The alternative app store opportunity for Android developers

Apple and Google’s dominance over mobile app stores has never seemed less certain, and there are many signs that new payment methods and alternative app stores might become the norm. They aren’t exactly new, though. What are alternative app stores? What opportunities do they provide? And why aren’t developers publishing there en masse, today?

Developers on Bitrise have seen millions of downloads on Huawei’s AppGallery, with minimal time and effort. Learn how in a webinar talking about the how, and why, of deploying to App Gallery. Join us on September 30th, from 18:00 CET / 12:00 EST

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Alternative app stores in 2021

Today, alternative app stores come in two main categories: a number of small, niche stores dedicated to specific audiences or topics, and larger app stores operated by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

App stores created by device manufacturers saw massive growth since the spat between the US and Chinese tech giants a few years ago, and saw Google unable to offer Google Play Services to some of the biggest Chinese manufacturers. Within the Chinese market itself, the Great Firewall had seen phone manufacturers already develop their own Android forks, with unique app stores for every brand. These same app stores are now offered on the phones sold around the world by brands like Xiaomi, Oppo, Huawei, and others.

They’re joined by OEMs that simply want more control over their app experience, or have reason to not want Google deeply integrated into their devices. Examples include Samsung’s Galaxy Store and the Amazon App Store.

The size of the alternative app store opportunity

There’s always been a sizeable opportunity related to alternative app stores. With close to a billion mobile devices in circulation, the Chinese market alone is a compelling reason to deploy apps to the app stores operated by Chinese manufacturers:

Chart courtesy of Counterpoint’s Quarterly Device Tracker

Additionally, Samsung sells a quarter of a billion smartphones per year, all of which have their Galaxy Store preinstalled, while Huawei’s AppGallery self-reports an audience of 540 million users.

With an audience estimated at one to two billion users worldwide, alternative app stores seem too big to ignore. But what do developers do today to capture this opportunity?

Why you’re (probably) not publishing there today

To assess how developers are approaching alternative app stores, we polled two samples of Android developers: a group on Bitrise and a group not using Bitrise today. In both cases, we aimed to get input from at least 100 developers, but — in the case of Bitrise users — received input from 452 Android engineers.

Across both groups, only 17.6% of Android developers regularly deploy to one or more alternative app stores, 73.2% have never done so, while the remaining 9.1% stopped deploying to alternative app stores after having initially tried.

Interestingly enough, out of those developers that are deploying to alternative app stores, 67% reported doing so manually, just for those app stores where they expect to find the necessary traction with their apps.

When asked why developers weren’t publishing in alternative app stores, over two-thirds (78.2%) mentioned the effort involved, while 16.7% didn’t see or understand the potential upside of doing so, and a little over 5% was tied to a company policy.

For most developers, the return on investment just isn’t clear for publishing to alternative app stores. Sure, there are hundreds of millions of potential customers, but how many of those will actually download your app? And is manually submitting to these app stores really the most meaningful way to spend your time?

How to automatically publish to alternative app stores

There are ways in which you can make the process of publishing to alternative app stores easier, in some cases to the point where it will require no manual work at all.

Publishing partners

In the case of Chinese app stores in particular, and in gaming more so than in other categories, developers will sometimes partner with publishers that take on the effort of submitting to individual app stores in their stead. Often, these partnerships also involve marketing or localization for your app, but — in return — app publishing partners will take a revenue cut on top of the share you’re already losing to the app store operator.

Publishing portals

In an effort to multiply the effectiveness of a single manual submission, publishing portals all feature some variation on the Google Play app submission process: upload your APK, add descriptions, screenshots, videos, meta data, etc.

Where they differ is in offering multiple app stores for you to deploy that single submission to, and, in most cases, combined with aggregated statistics for your app’s performance across all those app stores. Popular options include Codengo, and — more recently — Unity Distribution Platform (UDP).

CI/CD integration

Arguably the easiest way to deploy your Android app to alternative app stores is integrating them into your app deployment workflows on Bitrise. The same process that builds and submits your app to Google Play could build and submit your app to alternative app stores, with little to no manual work required beyond initial setup.

In the case of Huawei AppGallery, a Huawei-built and supported verified Step on Bitrise enables you to deploy your Android app to one of the biggest alternative app stores in the world. Find a step-by-step guide on how to do this in 30 minutes or less in our Developer Docs, here.

The AppGallery opportunity

Though we’ve seen some custom steps used by customers, and expect some community contributions this Hacktober, the Huawei AppGallery Step is the first verified Bitrise Step in this category. After its initial release, we’ve seen Bitrise users generate tens to hundreds of thousands installs each, with a handful of (admittedly, pretty popular to begin with) apps reaching millions of installs on AppGallery.

Not bad, for 30 minutes of manual work.

If you’re curious to learn more about AppGallery, the Deploy to AppGallery Bitrise Step, and how to use it to reach countless new users yourself, we have a treat:

We recently hosted a webinar in which we explain the alternative app store opportunity in detail and demonstrate how to set Bitrise up to automatically deploy to Huawei AppGallery.

Co-hosted by Bitrise Partnerships Manager Janos Vrancsik, and Fernando Prieto, Developer Advocate at Huawei, this on demand webinar will deep dive into the opportunity, answer your questions, and show you how to turn 30 minutes into millions of potential new users.

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