The Android platform launched in October 2008. There were around 50 apps in the Android Market. Four years later, in October 2012, Google reported there were 700,000 apps in the rebranded Google Play Store. That’s quite a jump and the app explosion is far from over – the total has already climbed past 800,000 apps today.
Having such a wide choice of apps and games on the platform is great for us, but it does present a bit of a challenge – how do you find the best Android apps? The original Android Market was far from user friendly. App discovery was a real challenge before Google overhauled it. Remember when you couldn’t just browse the apps online? There was no filtering by device and only a small subset of the charts you can find today. Independent app reviews on other websites were few and far between. Tools for app discovery were yet to be invented.
Things have come a long way since then, but it is still a challenge to find great Android apps. When apps were a novelty, perhaps people were willing to browse and take a chance on something, but nowadays most of us want to cut to the chase. Localytics research on multiple mobile platforms from 2010 revealed that 26 percent of apps that were downloaded were only used once. Nuance suggested that only 5 percent of free apps are still being used 30 days after download.
Most people use a small set of apps frequently and only dip their toes in the ocean of possibilities on occasion. Let’s face it; if you cast your net into the murky depths of the app store indiscriminately then you’re pretty likely to dredge up a disappointing haul. The truth is that the majority of apps in the Play Store are not worth your time.
If you want to avoid wasting time on the dross then there are a few techniques worth adopting and some handy apps and services that can help you. Let’s take a look at Android app discovery done right.
An obvious place to start is with the Play Store charts. You can find out what the top premium and free apps are, what the most successful new apps are, which apps Google staff recommend, trending apps, apps recommended for you (if you’re logged in), and there’s even a section for tablet optimized apps now. You also have the option of filtering by category and if you log into your account you can just queue up your choices from any browser and have them download automatically to your smartphone. The whole experience is much improved and it’s getting better all the time.
When you find an individual app you are considering, the reviews, aggregated user score, and the download chart on its Play Store page will give you a nice rounded snapshot of how popular it is. You’ll never find a dud with high review scores and high download numbers.
There’s really no need to go outside the Play Store to find great apps, but you might consider using alternative app stores to help you identify new apps and games worth downloading. Check out what’s popular in the charts at the Amazon App Store, GetJar, SlideME, AppBrain, or Handango and then find it at the Play Store to download. You’ll tend to see the same top apps pop up in the Play charts, but there are lots of other app stores out there with charts, ratings and reviews and they can help you to turn up some alternative quality apps.
There are two apps that have really stood out over the last few months as great tools for finding new apps and games worth downloading.
The first is Best Apps Market and it’s a curated selection of the cream of the crop, fully categorized and easy to search or browse. The developer recently released a new and improved app called Fetch which takes the same formula and wraps it in a more attractive package. It’s good for finding apps, it can make decent suggestions based on what you have used in the past, it is well categorized, and it’s very easy to search. The trick is that it attaches traits to individual apps and games and so you can dig deeper than the typical categories you find in app store charts. It works best for games, which is unsurprising because it is powered by the Game Genome Project, and it allows you to layer up traits that you want in your game in order to create a very specific filter.
The second is for tablet owners and it’s called Tablified Market. It’s a straight selection of apps and games that have been optimized for Android tablets and organized into categories. It also includes occasional offers for free apps, and it gives you an idea of what’s popular and what’s trending.
Android is so big now that you can find detailed reviews and roundups of great apps and games on a number of websites. Naturally you should start right here in the apps section of Android Authority. You’ll find a lot of other great locations for turning up new Android apps and finding reviews and discussion about the latest releases from the Guardian to XDA Developers. When you find a reviewer with taste that matches yours you’ve struck gold, but it’s easier said than done.
What Android is really lacking is a good aggregator service (post a comment if you know about one). A service that collects all the app reviews and ratings from respected sources and aggregates the scores would be useful. Metacritic does this beautifully for games and the service has expanded to include iOS, but sadly there’s no Android coverage on there. We contacted Metacritic to ask if there are any plans to include Android, but they declined to comment.
With the right apps and games everyone gets more from Android, so let’s put our heads together and share tips. How do you find new apps and games? Have you got a foolproof method for avoiding dross? How do you dig past the same hundred or so names that dominate all the charts? Post a comment please.