Recommendation engines in app stores pave way to better app discovery

Peggy AlbrightIncrementally, app stores are increasing the use of social recommendation features to improve app discovery. The adoption of more of these approaches is good for developers and consumers and it can't happen soon enough.

The industry is well aware of the app discovery challenge, which has created an overall market in which the vast majority of mobile developers struggle in vain to drive attention to their apps. New app store features introduced by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Facebook in the last couple weeks can be seen as steps toward addressing this issue and recognition by these companies that social recommendations can play a role in improving app discovery.

Apple, for example, is giving recommendations a greater emphasis in the Apple App Store as part of its shift to the iOS 6 version of its operating system. Some recommendation features will come from deeper Facebook iintegration. For example, iOS users will now see a "like" button on each app, and they will be able to see if their Facebook friends have endorsed a particular app. Additionally, a user's own app endorsements will show up in their friends' Facebook news feeds, and the user will also be able to browse their friends' app recommendations. Also, Apple's new Maps technology for iOS 6 will integrate the Yelp recommendation engine for business listings and affiliated apps.

Facebook, separately, is touting its new App Center, which it launched two weeks ago, as a type of recommendation engine. The App Center promotes Web and mobile apps to users based on user interests, preferences and consumer feedback. It lets users browse through the apps their friends use and lists only apps that it considers to be high quality, based on the feedback it receives.

While developers and the industry at large will be watching to see if these new approaches lead to better download rates and, ultimately, revenues for developers, there is much reason to expect that recommendations, in general, will have a positive influence.

For example, developers are benefitting financially from distributing their apps via the Amazon Appstore for Android, which employs Amazon's signature recommendation engine to help users discover apps they like.

Market studies have shown that recommendations matter to customers. For example, the mobile marketing and advertising firm, Digiday, found in a survey that more than half (55 percent) of mobile users prefer to find out about apps through Facebook or Twitter friends. Lesser-preferred methods included the mobile phone home screen (19 percent), text messages (19 percent), email (3 percent) and mobile ads (4 percent).

Recommendations, whether they come from social media, word-of-mouth or other sources, are also important to developers who need to get the most out of their app marketing investments. If each user acquired through marketing influences another user to adopt an app, for example, the developer gets more out of their marketing dollars, and the increased audience size can help the developer earn increased advertising revenues.

Certainly the industry has been working hard for several years to develop recommendation tools and services. There are various vendors for infrastructure-based solutions--some of which predate today's app stores and smartphone ecosystems--and a variety of recommendation apps that users can install on their devices.

Recent gestures acknowledging the value of recommendations--such as Apple's forthcoming recommendation options, in particular, and those from third-party distributors like Facebook and Amazon--are important and represent progress. But it is still very early in the evolution to better discovery paradigms. Improvements introduced today, essentially, will help build a foundation for tomorrow's discovery engines and, we hope, create better business conditions for app developers who are now struggling to find audiences for their apps.--Peggy