Since purchasing the initial developer, Android Inc. in 2005, and it’s first unveiling in 2007, Google’s Android operating system has seen stellar growth and in many locations around the globe, has cut into Apple’s iOS marketshare. And with any great OS and a great distribution mechanism behind it, there’s bound to be a flood of apps, some great, some mediocre, and some just outright crap.
So how do you go about sorting the wheat from the chaff? A common problem experienced by just about every smartphone owner, Andrea Giradello and the Zurich, Switzerland based team of AppAware set out to not only solve this problem, but let the crowd have their say in the process.
"The problem is to find good apps"
“The problem with the Android Market, and all other apps stores is to find good apps. With over half a million applications in the Android Market, and to find a really good one for you, is really difficult,” comments Andrea. During the earliest days of the Android Marketplace, Andrea admits that he took a rather blunt approach, “Since the ‘Top’ charts never really changed much, you know, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I really got into the ‘Just In’ category. All the apps were published there, and since Android was still (relatively) new, apps would be featured for a couple of hours, whereas up until about 3 months ago apps would come in one after the other, and now, Google has removed this category, presumably due to the volume of incoming apps.”
While it’s certainly not alone in the apps discovery marketplace, Andrea and the AppAware team have sought their own path in presenting what they believe will make a great app on your phone. The idea was born from Andrea’s PhD. studies, where he created an app that can monitor and track what Android users are installing, updating, and removing, and displaying this information to other users. This tracker became the basis for the current iteration of AppAware, and displayed in real-time, anonymous app usage statistics. Andrea likens the very first version to “Twitter, but not Twitter.” Meaning, AppAware was an ongoing stream of X user installed ABC app, Y user updated XYZ app, etc.
Like many entrepreneurs, Andrea reached a crucial turning point with his product and his education. “I was faced with a choice. I could stop, write some papers, and end up with my doctorate. Or, I could put the PhD on hold and return at a later date.” Needless to say, Andrea’s PhD is now on hold, and he even managed to convince another fellow student to put the studying aside, and join him in the startup world. Likewise, Andrea found support in Ivan Delchev, who left his position with SAP to join the team.
Once the decision was made to go all-in, Andrea and his team found a low six-figure seed funding round in Vienna based Gamma Capital Partners. “This investment allowed us to stay focused. We know what we want to do, we have a lot of ideas, but we have to pick the ones that make sense. This is one of the reasons were not going with iOS at the moment.”
Since demonstrating a working app and receiving the seed funding, AppAware has grown leaps and bounds in a very short time. The site itself has just recently relaunched, providing 70.000+ users with a host of features that not only let them discover the best of the best, but also interact more directly with each other, as well as the app developer, a feature sorely missing from the Android Market, or rather, Google Play.
At it’s heart though, the app hasn’t really changed all that much. In order to take advantage of AppAware’s features, users must download and install the app from Google Play. From here, AppAware takes an anonymous snapshot off all the apps on your Android device. This information is then synchronized with AppAware’s servers. Anytime a user makes a change to this snapshot, the data is synchronized back to AppAware in real-time. This functionality has a two fold benefit: It keeps track of what you like and don’t like, further tailoring future recommendations, and, if you allow the app to do so, all of your connected friends on AppAware.com will see that you’ve just installed Texas Holdem Poker Deluxe, for example.
Pooling all of this data from various users around the world, the service also keeps tabs on the most popular apps from across the Android ecosystem, a standard service that most app discovery platforms offer. While AppAware realizes that users are still interested in the top apps, many are likely to be mobile dominators such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. To combat this, and still present users with new, hot, and exciting apps, Andrea informs me of the “trending up” feature, where users will be presented with the fastest growing apps, (based on downloads) ensuring the hottest trending apps are front and center for users to discover. Likewise, as it was the genesis of the project, Andrea and Co. have resurrected the “Just In” feature, offering brand new apps their spotlight.
Taking a page from the social media playbook, with the relaunch of AppAware, the service now includes a number of social features, allowing users to keep tabs on which apps are the most popular with their friends. In order to avoid any possible app duplication, AppAware wisely includes a filter that will remove from the list any apps that are currently installed on your device, leaving behind only those that friends have and that you don’t. As is almost standard in today’s social apps world, AppAware has friend finding services for Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, but Andrea stresses that the Facebook mechanism works the best, because here you have a mutual “following” relationship.
"People can really have discussions"
And while it might be one of the oldest forms on Internet communication, Andrea and his team are hot on comments and active discussions regarding apps on the platform. “We thought, OK, someone tries to write a review, but the problem is, you can’t really get back to that user. So if he writes, ‘I don’t like the app,’ you can’t really get any meaningful feedback from this user. On AppAware, if a user comments, people can really have discussions.” A decent proposition, as this is a dead simple process can have value for both app developers and discoverers, and is a feature that Google does not provide.
It’s exactly these types of little “extras” that AppAware is using to pull in users from around the world. “Sure, there are a lot of other app discover channels on the web, but if you look closely at them, they all do the same thing; They have one page where they put all the possible information from Google Play. They put the ratings, stars, downloads, version, everything in one page, it’s a mess,” says Andrea. “What we’re trying to do is something more clear. We don’t need to clone Google Play, there are plenty out there that do that already. We put less information on the page, some of which you don’t really need, and are really focusing on creating a social community for apps users.”
"All of the data remains anonymous"
Speaking to the privacy issues concerning information sharing, Andrea comments, “There’s no problem for users, because all of the data remains anonymous. However, we thought about the privacy issue for a long time, and we offer three levels of visibility. Initially, users share data only with AppAware friends, and this is the default setting. We also offer a ‘public’ option where your data is displayed to the entire world, and private where no data is displayed.”
Another dead simple solution from the AppAware team, but as we’ve all seen, not every social network can explain it’s privacy controls so well. An interesting feature in the AppAware ecosystem, if a user switches to ‘private’ mode and installs one, or any number of apps, if and when this user goes ‘public’ again, all the apps that were installed during the private mode will remain private, until the user decides (on and app-by-app basis) to make them public.
Overall, Andrea says the goal of AppAware comes full circle, and ultimately returns to the question of visibility. “New companies, developers, they have great products, but the don’t have the budget to push their message. We have a very cool recommendation system that allows developers to find that ‘sweet spot’ for targeting new users,” says Andrea. “Obviously, the more users we have, the better it is for developers. The more developers using AppAware, the better the experience becomes for the end users.”
Plans for Windows Phone and iOs
While AppAware is only available for Android users at present, Andrea is committed to bringing the same services to Windows Phone, and iOS in the near future, however the AppAware team is still focusing on making the best possible Android experience before they begin branching out to other operating systems. “We really want to focus on improving the website, the mobile app, and the developer API. Once we’re happy with these products, only then will we start looking at other options,” says Andrea.
Again, AppAware is by no means alone on the apps discovery landscape, but they are one of the very few who are actively encouraging and facilitating social app discovery. By tapping into the sharing and discussion power of social media, and combining it with a service that just about every smartphone owner is looking for, AppAware seems well on target to be a power player in today’s “Which app is that, and where did you find out about it?” world. The newly relaunched AppAware, and its accompanying Android app can be found at appaware.com.