years, the three combatants have been scrambling to arm themselves for the coming message war. Movement has sped up over the last few weeks, though, indicating we could soon start seeing peace treaties broken and heavier assaults launched.

Facebook

In November 2010, Facebook unified its messaging platform so instant Chats, asynchronous Messages, and email sent to the newly offered @facebook.com addresses would all flow into one inbox. In some ways this was great for users because if someone sent you a Chat and you were offline or immediately left your desktop, you could view it in your Messages inbox from mobile.

Similarly, if you sent someone a message but they were currently online, it’d get delivered as a chat. You could voluntarily set up a Facebook email address, but few people did and that wing of the service stalled. Then in April, Facebook began assigning email addresses to everyone.

July 2011 saw a partnership with Microsoft’s Skype that allowed Facebook to add video chat capability to its platform. It also acquired and re-skinned Beluga as Facebook Messenger in August 2011 as a standalone app to break direct communication out from its bloated primary app. Facebook Messenger doesn’t do voice or video just yet but you can bet it’s on the way.

In Facebook’s arsenal are the world’s largest social graph, mobile’s most popular apps, massive time-on-site across devices, a deep understanding of who we’re closest to, and a thriving ad platform to monetize it all with.

Identity is key to messaging because it lets people connect just by name, allowing the best communication medium for the job be selected as the specific contact information falls into the background. It does not own the hardware or the OS, but it can float as a layer across devices which is why Facebook may have the most powerful war machine.

Google

Meanwhile, Gmail continued gaining popularity while Gchat (formally named Google Talk) became a preferred instant messaging system for professionals who thought themselves too mature for AOL instant Messenger or IRC, and didn’t want to be frequently interrupted with small talk chats from distant Facebook friends. In September 2010, Google acquired group-chat and organization app Plannr.

Then Google launched Google+ in June 2011 with its stand-out feature Hangouts, a real-time group video chat service that also offered some collaboration and synchronous media consumption options. It also turned Plannr into Google+ Messenger. Now as GigaOm reports from last week’s I/O conference, Google is merging Hangouts, Talk, and Messenger into a single unified messaging platform that could allow text, voice, and video chat across devices.

Google’s strongest asset is its diversity. It owns Android, the mobile OS that’s locking down the long-tail. It’s working with Samsung to build hardware and also owns Motorola now. It’s got a fair amount of cash, which can’t hurt, plus a presence in social networking that can tie Android and Chrome OS together. Most importantly, it controls Gmail, arguably the winner of the last communication war that was fought for email.

Apple

FaceTime launched in June 2010 as Apple’s mobile video chat service, but at the time it required both conversation partners to have the latest iPhone. With time, Apple has expanded FaceTime beyond mobile so users of its desktops and MacBooks could video chat too.

Apple launched iMessage in October 2011 as an SMS alternative for iOS devices that also sends photos and other media. iMessage will link desktop and laptop computers to their mobile brethren when Apple adds it to OS X Mountain Lion. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Apple integrate FaceTime directly into the cross-device iMessage platform, though how email could feed into it is less clear.

Even with mountains of cash, Apple may be the underdog. It has no social network, and in fact relies on Facebook to bring social to iOS and the App Store. It could control messaging to some extent for all of its device users. But not everyone can afford them, and that means its users won’t always be able to contact friends through iMessage.

The Spoils Of War

So by next month, Facebook, Google, and Apple will each have their own robust messaging platforms featuring some combination of support for cross-desktop and -mobile communication; real-time chat with text, photos, voice, and video, syndication to email, and SMS delivery as a backup. Whichever of these features they don’t have, they’ll likely buy or build.

Everyone else in the messaging space, like Microsoft’s GroupMe and all the free SMS startups should prepare to pivot or sell to one of the three warring factions. You’re not gonna win.

