Google Play is the leader among mobile app digital distribution services. In 2021, Google Play generated more than 111 billion installations for about 3 million available apps. Apple App Store has about 4.5 million apps. They have been downloaded 32 billion times in one year.
So, if you're planning to create and release a new app, the choice of store to publish — Google Play or the App Store — seems obvious, right? Yes and no.
Now there are a dozen major and many smaller alternative app stores. It may seem that the choice of the two "main" stores is obvious and there are no pitfalls. However, this assumption is not quite correct. Besides, most of Google and Apple's competitors are not trying to compete with the platform stores. They rather offer different approaches and focus on their specific niches. Some third-party stores focus on a smaller but greater choice of apps, on a certain age group or a certain target. So if you offer a localized app for certain countries, choosing an alternative store may be an appropriate solution for you.
It's also true that third-party app stores often pay developers a higher interest and provide better deals than Google Play and the App Store. And while gross profit at alternative stores is markedly lower due to fewer users, it's unlikely that any publisher would call the increase in cash flow unnecessary.
Finally, with the incredible competition (about 5 million apps in the 2 app stores!), publishing an app in a store that has an audience but hasn't yet gained enough apps can be an interesting solution in terms of overcrowding the market as well.
Since iOS, unlike Android, forbids downloading and running apps outside its App Store, iOS users can only work with third-party stores after jailbreaking their devices (i.e., with the OS restrictions removed). Consequently, the audience of third-party stores is limited to those who are ready and able to perform this complicated procedure. Nevertheless, there are lots of third-party app stores for iOS, too. Here are some of them.
The Cydia app store goes back as far as 2008, being the first app store for iPhones ever: it provided apps several months before Apple itself launched the App Store. Since then, Cydia has been one of the most prominent app repositories for jailbroken iPhones and iPads, simplifying the installation of unauthorized software onto compatible devices.
In the end of 2020, Cydia joined a growing group of developers blaming Apple for anti-competitive behavior. Cydia filed a lawsuit against Apple, claiming that Apple "almost destroyed Cydia" using anti-competitive tactics before launching the App Store, which, as Cydia's lawyers say, holds the monopoly over the distribution of software for iOS devices. According to Cydia, if Apple didn't have such an "illegal monopoly" over iOS software distribution, the users would be able to choose "how and where to locate and obtain iOS apps" while the developers would have alternative ways of distributing them.
AppCake is another popular App Store alternative. Using this platform, you can easily download any unsigned IPA files onto your iOS device. AppCake is great for those with a jailbreak done: it's a noteworthy option with an interface similar to the App Store itself. It can be installed onto Apple devices beginning with iOS 9 through iOS 13. Apart from that, AppCake offers apps and games that can be run even without jailbreaking your device.
The store offers modified versions of apps bypassing the App Store. It has Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, and other products with enhanced or modified functionality. All the apps are completely free.
Amazon Appstore is one of the best alternatives to Google Play in the US. With the emergence of Kindle Fire, Fire Phone, and a range of other Android devices running Fire OS, the market of apps sold through Amazon has been growing. At the end of 2019, the store had about 500,000 apps available for download.
You might encounter some problems launching Java apps written for Android using Fire OS; however, most developers will not need a lot of time to prepare their app for publishing on Amazon. Actually, many Android apps will work on Fire OS "as is". Amazon Appstore provides a test for developers that automatically detects app compatibility issues.
The app store also runs Appstore Developer Select, a reward system for developers that offers free ad impressions and facilitates customer attraction via Amazon coins.
F-Droid is a popular alternative app store. This store focuses on free and open-source software (FOSS). It offers a wide range of completely free apps and runs a forum for developers.
The apps do not contain any purchases, ads, tracking, or dependencies. F-Droid is ideal for developers planning to test their MVP since it does not collect any fees from publishers. On the other hand, getting onto the platform is not an easy task and the monetization issues are virtually unresolvable.
AppGallery is the official app store of this Chinese smartphone manufacturer. The project started even before the company's products ban in the US, and a lot of resources and effort were put into the creation of an alternative platform — an OS, a development ecosystem, and an app store at the same time.
