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Apps & Sharks, One In The Same?

by Adam Thorwart | Jul 08, 2015

In observance of Shark Week, I wanted to examine the differences between sharks and smartphone applications. Yes, one is a piece of software downloaded to your phone, PC, game console, etc. and one swims in the ocean, but from an apps perspective sharks and apps aren’t too dissimilar. Just like sharks that can be found in multiple oceans and freshwater bodies (i.e. the Bull shark) there are some apps (i.e. Facebook) that support multiple platforms whether it be iPhone, Android, etc. Additionally, they both have unique species. For instance you won’t find Apple’s Find My Friend app on Google Play just like you won’t find the Japanese Sawshark swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.

However, the biggest similarity between the two is lack of discoverability. How much does anyone really know about the individual sharks in a seemingly bottomless ocean? The answer, about as much as anyone knows each individual app in a seemingly endless list of apps. Sure, there are famous sharks like Jaws, the sharks from Shark Tank, and the Jets’ longtime rival the Sharks, but outside of those sharks how well do we know the “other” sharks. This is very similar to the app ecosystem where big brands flourish. Take Facebook as an example, according to AppTRAX Facebook is the most popular developer of free apps on iPhone and Google Play in the U.S.; especially on iPhone where it has the top three most popular apps – Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram – and the ninth most popular app - WhatsApp. That leaves only six of the top ten slots open for other developers…which by the way Google occupies two of those additional slots with YouTube and Google Maps. In other words two brands own 60% of the top 10 free iPhone apps.

One discoverability issue stems from the platforms’ lackluster search engine. Apple and Google alike, have made some improvements over the years and while it isn’t close to being great (it’ll never be perfect) it is decent now. However there are still times when I search for exactly what I want and the app I am looking for isn’t the first app I see (regardless of how unique the title is). Case in point, on iTunes I searched for “Shark Week” and instead of the first result being the aptly titled Shark Week app it instead placed five apps (none of which had “Shark Week” in the title) ahead of it. Which leads us to the next issue stemming from discoverability – perpetual listing.

Top lists are essentially self-perpetuating lists because generally, once an app reaches the top 100, 50, or 10 the opportunity to remain on that list is bolstered as a result of organic discovery. Couple the perpetuating nature of the top list with the fact it that when I searched for “Shark Week” the first app listed is the most popular “shark” related app – Hungry Shark Evolution. According to AppTRAX, Hungry Shark Evolution is the only “shark” titled iPhone app that appears on the U.S. top free, paid, or grossing list during 2015.

So in conclusion, Apps and Sharks are practically on in the same… from an apps perspective.

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