What’s at stake is the control of perhaps the most critical stream of them all — direct communication. Content is surely important, especially because it creates massive engagement and time on site that creates a host for advertising. The ambient intimacy of Facebook, Google+, and Twitter let us feel closer to a huge number of distant acquaintances and thought leaders through the indirect communication of content feeds.

People love content, but people need direct communication. Who you communicate with on a daily basis and via what medium are vital signals regarding where people sit in your social graph. Whichever company owns the most of this data will have better ways to refine the relevance of their content streams, showing you updates by the people you care about aka communicate with most, and showing ads nearby.

Through natural language processing and analysis, whoever controls messages will also get to machine-read all of them and target you with ads based on what you’re talking about.

Communication channels will likely host that advertising too, making the winner of this war even richer. You might not get highly obtrusive mobile spam straight from marketers, but their ads could be appended at the end of your incoming messages.

At least expect ads mixed in between or shown around your Facebook or Google messages, the way Gmail shows ads right above your inbox. Apple meanwhile would use control of communication to bolster hardware sales by making the latest improvements only available on its latest devices.

The stakes of the message war are huge, so these three companies will fight hard. They’ll spend huge sums, form alliances if they have to, and make aggressive moves that could endanger the user experience to win. We’re already seeing it happen. And if one company does come to rule messaging, it could reduce the impetus for innovation and permit abuse. I like to think these companies are better than that, but some argue “whoever wins, we lose”.

Update: To clarify, “winning” this war could mean controlling the bulk of the market share, not necessarily 100% of it. There will likely continue to be scrappy startup alternatives, even one that disrupts this whole war, and none of the big guys here will totally give up if they “lose”.

But a disrupter would likely have to turn down huge acquisitions bids. And if the big messaging platforms don’t talk to each other and one gains an obvious lead (and I think one will), network effect will kick in, that “winner” will continue to grow its share, and it will dominate messaging.

Fire The Missiles

Facebook knew it was going to take a major PR hit for hiding the real email addresses and replacing them with its own @facebook.com addresses on the profile contact info of every user. The change could have been done more subtly with a slow roll out or with some token, quickly-sped-past notification to users.

Facebook got a late start on email, especially compared to Google, and many users haven’t changed their email contact info since Facebook launched its addresses. It needed to increase awareness about @facebook.com addresses, and it didn’t want @gmail.com and Apple @me.com addresses on everyone’s profiles. Making the change without notifying users was certainly bad for the user experience, but Facebook did it anyway.

So what will Google and Apple do to retaliate? Google could prevent people from listing their Facebook profiles in their G+ About sections, and that won’t do much damage. It could compete with Facebook Messenger by pre-installing its own unified messenger app in the place of a standard SMS app on Android devices, and integrating that app with Chrome OS. Apple could refuse to integrate Facebook any deeper into iOS, or scale back Facebook’s presence and double-down with Twitter.

Those probably won’t be enough to deter Facebook, though, and it could go on to win the message war or at least dominate it.

The Aftermath

Apple may very well foresee its coming loss or at least a prolonged battle. It and Facebook are relatively complementary, while both are fighting fiercely with Google on several fronts. So rather than pour resources into a losing battle, Apple might find some way to play nice with Facebook.

This could come through a bridge between iMessage and Facebook’s messaging platform. The ability to iMessage Facebook friends you don’t have the phone number of could increase the Apple product’s worth, and give iOS users a way to message with their Android-toting friends.

Meanwhile, Google may lose this war outright. The day it started building Google+ rather than partnering with Facebook, it may have bitterly resigned to losing both the war for identity and the war for messaging. It will have to try to win the post-PC mobile war without owning messaging, which could be difficult. Now more than ever, Google Glass and self-driving cars are looking like the company’s future. The wars for wearable computing, and especially artificial intelligence are still Google’s to win.

Mark Zuckerberg probably calculated the risk of Facebook’s aggressive change to visible contact info, and assumed his site could swallow lost trust from a few million angry tech news readers. It’s still THE social network, and a few days of complaints won’t change that. This isn’t friendly competition. It’s the war for messaging, and wars have casualties.

