Is the app marketplace dying a slow death? Consumers have certainly gotten past the novelty phase, with more than half of U.S. smartphone users downloading a grand total of zero new apps each month. So, does that mean consumers are moving on, or simply that they are expecting more from apps and their developers? If it’s the latter, what will it take to hold their attention – more visibility from the Apple App Store? Better malware defenses from Google Play? A whole new approach – say, allowing developers to skip the overhead costs and consumers to pay with cryptocurrency? All of the above are being tried…
App Store Upgrade
Last week, along with its launch of the new operating system iOS 11, Apple rolled out a whole new design for the iOS App Store. The new version of the App Store was crafted to drive more app discovery and downloads through the separation of apps and games, increased investment in editorial content and features like “App of the Day,” which gives exposure to different developers daily.
The new App Store emphasizes editorial content over charts and new releases, giving the app shopping experience a bit more of a human flair. Users can read professional reviews of apps or learn the story of the developers behind them. The goal is clearly to drive more personal connections between creators and consumers, with the measurable outcome of increasing App Store traffic and sales.
In addition to driving discovery among the 2 million apps already in the store, TechCrunch notes that Apple had another goal with the App Store upgrade: to be more developer-friendly by streamlining the app approval process and by granting greater exposure to developers’ content. After all, there’s no App Store if all the developers get fed up with the onerous process and go elsewhere.
Of course, there’s also no App Store if all the customers walk away, which is a trend that’s been going on since 2014, according to comScore. More than half of U.S. smartphone owners now download a grand total of zero apps per month, and most new app downloads are (unsurprisingly) concentrated in the millennial demographic.
In other words, Apple’s changes to its app marketplace could be too little too late, at least for U.S. consumers – the tech giant may see better results in other global markets where smartphone adoption is still in its early stages.
Google Play Malware Defense
Despite several rounds of malware making it through the Google Play Store’s defenses in recent months, the marketplace is actually performing better and more securely than in the past.
Users who downloaded apps exclusively from the Play Store in 2015 were subjected to a 0.15 percent risk of picking up potentially harmful apps (Google’s euphemism for malicious apps containing malware). In 2016, that percentage dropped to 0.05 percent.
Google reportedly benchmarks its own malware-fighting capabilities against third-party products designed for the same purpose. Its goal is always to do better in its home court than the competition, but at the same time, the company has been reaching out to some of these third parties to increase its threat intelligence sharing and stamp out that final fraction of a percentage of malicious software.
At the same time, Android’s culture and principles invite a certain amount of threat into the Play Store. As Michael Shaulov, the head of products, mobile and cloud security at Check Point Software, told WIRED, the open operating system offers some advantages and makes Google a market leader – but it also creates a playground for hackers in a way that Apple does not, and unless Google revises its core values and strategy, that’s not going to change.
As PYMNTS previously noted, secondary app stores can be riskier than they’re worth. A recent report by RiskIQ showed that these less regulated stores are growing in number and becoming a primary source of blacklisted, malicious and fraudulent apps. Even with an imperfect track record, an established, trustworthy app store like Google Play or the App Store is always a safer bet – so explore indie app stores at your own risk.
That being said, the world outside the two industry pillars is exciting to consumers who wish to distance themselves from corporate giants. Those who are powering these indie app stores are taking some very different and interesting approaches.
In particular, this week everyone seems to be talking about Spheris, a decentralized blockchain app store that just launched an initial coin offering (ICO). It needs to raise $720,000 in the crowdsale phase to move forward, reported The Merkle. Multiple types of cryptocurrency will be accepted, including the most popular types: bitcoin and Ethereum. Users will need to convert their assorted currencies to Spheris’s SPRS tokens to spend them in the marketplace.
Spheris aims to be a true two-sided marketplace where developers and consumers have a direct relationship – unlike Apple and Google, which rely on a middleman to facilitate. Having such a direct relationship also saves developers on registration and transaction fees, enabling them to focus their resources on innovation and marketing and likely resulting in lower app prices for consumers, since they will not need to pay the middleman for delivering the app.
The purpose of using blockchain, the company said in a whitepaper, is to provide transactions that are fast, secure and private. So, they are taking steps that they believe are appropriate to protect consumers’ finances – but what about their devices? What about all that malicious software? If a big company like Google can’t filter it out, how will a no-name startup do better?
In the whitepaper, Spheris says it will employ a system of filters, ranking algorithms, software screening techniques and community input to weed out bad apps.
“The moderating power is at the hands of consumers,” the company said.
However, there does not seem to be a mechanism in place for doing this, and there are several other worrisome gaps in the strategy, about which the company is quite frank in its whitepaper. Decentralization is bound to create its own set of problems, and Spheris openly admits this. In all likelihood, if Spheris makes it at all, it will be as a niche app marketplace – but setting the precedent for decentralization could have interesting repercussions down the road.
Or, should we say, down the chain.