Crosswa.lk, a mobile application discovery which just over a year ago arrived on the iPhone as an improved version of Apple’s “Genius,” has been quietly building a new product over the past several months, as tides have turned against apps which serve to recommend or promote other apps. The new Crosswa.lk, instead of being a consumer-facing service, now offers tools to push apps from the web to mobile devices, similar to how users can wirelessly install apps from Google Play to their Android phones today.
The first example of this technology is rolling out today, in the form of a Google Chrome extension that detects when there are app links on a webpage, then allowing you to click and send them straight from the web to your device.
You may remember the consumer-facing version of Crosswa.lk, which was pulled down for good this past November, as one of the earlier players in the app discovery space. Part social network, the Crosswalk site and app previously allowed users to find and follow friends, view trending apps, receive personalized app recommendations, and more.
But, explains Crosswa.lk president Thomas McLeod, though that service worked well for heavy-duty app users, it never really gained mainstream appeal. “What we ran into is that nobody cared except for tech journalists, developers and super power users,” he says. “We had a lot of people telling us this great stuff, but we were – for lack of a better word – in the ‘Valley bubble.’ When we looked at returning user metrics, we found that the average person – like my mom – never went back to Crosswa.lk.”
Most people, McLeod’s mom included, were generally pretty happy with using Apple’s App Store to meet their needs, he says.
Meanwhile, Apple had begun cracking down on apps that recommend or promote other apps - a move which has caused its fair share of drama as of late, when app discovery platform AppGratis was kicked out of the App Store, accused of gaming the charts. And just this week, Apple tightened the noose even further, reportedly booting out apps that replicate App Store features like social sharing and search.
McLeod says that Apple’s decision did stop and make him think, even though he didn’t believe Crosswa.lk was in direct violation of the guidelines.
Back at the drawing board, the company took stock in what they had left, and realized that just as they once were able to pull down information from mobile devices, they could instead push apps to the phones, too. The product they ended up with was a developer API for web-to-mobile downloads.
The API powers a Crosswa.lk button, which can be placed on any website, as well as shortlinks that can be shared or tweeted. When clicked, the button or link will take users to a landing page where those clicks are converted to app downloads. On the backend, a suite of tools allows promoters to see how well an ad campaign has been doing, tracking things like the time, the referring site, and UTM tags for the separate marketing efforts.
This API, still in beta, is currently being tested with around 20 publishers, including Cosmopolitan.com, which had the button live during March and April before a site redesign. What they liked about the button was that it allowed for cross-promotion – that is, when end users downloaded the Cosmo app, Crosswa.lk could recommend apps for other publications, too. Other sites now testing the button include danielamitay.com/big-brother, bundlefoo.com (free app bundles), and frametastic.com, but the larger vision is to go after the big brands as well as the so-called “disposable” apps – like those associated with an upcoming movie, for instance.
The service offers something that fills a hole in the Apple universe. When clicked, a window pops up where you enter in your Apple username and password to authenticate, and then the app is sent over-the-air to your phone. (You need to have automatic app downloads enabled for this to work). The experience, as noted above, is a lot like when you send apps to your Android phone from Google Play’s app store, except that it also allows you to send multiple apps from one interface.
McLeod didn’t want to share the technical details regarding how this all works on the record, but says that he doesn’t believe it’s a violation of Apple’s Terms. “We’ll see how this all goes,” he says, on that note. He explains that it’s like “creating a long wire from a website to iTunes,” and it then initiates the download on your behalf. “We’re not changing the security protocols, we’re sending the same encrypted stuff they’re sending. We’re not storing anything, or doing anything dangerous. We’re just moving the box from where it is over there, to where it is over here.”
The new Chrome extension, available here, is the first public, consumer-facing example of the technology, outside of the button’s beta testers. Once installed, as you’re surfing the web, the button appears on any page which offers App Store links. When clicked, you can view a list of the apps that page offers, and then click “send to device” for the ones you want to download – no need to launch iTunes on the desktop.
At present, the extension only works with free apps, and only those on iOS, but Android is in the works.
The extension is free, and for now, the Crosswa.lk button is as well, though the plan is to offer tiered pricing on a subscription basis at some future point.
Those interested in beta testing the button can sign up here. Crosswa.lk is offering access to the button to the first 500 TechCrunch readers who sign up here: http://signup.crosswa.lk to join the beta.