Mobile advertising network InMobi today took one more step in its bid to be a one-stop shop for developers’ app marketing needs, in the process taking advantage of the massive fragmentation that exists on the Android platform. It has launched App Publish, a distribution platform specifically for Android apps, which lets developers push their free, paid, or freemium apps to many different Android app stores at once. App Publish, which is free to use, is kicking off with about 130 app stores worldwide, and it will be adding more at the rate of around one to two per week, according to Charles McLeod, director of business development for InMobi.
That will include so-called Android app stores that run on “forked” versions of the platform that get loaded on to phones particularly in markets like China; as well as GetJar, Mobango, Slide Me, among others. Collectively, these app stores claim to drive billions of downloads per year and reach millions of Android users.
The platform is the first product to come out of InMobi’s acquisition of Metaflow Solutions, an app management and distribution startup it bought last year for an undisclosed sum, using some of the proceeds of a $200 million investment led by Softbank. “Everything we’ve done since our acquisition has been geared to this,” said McLeod in an interview. “This has been one of the toughest products to package up and deliver.” It expands the portfolio of services the InMobi offers to advertising, distribution, analytics and monetization.
Metaflow, prior to its acquisition by InMobi, had built up a strong business particular among games publishers. That is also the natural target for App Publish, with the platform getting unveiled today at the GDC conference.
It was games developers like EA that have been trying out the platform in its alpha and beta stages. Of the 200 developers that have been trialling the service, on average they say downloads have increased by between 10% and 30%.
Ultimately, however, InMobi is aiming the platform at all potential developers regardless of the vertical.
The idea of making App Publish free — those who run ads in free apps don’t even need to have the InMobi SDK installed in them, McLeod says: “They can even use Admob!” — is to position it as a do-good product, to help get more visibility for InMobi among the Android developer community.
“This is to engage developers from very early on,” says Shrikant Latkar, VP of marketing for InMobi. The one exception is that InMobi takes a 20% cut on paid apps to cover the overheads of the monetary transaction, but ultimately there will be no margin made on this, with the promise being that these developers may use InMobi’s ad network in the future. “Our eyes are absolutely on the advertising prize,” says Latkar. That network currently covers 578 million consumers across 165 countries, InMobi says.
The move is a sign of how, as the Android ecosystem continues to mature, companies are trying to get more sophisticated about how to navigate the fragmentation and generally huge size of the playing field.
There is a benefit to having central platforms like this to distribute in multiple app stores. “It’s super competitive” to be discovered on Google Play, McLeod notes. Google’s official app store, by some estimates, is now pushing 800,000 apps, while official Android activations total 750 million, according to Larry Page.
On the other hand, manually going through the process of submitting apps to several app stores is time-consuming and costly — and even more the task of then monitoring downloads across each of them — but doing so not only gives an app more exposure but can help developers try out different charging models. “If you launch across 100+ app stores, you can tweak by offering freemium in one place and paid in another,” says Latkar.
For now, McLeod says that about half of the stores will see some form of InMobi/App Publish branding as part of the distribution — not unlike what you see when, for example, Chillingo distributes an app that has not been made by it — but they are working to get that proportion down to zero, rather than growing it. “Publishers would like to see their own brand names there,” he says.
For now App Publish will stay restricted to Android app stores although more platforms may get added in the future: “It is not an issue at this point but we are seeing the first Windows Phone independent App Stores supported in the wider market on our enterprise client licensed by big publishers, so it may be a trend in the coming months to act on if that continues to grow,” says McLeod. “The App Publish platform can support different content types, if and when the business case is there to do so, for content distribution at scale.”