[Featured Image Credit: TechCrunch’s illustrator Bryce Durbin]


The Apple / Google / Facebook Message War Starts Now

Apple’s Passbook Could Be A Platform, Not Just Another Mobile Payments Rival

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At this week’s WWDC, Apple introduced a new application called “Passbook,” meant to function as an organizer for all your passes. It supports store cards, gift cards and coupons out of the gate, replacing their plastic counterparts, and providing an Apple-approved way to get consumers paying at checkout with their mobile phones. At first glance, it seems that Passbook’s launch is bad news for mobile wallet players like Square, PayPal, and others.

But it might actually represent an opportunity for everybody else.

Besides the gee-whiz factor of having scannable cards organized in a pretty interface within the iPhone, the most interesting thing about Passbook is that the digital cards are able to make use of the iPhone’s geolocation capabilities. “When you get to the movie theater, your ticket automatically pops up on the lockscreen,” explained Scott Forstall, Apple’s SVP for iPhone software, demonstrating how a Fandago movie ticket in action.

“So if I have my phone locked, and I go to my favorite Starbucks, up comes my Starbucks card,” Forstall said, showing off the Starbucks Card integration, “slide across it, brings up my card, scan, pay for my coffee and I’m out.” (He’s sliding his finger across the lockscreen alert to reveal the card. You can watch the demo here around minute 93:00 of the presentation.)

For now, the cards feature scannable barcodes, much like the standalone Starbucks app available in the app store does today. And after you scan your Passbook ”card” via the store’s barcode reader, the balance immediately updates and the change is reflected in the digital card within the app.

Passbook’s Location-Based Feature Sounds A Lot Like Square!

What jumped into my mind, however, when Forstall talked about the location-based features of Passbook – the way cards are triggered to launch as you walk into various stores – is how much this feature resembles Square’s “Pay with Square” application (formerly known as “Square Card Case”). For this reason, some may speculate that Passbook will eventually morph into a mobile wallet, and therefore, a “Square killer.”

For background: this year, Square introduced a hands-free payment feature in its iOS app which allowed users to opt-in to a geofencing feature in the app that was triggered when you and your phone were within 100 meters of a Square merchant. The feature is not necessarily obvious to new users. By default, you must launch your “tab” in the Square merchant’s card, then you can say your name at checkout to pay via Square without handing over your credit card to the merchant.

However, if you choose to opt-in to geofencing, you can configure Square to open your favorite merchant tabs automatically by toggling the “Auto-open Tab” setting to “On” within each merchant’s card. Enabling this feature merchant-by-merchant is a bit tedious for Square users, though; Apple’s solution of lockscreen alerts is much more elegant. And of course, this is because of Apple’s ability to integrate its own application deeply in the OS. In fact, Forstall said this repeatedly during the presentation: Passbook integrates.

“There are a lot of really great apps in the App Store that are starting to put passes – boarding passes and tickets – into the apps,” Forstall said. “But the problem is when you get to the movie theater or to the airport, you have to fumble around to find the app and then the ticket or pass within the app. So Passbook takes all these passes and combines them together into one place, and integrates it right into the OS.”

So what Apple has done, in a sense, is take the functionality provided by Square – geofenced cards that appear when you walk into a store – and make it a more deeply integrated, and therefore, a simpler and more elegant, solution.

But Will Passbook Become A Square/Mobile Wallet “Killer?”

With this in mind, it’s hard not to speculate at the greater agenda at play. Is Apple building a Square killer? Is it setting the stage for a mobile wallet?

