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Today, getting discovered in the Play or App stores is a lot like winning America’s Got Talent. Giants like Google, Apple, or Facebook enjoy a monopoly-like grip on the content discovery question. But their app store offerings are limiting, laborious, and outdated. They’re simply not designed for dynamic content discovery, especially not with thousands more apps added to stores every day.

This may be why we’re starting to see so many deals bringing unconventional players into the mix. Telco companies like Verizon, Telstra, and Singtel have all made plays to incorporate advertising technology into their core business, likely in an effort not only to profit from a multibillion-dollar digital advertising industry, but also because they recognize an opportunity to leverage their unique access, data, and distribution value to be the best at connecting users with the content they want, when they want it.

Software is no longer boxed and bought. Developers don’t just have to convince users to download, they have to find a way to build long-lasting and sustainable relationships with them. Yet, there is little infrastructure in place that enables an ongoing relationship between the user and the developer. Apart from a few lucky apps that make it, a user’s experience of an app, even if it’s a positive one, can often be short lived, and a significant portion of apps added to app stores are now “dead” – i.e. no longer available.

Take this example: Imagine your friend tells you about an amazing mobile game app they just downloaded. You download it too, start playing, and discover you’re just as addicted as they are. But that’s it. From the app store’s perspective, this seems like a successfully completed funnel — the interaction ends with you downloading the app. There are no push notifications, or in-built features designed to continue to interact with you as a user and enrich your experience with relevant content or recommendations.

And that’s just the user’s experience. For app developers, the road to success is an uphill struggle. They have to go through a challenging approval and on-boarding experience, and unless they get lucky and are featured in the store, it’s a safe bet almost nobody will see their app organically. Unless, of course, they happen to have raised enough money to be able to afford to buy exposure through advertising with the world’s largest app install networks.

Facebook – yet another giant – has recognized this emerging gap in the market and announced its own solutions for app discovery at F8. Using Messenger to enable developers to reach 600+ people at a time is a typically smart move from the social network, giving developers an additional, and effective, distribution outlet.

But the real key to solving the content discovery challenge lies in partnerships between unlikely players who could together create platforms that revolutionize the way users will discover, download, and interact with apps in the future. The right kind of strategic partnerships between device makers, mobile carriers, and ad networks on the macro level will enable more effective connections between developers and users on the micro level.

It will no longer be about strategically navigating app stores to get an app discovered by the right user, but about layering improved and optimized app discovery on top of what the current marketplace has to offer in terms of application management. It’s not about replacing the entire ecosystem, but about redefining the way it works in an app-saturated world.

Users today expect more flexibility and customization than ever. These kind of alliances will give them that, offering an alternative to the walled garden of Apple, and serving to extend the value of Google, whose Play store is the only one supporting the potential for this kind of flexibility.

Imagine John Smith buying the latest tablet, taking it home, and opening up the box in anticipation. Instead of pre-installed software and apps, he would be taken through a dynamic content recommendation process that is based on various personalized parameters and can suggest the most relevant apps to download onto his device based on his needs, interests, and experience. If John travels to Paris with his tablet, the content discovery engine could suggest helpful travel, booking, or map apps. When John’s tablet starts running out of space, he would get a push notification offering him a deal on cloud storage solutions. The possibilities for creating an extended user relationship that is based on consistently providing valuable and relevant content are endless.

Device manufacturers benefit from being able to interact with the user beyond the point of purchase, carriers benefit by being able to become an integral part of the adtech ecosystem and create new revenue streams, and developers benefit by being able to interact with a user beyond buying ads to get noticed. Above all, however, the user gets to enjoy a rich, dynamic experience that speaks to the true potential of mobile.

Currently, much of the strategic convergences we’re seeing are between telco or cable companies and ad tech firms, and they are happening at an M&A level – driven no doubt by the need for consolidation in an overcrowded and fragmented adtech industry. But moving forward, we’ll also start to see more strategic partnerships and alliances evolve, as well as greater involvement from device manufacturers, as the remaining players look to increase their reach and relevance even further.

Chris Cunningham is head of Mobile and Global Brand Partnerships at ironSource. He was previously CEO of appssavvy.


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