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Moving beyond the ”top ranking or perish” app world

With more and more photo and video apps listed in the iTunes and Google Play stores (around 80K at this point, more than double the number of two years ago), it’s no surprise that breaking into the app stores’ top rankings is getting harder and harder.

But it’s not just a matter of so many apps vying for the coveted top store rankings. In today’s app stores the best recipe for an app to achieve high download numbers… is to have high download numbers and thus, be highly visible in these stores. As a result, in our Photo/Video App Market Study, we found that now 54% of the top-ranking apps are more than two years old, compared to only 23% two years ago.

In other words, the majority of today’s successful apps have been successful for quite a while. The flipside: fewer and fewer newcomers have enough traction to make it into the top rankings.

This discoverability challenge is not unique to photos or video apps. App discovery in general has become much more difficult than website discovery (even though there are fewer than 5 million iOS and Android apps out compared to 1 billion websites). The app stores can only highlight a small number of new apps and their current search features are really only effective if the user already knows the app they’re looking for. Outside the stores, app install link ads are cost-prohibitive for all but the best-financed developers.

54% of the top-ranking photo/video apps are more than two years old
54% of the top-ranking photo/video apps are more than two years old

So what’s the solution? Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the benefits of integrating e-commerce and content inside other apps or presenting it as “cards.” When you search for a hotel, Google might already show in its search returns options to immediately check availability and book your room without ever needing to go the hotel’s website. If you use the Citymapper app or Facebook Messenger you can find and order your Uber ride without needing to download the Uber app. (With enough starter credit you don’t even have to create an Uber account to make your first trip).

If your potential customer can’t discover your app, you can, at least, serve your app’s functionality conveniently to wherever your target customer is ready to use it – whether it’s inside the browser, another app or – as is especially popular in Asia – chat or messaging apps.

In the world of photo and video apps, this is not as revolutionary as it sounds. In fact, our industry realized early on that imaging mashups services could make sense, and this was a major impetus for my partner Alexis Gerard and I to start our Mobile Photo Connect conference.

  • For instance, Aviary developed a highly successful image editing SDK that ended up being integrated into thousands of apps and websites by the time the company was acquired by Adobe in 2014. As an aside, Aviary’s partnering approach has not diminished the popularity of its own B2C app (it is still listed in the top store rankings).
  • On the photo output side, Sincerely pioneered the B2B partnering approach through its API for their Postagram postcard app. These days there is a broad range of B2B photo output app developers who offer their photo product creation and fulfillment services, from quick and easy APIs all the way to fully integrated and customizable SDKs (see our Photo Output App Market report). Offering photo output services through mashups makes sense: creating photo print products is something most users don’t do on a daily basis. For some it is simply not worth it to install an app when they’d use it so rarely; for others photo output is something they might have never considered – except when this option is organically presentedright when they’re engaged in their favorite camera, editing or collage app.

In short, one solution for developers facing challenges to have their photo or video apps discovered is to strategically think through whether they should present their solutions as their own B2C app, as B2B for use with partners, or as both.

But the good news is that we expect there will soon to be more app discovery solutions available.

  • Google’s browser search already includes a (still relatively obscure) option to filter search results for apps listed in the major app stores, surpassing the search functionality offered inside the app stores themselves.
  • Google also recently launched app streaming on Android, which offers a low-threshold method that allows users to try out an app without first needing to go through the efforts of installing it (we look forward to seeing a similar solution becoming available on iOS).
  • Finally, there is certainly no lack of creative ideas inside the app developer community to fix the app discoverability problem. (In particular, check out the suggestions of last year’s Mobile Photo Connect panelist and Branch CEO Alex Austin, including deep linking between apps, app previews, and the idea to rank apps in the stores based on “decay algorithms” similar to how Redditranks its content, thus giving newcomers a fair chance to break into the higher ranks).

We can’t wait to see these types of app discoverability solutions fully implemented. And why wouldn’t this problem be solved? If we can fix the discoverability problem of 1 billion websites, we should certainly be able to fix that for a mere 80K photo and video apps.

The result? Currently, too often an app’s success is an all or nothing proposition. But if – just like in the music or book industry – a photo or video app could be easily discovered when or where a particular user needs it, such an could also succeed and generate decent revenues for the developer. They don’t have to fail and disappear from the market. Not every app can become an Instagram or Snapchat, nor can every musician become a Kanye West or Beyoncé, nor every writer a J. K. Rowling or Dan Brown.

When photo or video apps can be more easily discovered by the right type of users, their developers will have a fair chance to succeed even if the app is not a mass market hit but instead addresses an important long tail segment of the market. We can’t wait to see the innovation resulting from it!

Photo by PhotoAtelier

Author: Hans Hartman

Hans Hartman is president of Suite 48 Analytics, the leading research and analysis firm for the mobile photography market and organizer of Mobile Photo Connect, a yearly industry conference about mobile photography.

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