Via Passbook, Apple has placed its tiny toe into water that is the mobile payments ecosystem. The app serves as a way to warm up the Apple userbase to the idea of using their phone at checkout to pay for things. The feature is rudimentary for now. It requires barcodes, which are sort of a stopgap solution in between the credit card era and the mobile-phone-as-payment-mechanism era — much like the Square dongle is a stopgap solution in between using credit cards and simply saying your name at checkout. And, Passbook only works with closed loop systems for now (users paying merchants using merchants’ own cards). Nowhere did Apple mention support for MasterCard, Visa, Discover, or AmEx, you’ll notice.

But all those players are busy building their mobile wallets and payments infrastructure of their own. Some, like MasterCards’ PayPass and Visa’s V.me, are betting big on NFC and will work with NFC-enabled POS terminals. Google Wallet is also using NFC. Meanwhile American Express recently introduced its Serve iPhone app for mobile payments.

Is Apple preparing to battle them all? And if so, then why didn’t Apple launch a full-on mobile wallet of its own? Why build a halfway-there solution like Passbook?

Why Apple Didn’t Launch Its Own “Real” Digital Wallet

For starters, it’s no simple matter to begin integrating these complex open loop solutions into the iPhone while simultaneously teaching users how to use their phone at point-of-sale. But another reason for Apple’s hesitation to launch a “real” mobile wallet is the current chaotic situation in the mobile payments industry today. Apple may simply be hedging its bets by not going full steam ahead with open loop payments, despite its access to 400 million credit cards thanks to its iTunes userbase, because there’s no standard solution out there right now.

If NFC becomes the default, that would involve new hardware (i.e., NFC chips) getting installed in Apple iPhones. (A wallet app would make more sense as a feature in a new iPhone. Clearly, Apple has been thinking about this possibility, based on its patent history). Or if NFC fails to gain traction, another mobile payments player like Square or PayPal might succeed in its place. Apple may want wait until a victor in the space is apparent, and then make its move to support whatever technology or standard is agreed upon as the most widely used and accepted.

(Oh, and all this is just in the U.S., mind you. Each geographic region may be crowning its own mobile payments victor in due time. Yikes.)

Apple Could Partner, Not Kill

It’s not a given that Apple will move into mobile payments itself. The company may very well be content to build a platform that supports third-party integrations, much like how Passbook functions today. For example, it’s easy to imagine how an Apple/Square partnership could work, if Apple opened up to supporting third-party mobile payment integrations.

Apple and Square are already partners in a sense: Apple sells Square readers in its stores, so it’s not a huge leap to think of how Square’s merchant install base could help Passbook/Apple Wallet get off the ground more quickly if Apple went this direction. It would be more like cementing the Apple/Square relationship that already exists by announcing that you can now save your favorite Square merchants’ cards within Passbook. Square could make Passbook/Wallet better, so why try to kill it? However, from what we’ve heard, partnership discussions between Apple and Square have not yet taken off, if they ever do.

Passbook doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to Square — or PayPal, the banks, MasterCard, Visa, or any other mobile wallet provider — so much as it serves as a potential opportunity. Through future partnerships and integrations with a forthcoming Passbook-turned-Wallet, all those players may have the ability to embed themselves more deeply into the iOS operating system than they ever could if they went at it on their own via standalone apps. And that’s a win-win-win. Mobile payments companies get increased exposure and access, Apple gets to snag its cut of transactions, and consumers finally get a mobile wallet that works.


Apple’s Passbook Could Be A Platform, Not Just Another Mobile Payments Rival

BlackBerry PlayBook Update Adds Improved Android Compatibility

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The RIM PlayBook by just received a developers update that adds some interesting new Android functionality to RIM’s tablet. This new version now supports Android apps running in their own windows, improving compatibility with the general Android app universe.

From Crackberry:

Improved HTML5 support
Portrait support for Email, Calendar and Contacts
Improved folder support including IMAP folder support
Full device encryption is now supported, so that the whole device and personal partition can be secure.
Screenshots are now saved in lossless PNG format.
Each Android app will now run in its own window. This greatly improves the user experience and consistency among the other application runtimes.
Access to the Camera hardware is now supported for Android apps, allowing many more application types to work on the BlackBerry® PlayBook™ tablet.
In-App Payment is now supported through the BlackBerry Payment SDK, so Android applications can include virtual items for sale in their applications.

