In the ASO Monthly-series by ASO Consultancy Phiture, we reflect on the previous month and shed light on trends in app store optimization, algorithm changes, insights on conversion rate optimization and tool updates. This update was prepared by Binh Dang, ASO Consultant at Phiture.

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Update on the Advanced ASO Conference

We’re pleased to announce the official venue of the first-ever Advanced App Store Optimization conference:

Holzmarkt 25 Säälchen, Holzmarktstraße 25, 10243 Berlin, Germany

Don’t miss the opportunity to join in-depth ASO discussions and hear about the latest trends in the field — get your ticket here!

February 4 — New Black Hat technique, this time combining icon and ratings

First reported in Lukas Stefanko’s tweet and shared in the ASO Stack Slack by member Thomas Petit, a new Black Hat ASO practice seems to have emerged on Google Play. As seen in the example below, an Android developer released an app with a 1-star average rating, but the icon actually displays 4.5 stars. This is a move to make users believe that the app receives higher ratings than it actually does. What’s more, according to Lukas, these users are tricked into activating a 3-day trial and, if they forget to cancel it afterwards, they have to pay €49.99/week.

1-star app with 4.5-stars in the icon (via Lukas Stefank)

While the app has been removed from the Play Store, it leaves several after-thoughts for us ASO practitioners. For one, the combination of an inaccurate icon, ratings and reviews shows that Black Hat-ers are getting smarter and won’t give up the efforts in spoiling the industry. Additionally, according to Lukas, several developers have been using ASO, along with app growth in general, to grow apps that serve illegitimate purposes like money laundering. This means that we, as members of the community, also need to take responsibility in keeping it safe from both Black Hat and unjust use.

February 6 — Many popular iOS apps are secretly recording users’ screens without permission

According to TechCrunch, numerous iOS apps like Air Canada, Hollister and Expedia have been recording users’ iPhone screens without asking for their permission. By using the “session replays” technologies of customer experience analytics providers such as Glassbox, developers of these apps could record or screenshot and then see the footage of users’ in-app actions without their consent.

The consequences of such secretive user stalking practices wouldn’t stop at UX. One of these “session replays” users, Air Canada, failed to properly mask sensitive information during screen recordings. This makes users’ private data such as credit card details and passwords visible to anybody who has access to the recorded footage. While it’s unknown when Air Canada started using “session replays,” the company is known to be facing a major mobile app data breach a few months ago where 20,000 profiles were exposed. One can’t help but think by “exposed” it actually means “recorded” and “replayed”.

Sensitive data is not always masked by the “session replays” technology (via TechCrunch).

While understanding user interactions in your apps often helps in ASO, it’s not worth trading user intelligence for the consequences of privacy invasion.

February 6 — Google is promoting editorial stories following Apple’s footsteps

According to 9to5Google, some users have recently started to see more apps featured on Google Play under the form of curated content, on top of the existing Editor’s Choice and Android Excellence lists. Much like the Stories on the App Store, an app featuring with editorial content on the Play Store also includes a headline, a description, and a feature banner.

More editorial app featuring on Google Play (via 9to5Google).

This move by Google hints at a potential shift in Google Play’s attention, from app quality and performance to storytelling, and could lead to major adjustments in ASO strategies to get featured on Google Play. In addition, as Stories appear in Search results on Apple Store, we should also be on the lookout for a similar change on the Play Store.

February 6 —Experiment shows reducing APK size doesn’t always lead to CVR uplift

A recent experiment conducted with Fitify has shown that shrinking APK sizes can have a negative correlation with the app’s conversion rates on Google Play. In the experiment, Fitify’s size was reduced by 42MB, which, according to Google’s calculations, would have resulted in a 7% uplift in CVR theoretically. The actual result, however, was a 0.38% drop in CVR, rejecting Google’s theory.

The negative CVR uplift from resizing the APK (via Martin Mazanec).

While it might be true that shrinking the APK isn’t meant for all apps, it’s important to note that the case of Fitify involved reducing the app’s content quality instead of shrinking the code. This means the impacted CVR could have been caused by other factors such as poor reviews from unhappy users. In addition, sacrificing the quality of an app in favor of its size could also cause keyword ranking penalties from low retention rates, as well as a lower success rate to get featured. It’d be best to test reducing the APK size by shrinking the codes alone.

February 12 — New “Tap and hold” gesture appears on Google Play, replacing the overflow button

9to5google reports that a new “Tap and hold” gesture is seen widely today, allowing users to install apps directly in search results.