Nowadays, Huawei AppGallery has approximately 150 million users a month. The store offers editors' picks, promos, competitions, and other marketing activities, as well as a promotion service where you pay for downloads. The strategy and the duration of the promotion can be configured based on your needs. The service can help you reach a wider audience and boost downloads.
At the same time, considering the decrease in sales and the ongoing ban on selling equipment in the US, as well as on using Android and Google services, the prospects of the Huawei app store are clouded. Even though the company does not plan on giving up supporting it, it's obvious that AppGallery's audience is unlikely to see significant growth in 2021. The outcome will, most probably, be the opposite.
One more app store from a smartphone developer is Galaxy Store. Samsung positions it as a "premium app store designed specifically for Galaxy device users". It's available in 180 countries, and the company reports hundreds of millions of active users. The store offers a variety of mobile games and apps, as well as Android themes and apps for watches and TVs.
Like all the other stores, it has a Featured Apps section, exclusive offers, and banner ads.
GetApps is a store hosting apps for Xiaomi and Redmi smartphones. Most often, it is used for Xiaomi's own apps, but it also offers many third-party apps and games.
The store has its own exclusive support program for developers, giving out money to help develop and promote new products.
In 2019, Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo, and Vivo planned to launch the Global Developer Service Alliance (GDSA) platform that would allow developers to publish their apps in all the four stores simultaneously. The platform did launch, but it currently only works for the Millet, Oppo, and Vivo stores.
In 2020, Unity launched Unity Distribution Portal, a new game distribution tool that allows you to publish, monitor, and update your games in several Android stores all over the globe at once. As of now, UDP allows developers to work with 10 app stores (including Samsung Galaxy Store, Huawei AppGallery, and Xiaomi GetApps, as well as some local platforms like QooApp, Uptodown, SHAREit, etc.).
First of all, to integrate your app or game into a store, you will most likely need to introduce some changes. These can include the need to implement your own system for built-in purchases, web mapping, or analytics. With any store, you will have access to its developer portal, where you can find all the guidelines needed.
Many stores, as mentioned above, have developer support programs and are ready to contribute — if not by paying you real money, then at least by promoting the apps and games you publish onto their platforms. For example, in 2020, Huawei ran Apps UP, a competition for innovative apps where developers needed to create an innovative product using HMS Core. The winners received prize money totalling 1 million dollars. In 2019, the company was planning to give out as much as a billion dollars to the developers within its own ecosystem. However, due to the pandemics and the recession that followed, the plan was abandoned.
As for the ASO (App Store Optimization) itself, it's quite similar for all of the stores. You will need the following:
Most probably, you have those at hand already. Otherwise, you can just use the ones you have in Google Play or the App Store. However, if you would like to get some new graphics or textual descriptions, we at Appbooster are happy to help. We will help you create the best page for your game or app in any store. Make sure to run A/B tests for your creatives because the way the page looks might be different for every app store.
Each of the stores offers its own marketing tools to promote your apps. In most cases, these are editors' picks, featured apps, highlighting, ads, etc. If you're planning to publish a new and promising product in a certain store (or at least assuming that it might become popular), it's worth writing to the editors: just ask if they can promote your app or game, and they will likely not turn you down.
Cubans, the same as citizens of most countries in the digital age, are familiar with app stores. The difference is that the local app stores have physical doors, windows, and registers. The US embargo against Cuba makes purchasing software and services more difficult; nevertheless, "Cubans are quickly picking up on app culture". Retail app stores are Cuba's brilliant answer to its digital deprivation. With relatives abroad and access to their credit cards, the locals are able to buy apps using VPN. And then the local stores resell those to customers. Among the most popular apps in Cuba are Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp since these are cheap ways to stay in touch with relatives. Students use offline Wikipedia and specialized apps for biology, maths, and other sciences. Taxi drivers often install offline maps like Maps.me.
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Practical recommendations for those who are seriously interested in mobile app development and promotion of kid's apps.