This version is butting up against the incoming BB10 OS that will soon appear on phones and tablets, but, as the Verge notes, the BB10 PlayBook should be able to run apps written for previous OS versions.

Oddly, this version seems like a bit of a dead end but it’s nice to see Android functionality getting fleshed out more concretely.

via RIM


BlackBerry PlayBook Update Adds Improved Android Compatibility

Big Apple Leads Millennial Q1 Device Ranks By Wide Margin: 28% For Brand, 15% For iPhone

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Mobile advertising company  Millennial  Media, one of the biggest in the U.S., has released its quarterly ad impression report, and the results show that Apple continues to remain the single-biggest brand, and most popular phone maker, on the Millennial ad network — with the rest of the list largely dominated by Android.

Apple has a clear lead in the field of device makers based on brand: the popularity of Apple’s iPhone handsets, iPad tablets and iPod music players gave the company a share of 28.32 percent of all devices on the network, with its closest competitor, Samsung, picking up a share of 18.25 percent of the overall market impressions. Millennial also notes that non-phone devices are continuing to see a growing impact on the overall mix.

RIM slipped down to number-five in the list of top manufacturers, and  with 10.16 percent of all devices, and Nokia, once the leading vendor of mobile handsets, is now down to 10th position, with a 0.91 percent share of mobile devices.

When considering individual handset models, you can really see the strength of Apple’s strong portfolio essentially built around one device. Apple only had the iPhone (unspecified which precise model; perhaps all three) in the top-20, but usage of iPhones was enough to give it 15.1 percent of the whole market. The next-closest competitor was BlackBerry Curve with a 4.44 percent share of the market.

In contrast to Apple, other handset makers are still relying on several handset models, which all do moderately well, so that in aggregate they are gaining better market share. For example, RIM has five handsets in the top-20, the biggest number. Together that accounted for only 12 percent of impressions. Samsung had four handsets, which together made eight percent of impressions. HTC also had four models in top-20, with Motorola listing three.

Although the usage of tablets is really taking off — Millennial notes that is up by 33 percent over last year, with iPad very much in the lead — smartphones are still accounting for the vast majority of traffic. Collectively, they account for 73 percent of all ad impression traffic, versus 62 percent the year before. Traffic from tablets and other non-smartphone devices went up as well, t0 20 percent from 15 percent, while feature phones are really in decline. Lower end devices not account for only seven percent of ad impression traffic, compared to 23 percent a year ago.

When it comes to platforms, although Apple leads in terms of single brand, the sheer aggregation of Android device makers continues to push Google’s OS into the lead. Android now has 49 percent of all impressions, with iOS at 33 percent. Millennial notes that Android overtook iOS as the dominant platform in 2011. BlackBerry is at 14 percent to round out the top three.

In terms of popular apps, Millennial says that games were the most popular category, and it grew by 10 percent over last year. Music and entertainment took the number-two position. The full rankings for popular app categories are below:


Big Apple Leads Millennial Q1 Device Ranks By Wide Margin: 28% For Brand, 15% For iPhone

How Android Developers Can Thrive With Google Play

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Craig Palli is vice president of Client Services & Business Development at Fiksu (@fiksu), which helps brands boost iOS and Android mobile app ranking and secure large volumes of loyal users. You can find him on Twitter @cpalli.

Thriving with Google Play
Apple’s planned phase-out of the UDID has introduced considerable angst in the app marketing community. The UDID provides a standard, widely supported method for attributing performance of advertising campaigns. Unfortunately, there’s no single solution to replace the UDID and it appears the iOS market is fragmenting, with multiple technologies vying for developer attention. This is making it difficult for app developers to allocate their resources.

