IDFAs and the rise of alternative app stores for mobile publishers

When Apple first announced its abolition of IDFAs, it was only natural for mobile marketers to spiral into panic. After all, millions of app monetisation models were built on IDFAs. But what if there was a silver lining to this so-called apocalypse? Michael Hudson, CEO and Co-Founder of GameBake thinks there’s an upside.  Here he explains why.


For the first time since Play and App Stores became the de facto standards, mobile publishers are actively seeking out alternative monetisation platforms. Android distribution platforms like Huawei App Gallery already house 2.3 million registered developers, a 77% increase from 2019. We see similar spikes in terms of monthly active users, app installs, and virtually every relevant metric across the board.

While disruptions like these do more good to the mobile ecosystem than harm, they also beg the question. Why now?

Privacy-first Marketing

Apart from the golden opportunity publishers now have to reach significant Eastern audiences, there are several other reasons why Apple’s sledgehammer may be a blessing in disguise.

From user acquisition costs that pale in comparison to the App Store’s to marginally reduced store commissions, it’s safe to say alternative stores are a more cost-effective solution.

Now more than ever, user privacy is given precedence over every other marketing factors. With the end of IDFAs, iOS 14.5 has seen Apple’s distribution platform shaken to its core. And while the Android ecosystem remains largely unchanged,
there’s no doubt that similar privacy-first rules aren’t far behind for Google’s Play Store. The industry needs to learn lessons from IFDA-gate, and be prepared for the incoming Android privacy changes.

While Apple has touted revamped iOS marketing tools to replace these identifiers, developers are yet to see the efficacy. There’s also the likely possibility that Apple’s in-house SearchAds will dominate that landscape, eliminating whatever little chance of success indie devs once enjoyed.

In light of these trends, this has forced many publishers to turn their attention to alternative Android stores. And while it’s not a decision they may have made without Apple’s nudge, it’s certainly one they are starting to appreciate. From user acquisition costs that pale in comparison to the App Store’s to marginally reduced store commissions, it’s safe to say alternative stores are a more cost-effective solution.

There’s also the absence of the cutthroat competition characteristic to the Google Play and Apple stores. Rather than vie for attention on platforms that already have 1.5 million games between them, publishers are starting to see the prudence in
listing their apps on content-starved alternative stores which are already home to hundreds of millions of users.

The influence of smartphone manufacturers

It’s hardly news that many alternative app stores are owned by smartphone manufacturers — Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi…to name a few. But while everyone doffs their hat to Samsung, almost no one pays heed to the 2020’s third-largest
smartphone manufacturer, Huawei.

In markets such as India, iPhones are a rarity. This isn’t due to scarcity but rather, a conscious choice made by consumers. There, you’ll find manufacturers like Huawei and VIVO dominating the market with their mobile devices and by association, their stores.

The same scenario plays out in other geographic climes. For example, the VIVO App Store boasts 69 million MAUs with the opportunity for publishers to scale in obscure markets like Indonesia. Another prime example is Huawei’s AppGallery which is home to over 700 million monthly active users, 70 million of which live in Europe.

By listing on similar alternative stores, publishers can tap into the influence these manufacturers already have over their markets and fast-track the success of their apps.

Geopolitics

With the Google Play Store being banned in China, the region is one of those where local legislations make it near-impossible for foreign apps to thrive. However, this has done little to daunt mobile publishers.

Since China alone accounts for 40% of global app spend, the region is the figurative golden goose that cannot be ignored. But since targeting the market through conventional methods have proven impossible, mobile marketers and publishers
have since turned to alternative android stores like Tencent MyApp and Oppo stores to distribute their apps.

We can see something similar play out in Iran where the restriction of Google’s services is counterbalanced with a promising mobile ecosystem. In each of these cases where the convenience of the Play and App stores are denied, alternative stores have provided mobile publishers with equally profitable means of reaching new users.

Growing regulation of core app stores

The mobile publishing industry is no stranger to monopolistic practices. The biggest names in the space have been known to use underhanded tactics to prevent smaller alternative app stores from gaining substantial market share.

Alphabet is one example. In 2018, Google’s parent company was dealt a hefty $5.15 billion fine by the EU for using the Android operating system to subdue rival stores. In the following year, it also faced accusations of incentivising device manufacturers to withdraw support for alternative stores on their devices, many claims of which have resurfaced in 2021.

Between the stiff competition to steep commissions, the average app on the App store has a 51% chance of being abandoned by developers within a year.

If we are to take a page out of the recent Apple Vs. Epic verdict, it’s that lawmakers are becoming increasingly aware of questionable methods large distribution platforms employ to keep alternative stores under their thumb.

With this in mind, when global lawmakers resolve even a fraction of these anti-competitive lawsuits, especially those in key markets like North America, EU, and Asia, then the mobile ecosystem will be ripe for the taking.

It’s no secret why Play and App stores are often publishers' first and only choice.With their entrenched authority and almost non-existent barrier-to-entry, many apps often aspire to these “premium” platforms. But with these two merits come a litany of trade-offs that do indie apps a great deal of damage. Between the stiff competition to steep commissions, the average app on the App store has a 51% chance of being abandoned by developers within a year.

On the other hand, alternative stores have no such drawbacks. Admittedly, getting your apps on these platforms once posed an expensive problem but the industry has since moved past that. By leveraging local partners like Tencent or third-party
distribution platforms, publishers can access every alternative store on every mobile device with a single SDK.

As the industry edges towards decentralisation, now is the time for mobile marketers to break free of the duopoly in the mobile ecosystem, explore all-inclusive distribution strategies and exploit the relatively untapped potential of alternative app
stores.


Michael Hudson, CEO and Co-Founder of GameBake