Search is damn complicated. Google’s algorithms are layered and intricate, and they are the reason the company can now mess around with expensive glasses. But as powerful as search has gotten, one area that remains overly simplistic is the ability to search through the app store.
It seems mostly like the space was simply overlooked. Apps as we know them on our mobile devices are still a relatively new concept. An app marketplace is even more novel. So it did not seem like a very obvious place to innovate. But some companies want to bring app-finding algorithms into the modern search age. Quixey has been at it since 2009, and Appsfire and AppAi.de also help around discovery.
Newer to the game is Berlin-based Xyo, which says it has spent the last 18 months intensely studying peoples’ app searching habits. Today, the company also announced a partnership with Nokia for its new line of Lumia devices. The phone maker will also help to promote Xyo in retail stores. The new phones will come preloaded with Xyo’s site bookmarked in the device’s Web browser –the service doesn’t have a mobile app yet. (Imagine the sense of irony that overcame me when I searched the Apple app store and could not find the app-searching app.) “We think we’ve figured out a lot of the technology now. The user experience will come later,” says Matthaus Krzykowski, Xyo’s cofounder and chief growth officer. He says users can expect an app at some point.
Krzykowski likens searching in today’s app stores to the search abilities of the early Internet. The app marketplaces only offer basic categorization and rudimentary keyword searches, he says. “If you really know what you’re looking for, you get a match. You type in ‘Angry Birds’ because it’s the only game you know.”
But Xyo offers a more robust discovery experience, the company says. A generic search query like “free games” will deliver more meaningful results, and Xyo’s algorithms generate a score for the quality of each app. When asked, Krzykowski could not cite any examples of apps that Xyo helped unearth, but it’s probably not fair to use that as a judge of the algorithm’s effectiveness.
Of course, strengthening app searching may also be opening up a can of worms. Complicating the search process means muddying up the ranking process. Google constantly takes its lumps for prioritizing content and letting brands pay for top placement. As app search gets more sophisticated, the issues and politics around rank can only get murkier. This has the potential to get especially tricky around the algorithm’s scores for individual apps.
But for now – if the service is as effective as the company claims; it’s a bit hard to tell after using it just a few times – chalk it up as a win for egalitarianism. The technology is good enough to be useful, but not exploitable. With apps powering so much of the tech industry – some billion dollar companies are solely app makers – Xyo’s advanced searching technique is a very positive step that opens up the industry. The company claims that, in the Apple App Store and Google play, 10 percent of the top apps get 90 percent of the downloads. It’s also entirely possible that one of the tech giants simply buys a company like Xyo in the future, to acquire its technology for its own app marketplace.
Regardless, Xyo’s technology means that scores of the lowlier app makers now have a better chance at visibility alongside the top app makers. “We basically make the market much bigger. We’re an enabler for that economy, and many, many more will benefit,” says Krzykowski.
[Image credit: Cristiano Betta at Flickr]