With all this uncertainty, some marketers are looking more closely at Google Play to fuel their continued growth in mobile. Unfortunately, many marketers are sidestepping Android development based on several published reports indicating that Apple’s iOS monetizes significantly better. Savvy marketers know that high-level statistics often mask a much more complex reality. While we’d never suggest that the iOS market be ignored, once you do the math you may find that Android represents a much more compelling (and profitable) opportunity than you thought.

Here’s why and how you can thrive with Google Play.

Bigger yet cheaper…
For sheer size, the Android platform has no equal. According to Nielsen, Android has more than 48 percent of the smartphone market, versus 32 percent for iOS. Google indicates there are 850,000 Android device activations per day and total Google Play app downloads have reached more than 15 billion. App search firm Xyologic reports that in March 2012 there were 617 million app downloads on Android versus 393 million app downloads on iPhone in the U.S.

Android also provides more advertising inventory, and at a lower cost. A recent analysis Fiksu did of available impressions concluded Android is able to deliver 12 percent more ad inventory than iOS. Further, the estimated cost of those impressions was 40 percent lower.

Android Advantages
Android also has a number of practical advantages over iOS that make it a great environment for market testing and quick rollout. Since there is no app approval process, you can quickly iterate your design and determine what features or offers work best. Updating an app can take weeks with iOS due to Apple’s submission and approval process.

In some ways, Google Play is also a more accessible market. Competition in the iOS sphere is extremely intense. Marketing any app is challenging, but the explosion of new apps and changes in Apple policy have made breaking a new app into the iOS market a much tougher hill to climb. Xyologic reports they “have seen the momentum of iOS for app publishers slow down considerably in the last 5 months. Several key performance indicators we track are down, especially the amount of new apps which make it to the Top 100. We view this as evidence of the new challenges the Apple environment puts on app marketers.”

Unlike iOS, where rank is critical and often expensive to attain, Google Play has a strong search engine that makes it easier for interested users to find your app. Our experience is that 80% of the organic users in Google Play come from searches.

Finally, Android also solves the problem of marketing attribution, since it provides referrer information that anonymously identifies the source of a download. This is a single industry-wide solution that provides reliable data, yet balances the need for user privacy.  You know exactly where your ad dollars go. You know exactly what is and isn’t working. And there’s none of the data ambiguity or user experience issues seen with some iOS tracking solutions.

What About Monetization?
Of course, the big concern about Android is monetization. There’s clearly a gap: an oft-quoted post last December by Peter Farago of Flurry indicates Google Play monetization is roughly 24 percent of that of iOS.  It’s important to note that the gap is closing. Flurry notes that the biggest factor behind the gap is payment mechanisms, and expects this situation to improve with the integration of Google Wallet and Google Checkout. Evidence of improvement has already surfaced: app research firm Distimo indicates it saw an 80 percent improvement in average daily revenues for the top 200 US apps between December 2011 and March 2012. Furthermore, in a post titled Treat Android as a first-class citizen… it’ll pay off!  TinyCo noted that Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU) for Google Play and iTunes is about the same as iOS, and found that Amazon performance surpassed that of iOS by a significant margin.

Beating the Averages
One problem with the monetization statistics on Google Play is that they cover the “average” experience. We’ve seen that if you target users effectively and you employ the right development strategy, Android apps convert and generate loyal users at roughly the same rate as iOS apps. More significantly, they do so at a lower acquisition cost.

In Q1, Fiksu conducted a study of six clients running the same apps on both iOS and Android to determine differences in acquisition cost and loyal usage conversion rates. (Loyal users are those who return repeatedly to an app and are most likely to monetize.) The cost of acquiring an install was 24 percent lower for Android than iOS. Given the monetization issues noted above we expected a higher conversion from installs to loyal users for iOS. Instead, what we saw was that once a user was acquired, the loyalty rate was exactly the same for both platforms. The only difference was that the cost of acquiring those users on Android was 24 percent lower.