“Tap & hold” (left) to install (right) (via 9to5google).

When users tap & hold on an app icon, a window will open at the bottom that contains the install button along with a “not interested” option. Users no longer need to locate and tap on the tiny triple dot button to install apps directly on the search results page. While this seems like a minor change, this improvement in accessibility could mean potential future changes in the way ASO metrics like Installs and CVR are reported and understood.

February 13 — Apple fails to control porn & gambling “Enterprise” apps in China

According to TechCrunch, several “hardcore pornography” and “real-money gambling” apps released in China are found to be members of the Apple Developer Enterprise program. This reflects Apple’s neglected responsibility in overseeing their Enterprise program, which is meant for developers who wish to release apps in-house and not to the public, let alone the prohibited porn and gambling content.

The number of violating apps is enough to fill a whole iPhone screen (via TechCrunch).

This revelation is part of what seems to be the same investigation TechCrunch did to expose Facebook’s and Google’s violation of Apple’s Enterprise Certificate system. While it’s hard to say what other malicious apps will be exposed in the program, it’s obvious that Apple needs to step up their security measures to keep the App Store a safe platform.

February 13 — New iOS update makes it easier to navigate subscriptions management

In another news from TechCrunch, Apple’s newest iOS update (iOS 12.1.4 and 12.2 beta) brings the “Manage Subscriptions” button closer to the beginning of the user journey. Accordingly, the button can now be seen right on the main “User Profile” page on the App Store, instead of “buried deep” in the settings options.

“Manage subscriptions” is now one of the first things users see in their profiles (via Federico Viticci’s twitter).

Albeit a minor change in navigation, this update allows users to monitor — and cancel — subscriptions without much effort. This could both motivate more users to download and spend in apps with a subscription revenue model and prevent fraudsters from luring users into poorly-informed subscriptions that they don’t know how to cancel.

In addition, Apple later announced that they will allow apps with auto-renewable subscriptions to “provide a discounted price for existing or previously subscribed customers.” This adds even more empowerment to subscription-based apps and will soon influence the dynamics of the App Store where about 88% of apps are free.

February 20 — Apple to make cross-platform app development a reality in 2021

According to Bloomberg, Apple is working on an initiative code-named “Marzipan” that aims to allow developers to build in one go an app that would operate on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers. This is believed to increase “the utility of the company’s gadgets,” by improving cross-platform and cross-device accessibility of apps. These apps, dubbed “single binary”, will be made with Apple’s upcoming development kit and are likely to cause major changes in app distribution and marketing.

February 20 — Samsung announces its Android foldable phone “Galaxy Fold”

According to The Verge, Samsung has finally announced the long-awaited foldable smartphone under the name “Galaxy Fold.” It’s expected to come in stores on April 26th with the retail price starting from $1,980. One of the main features of a foldable device, according to Google’s announcements, is the “screen continuity,” which could significantly enlarge on-screen content, including the Play Store.

Samsung Galaxy Fold (via AndroidCentral)

It will be interesting to see how this could impact ASO-driving assets, such as larger texts and creative assets on Google Play on a foldable device.

Just days after Samsung released its first foldable phone, the Galaxy Fold, major competitors Apple and Huawei also announce their own to come soon. For Huawei, their foldable “Mate X” is said to come to store some time around mid-2019 at a starting price of €2,299. Apple, on the other hand, only show their plan to create a foldable iPhone in their recently revealed patents.

Huawei’s Mate X and what an iPhone X Fold could look like (Source: Forbes)

February 21 — Bidalgo becomes Apple Search Ads partner

Ad automation platform Bidalgo announces that it’s become the latest Campaign Management partner of Apple Search Ads. Boasting the ability to grow app revenue by 10x on average, Bidalgo proves to make it even more efficient for Search Ads users to optimize paid UA strategies.

February 26 — Multiple virtual phone number apps are found to be manipulating the App Store

TechCrunch reports that several iOS virtual phone number apps have been “gaming” the Store by spamming it with their duplicates or clones. Developers such as TextMe, BinaryPattern, and Appsverse have been named among those employing this tactic. What’s more, their apps are said to come with great ASO strategies, making each clone an effective multiplier of any ASO hack they are using. Once again, Apple’s oversight of their guidelines is under fire and the much-needed adjustments must be implemented soon.

Upcoming events in March

Digital Strategy Innovation Summit

Pro Mobile Conference

MobileTech Conference & Summit 2019

More Mobile Growth events can be found in our list here!

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Thanks, that’s it from us for February!

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