How App Stores Can Compete With Android Market

Amazon last week took a big step toward opening its own Android app store by launching a developer portal and inviting app creators to submit their wares. The online retailing behemoth hopes to create a kind of upscale alternative to Android Market, vetting apps to make sure they perform as advertised before they can be downloaded by consumers.

That’s a notable contrast to Google’s laissez-faire strategy, which has resulted in an app warehouse cluttered with all kinds of junk. And Amazon’s app store could lay the foundation for a store that delivers the kind of superior shopping experience I first lobbied for more than a year ago — a store that offers a small library of high-quality titles, and that does a better job of helping users find what they want.

Amazon’s efforts are just one example of how Android Market’s shortcomings have created a variety of opportunities for those willing to get into the app-distribution business. A few other players already distribute Android apps: GetJar offers Android titles, as does Verizon Wireless, through its V Cast Apps. But I think there’s still plenty of room for others — from online retailers to social networks to pure-play startups — who want to tap the ever-expanding Android audience.

To lure users away from Google’s Android Market and toward a third-party storefront, though, app distributors must meet several key challenges:

  • Attract developers. Retailers must make it easy and cheap (or free) for app developers to sign on and get to market. Make the development and submission process painless, and help developers who have problems tweaking their apps for your store. Offer premium placement and other marketing tactics for great apps, and be flexible and creative when it comes to sharing download revenues.
  • Vet and test your apps. Android Market’s biggest weakness for consumers is its lack of oversight, so competitors need to make sure their storefronts carry only top-notch stuff. Not only should apps make good on their claims, they must be tested for malware and to ensure they’re not pulling any shenanigans when it comes to sharing user information. If you can’t differentiate yourself from Google’s storefront through quality, you’ll lose. But it’s also important to have clear-cut policies regarding your approval policies (unlike Apple’s opaque rules for approval to its App Store) and to tell rejected developers exactly why their offerings weren’t accepted.
  • Master app merchandising and discoverability. Browsing Android Market is sometimes like rummaging through books in an unorganized thrift store. Retailers should have storefronts on both the mobile web and the PC web, tweaking each to take advantage of how users are shopping. Find innovative ways to make the best apps the most visible. Use recommendations as well as search tools to help users find what they’re looking for.
  • Fill a niche. Amazon has the muscle to establish a massive app storefront and compete with Android Market head-on. But other smaller retailers should find a specific demographic market or app genre to lure consumers. The startup BloomWorlds, for instance, is targeting parents by distributing family-friendly Android apps, which is a sound strategy considering some of the racy stuff kids could come across in Google’s store.
  • Market your store. Luring customers is the biggest challenge for any new store in any market, so be creative when it comes to letting users know who you are and what you do. Figure out who your audience is, then find ways to approach them. Buy space on appropriate inventory on the mobile web and through other apps, and use innovative campaigns in traditional media that make it as easy as possible for users to download your store. For example, a mobile barcode in a print ad or online could lead users directly to your site on the phone, enabling them to download your store app with just a few clicks.

Question of the week

What other strategies can third-party app distributors use to compete with Android Market?