There are, however some exceptions where iOS does beat out Android. For example tablet based shopping apps are an area where iOS excels. Other than the Kindle Fire, there is no Android-based tablet that can challenge the iPad. Further, payment processing is stronger on iOS. Fiksu data shows that for such apps loyalty is far stronger on iOS. However, these issues are being addressed in the market and those shopping apps that move to Android now will have a significant early mover advantage since Play’s algorithm rewards total downloads and usage.

How to Thrive with Google Play
It’s clear that there are many apps that are struggling in the Google Play environment, yet some are doing extremely well. Here are factors that we’ve found have made for a successful Android implementation:

Good design has its rewards: A key to rising above the averages is simply to design for Android. Many developers port iOS apps to Android as an afterthought, resulting in a sub-optimal or even buggy user experience. ESPN for example, shared during a recent webinar that their ported apps originally did not perform to expectations. When they took the approach of developing specifically for each environment, they found that performance was on par with iOS.  Another example is game developer TinyCo. who specifically ascribes its aforementioned success with Android to taking “the Android pledge” to treat Android as a first class citizen. The result was that TinyCo doubled its market opportunity.

Prioritize device and OS support: With the large number of form factors in Android, developers can find themselves stretched trying to determine what devices to support. Fortunately, a subset of roughly 20 devices makes up about 80 percent of the volume for Android, so the problem is more manageable than one might suspect. Similarly, more than 90 percent of Android devices are addressed by supporting OS version 2.2 and later.

Look forward: In hockey, there’s a saying “skate where the puck is going” (not where it is now.) The monetization issue that has received so much press is being addressed as more consumers adopt Google payment mechanisms. As noted above, there are already indications that this situation is improving rapidly. In addition, Google’s rank algorithm benefits longevity yielding an early mover advantage for apps debuting on Play sooner.

Leverage lower customer acquisition costs: The enormous scrum of developers scrapping over the iOS marketplace has resulted in higher acquisition costs.  Android presents an opportunity to develop market share and test new strategies at a lower cost.

Best Practices
The following best practices will maximize the return on an Android implementation. Here are some practical tips for success:

  • Maximize search potential in your app title: identify your most successful keywords and make sure to include them in your app title.  In fact, this is so critical to success (potentially 80 to 100 places in your search ranking), that you should seriously consider removing your app name from your title and focus your description on the best keywords. Include the app name in the body of the app description – users will still be able to find it by name. Unlike iOS, the body description is searched under Google Play.
  • Use, but don’t overuse, keywords: try to use the best keywords at five times the body of your app description. This can affect search ranking from 10 to 20 places.  Anything over five times has no additional benefit, so don’t overdo it.
  • Test your search parameters: the above recommendations are guidelines based on accumulated experience, but search results can vary based on many factors.
  • Steady efforts work best: Google Play’s ranking algorithm is tilted towards long term user acquisition – apps that acquire and retain satisfied users are rewarded with higher ranks.  Advertising campaigns should be run over a longer term and sustained over two to three months, as opposed to the short bursts of activity often seen in the iOS market.
  • Use closed loop attribution and target long term users:  since retained users have an important impact in ranking, use closed loop marketing to ensure you are identifying and utilizing ad sources that bring loyal users.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment and test market your strategy with Android. You can apply these learnings to your iOS versions and reduce your costs and risks.

Conclusion
The ecosystem continues to provide an unprecedented growth opportunity for mobile app brands. While there are several options that iOS-centric developers may explore to maintain their growth in the wake of UDID deprecation, perhaps the biggest opportunity has nothing to do with iOS at all. Android offers a bigger overall market, increased amounts of marketing insight, lower user acquisition costs and, in many cases, users who are at least as engaged as their iOS counterparts. Perhaps it’s time that we all thrived with Google Play.

 


How Android Developers Can Thrive With Google Play