Be Careful What You Wish For

Last week Google IO, Google introduced their new app analytics for the Google Play platform.  This will make it possible for app developers to learn how users are discovering their apps.  Developers who spend money on ad buys will be able to correlate ad spend with sales, 

Apple’s developers, meanwhile, have no support at all from Apple for things like this.  You can determine how many copies you sold, and in what country, but that’s about it.   There are some hacks that developers can use to try to find some of this data, like tracking redirects from ad pages, but it’s not a very reliable system.

Twitter sentiment during the introduction, even among popular iOS developers was decrying iTunes Connect and praising Google.  A lot of people are hoping that Apple will introduce something similar at WWDC next month.

But I’m not one of them.

Here’s the problem.  If Apple gives us this data, then we’ll have to use it to compete.  

I have no doubt that, given two roughly equivalent apps, the one that does a better job of promoting the app will sell better.  Better SEO, more targeted advertising, better PR, etc.

At this point you’re probably thinking “well, yeah, that sounds right”.  But this means that now both of these developers are going to need to spend time on SEO, ad buying and targeting, and PR. 

This was all stuff that you can mostly ignore today, because it really doesn’t pay off.  There are no broadcast channels where you can advertise a $2.99 app that are cost-effective.  

PR works, but PR is responsible for the App Store phenomenon where you get a big burst of initial sales and then your sales drop off to noise level as the buzz dies.  Nobody can keep the buzz going forever, and if the only way users are going to find your app is through the media, then that drop off is going to happen.

On the other hand, think about the great apps that you use.  How did you discover them?

I’ll bet it was through Twitter, through search within the App Store, or through the App Store curation (Editor’s Pick’s, that sort of thing).  It may have been through the media – that does definitely work – but beyond the initial buzz, that’s not how you create sustaining sales.

Will users spend more money on Google Play now that app developers have these tools?  I don’t think so.  I think users will spend the same amount on apps, but this may influence them to spend their money on different apps.  Will the apps they find be better?  Or simply the ones that put the most time and effort into SEO or advertising?

I prefer a world where spending time making your app better will pay off more than spending time and money on advertising, because if advertising works, we’ll have to do it.

Today, in the App Store, the incentive is on building the best apps. Not the best app marketing machine. And I hope Apple doesn’t break that.