How T-Mobile Tries to Aid App Discoverability

The number of mobile apps on the market grows larger by the day, but the number of ways to sort through them all remains quite limited. T-Mobile USA looks to give the discoverability of the apps offered on its network a jumpstart by partnering with developers. Together they tie certain apps to specific devices, then embark on a concerted effort to market the heck out of them.

T-Mobile isn’t alone in trying to figure out how to connect consumers with top-notch apps. The glut of titles has given birth to a subset of applications that deliver personalized mobile apps or recommend offerings to friends. Apple (s aapl), meanwhile, has gone so far as to encourage developers to use keywords when submitting their offerings in order to help users find them more easily.

While the glut of choices can result in app store operators creating a competitive advantage by, say, leveraging recommendation engines in order to help customers separate the wheat from the chaff, it also creates an opportunity for carriers, which can cherry-pick the apps that help them best market their phones. T-Mobile USA worked with Big in Japan, a Dallas-based developer, to feature the app ShopSavvy on the carrier’s Android (s goog) -based G1 phone at its 2008 launch, and it worked with Geodelic to build a T-Mobile-specific version of the app Sherpa that was pre-loaded on myTouch 3G handsets. A mobile barcode-reading app, ShopSavvy has been downloaded by more than one million U.S. users, and the search app Sherpa has seen more than 350,000 downloads.

“There is a multitude of ways of bringing those devices to life; to tie the value proposition of those devices to those apps,” Sajal Sahay, T-Mobile’s director of handset innovation, told me. “Once we figured those out we went out and looked for developers…One of the things we do very well is that we’re able to bring these value propositions to life in marketing communications. And what these (developers) get is instant access to tons and tons of marketing spend from T-Mobile.”

T-Mobile also recommends certain apps through its App Pack, which uses an icon on the home screen to eliminate the need for users to rifle through the Android Market. And the carrier has launched a print magazine to push new apps and features for the myTouch 3G. The new collaborations sometimes require more sophisticated business models than the simple revenue splits that are the foundation of most app stores — Venetia Espinoza, T-Mobile’s director of mobile applications and partner programs, estimated about 20 percent of its developer deals are individually negotiated — and often require substantial investment.

There’s still plenty of distrust from developers who have long suffered at the hands of carriers that insisted on controlling every aspect of mobile content. And over time, established carrier/developer relationships could pose yet another hurdle for newcomers looking to bring their apps to market. But with app stores quickly becoming overstocked warehouses, the developer/carrier model could evolve as a key way for both sides to better leverage the exploding space.

Image courtesy Geodelic Systems.