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Android Market’s “Featured Apps” Seeing Explosive Download Numbers

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Getting featured in the Android Market is starting to have a meaningful impact for mobile app developers. According to the recent news from fitness app maker RunKeeper, the company saw a 637% increase in downloads since November after just a few days of being a featured app in the Android Market “Health & Fitness” section.

But is RunKeeper seeing the boost because of the New Year’s resolution-making crowd? Or is being featured in the Android Market really bumping up download numbers in the extreme for anyone who makes it there?

RunKeeper’s success story is a great one. On January 1st, the app became featured in the Android Market, which led it to become the #3 “Health & Fitness” app, up from a previous ranking in the 20’s, and #288 in the entire Android Market, which, as we now know, is at 400,000 apps.

It’s certainly a hopeful tale, but one that left us with questions – how much is being featured really worth? Was being a “Health & Fitness” app the real story here?

Apparently not. Another popular Android application, Lightbox, a photo-sharing app that’s sort of like a mashup of Instagram and Tumblr, was also featured in the Android Market over the holidays, starting on Christmas Eve. Says CEO Thai Tran, in the week following its new highly visible status, Lightbox saw over 500,000 downloads to bring its total number of downloads to over 1.5 million.

For comparison purposes, it took Lightbox three months to reach its first 500,000 downloads. More importantly, getting “featured” didn’t always amount to this level of traction. In summer 2011, for example, as Lightbox was working on its first 500K, it was featured in the Android Market for nearly an entire month. And yet, it still took three months to reach 500K.

Lightbox’s growth also mirrors Android’s international growth, Tran notes.  Previously, the U.S. accounted for 55% of Lightbox’s usage, and the U.K. was its #2 country.  But now the U.S. is down to 33% of its usage, and India and Brazil have leapfrogged the U.K. to become its #2 and #3 countries respectively. Lightbox is also seeing traction in Mexico, Malaysia, and Indonesia, says Tran.

But Lightbox’s jump was during the holidays – a time when many people are getting brand-new mobile devices and downloading apps. In fact, Flurry said that 1.2 billion apps were downloaded during the 2011 holiday season.

What about the Android Market’s impact on growth outside of the Christmas/New Year’s rush? For a third example, let’s look at the intelligent, social to-do list Any.DO, which announced in mid-December that it had seen 500,000 downloads over the past thirty days. The increase, says CEO Omer Perchik, was in part due to the app’s featured status in the Android Market. Although he declined to share hard numbers, he did say that during the app’s featured period, Any.DO was seeing “tens of thousands” of downloads per day – something that’s “an order of magnitude” above its normal download numbers.

Other successes include Evernote’s Skitch, which reached 1 million downloads in November, also while it was being featured on the Market. It later hit 3 million by December. Going further back, in July, Point Inside Maps was featured in the Market for an increase of a more moderate 50,000 downloads per week.

So how does an app get featured in the Android Market, developers want to know? That’s easy: build a great app. Any.DO’s Perchik says that he’s never seen unstable, unusable apps getting featured – Google looks for quality. Android Market PM Fernando Delgado previously explained the process, saying that Google has a team of editors and category managers who proactively look at new apps being released on the Market.

“If an app is determined to have high potential, it is thoroughly reviewed to make sure it meets the high bar for being featured,” he says. In other words, it’s Google’s own curation process – not just raw download numbers that help an app make the cut.

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