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Google to revamp Play Store amid app market stagnation

Google is making sweeping changes to its Play Store in an attempt to bolster the efforts of Android app developers amid concerns that the app economy has reached saturation.

The store’s recommendations are set to be improved using artificial intelligence (AI) and various additional payment platforms are to be added to the service, among other initiatives.

Sameer Samat, who leads product management for the Google Play store and re-joined Google earlier this year after a stint at wearables firm Jawbone, is set to oversee the changes.

Google’s efforts follow Apple, which revamped its App Store earlier this year with quicker review times for new apps and an increase in the cut of revenue that goes to developers.

Both companies face a chorus of complaints from developers who say they are struggling to stand out in a jam-packed field.

Many smartphone users, meanwhile, appear to have tired of downloading apps altogether, especially as messaging services like Snapchat perform more of the functions that once required a separate app.

Games remain a focus of the Google Play store, and Nintendo is building a version of its popular ‘Super Mario Run’ game for Android, said Samat.

The store is also expanding to new platforms, including wearable devices, virtual reality headsets and Google’s Chromebook laptops.

“What we are excited about is giving developers that single entry point for more and more of the computing ecosystem,” said Samat.

Google has eased the once-complicated process of developing apps for the Play store, said James Knight, a former Google employee who launched Pembroke, a consultancy that helps developers convert Apple-compatible iOS apps to the Android operating system.

“The App Store has historically been a little more straightforward, and Android has been a bit more like the Wild West,” he said.

Mirroring the larger smartphone market, the Google Play store sees far more activity by virtue of its placement on the wide range of devices running the Android operating system, but Apple claims more of the profits.

The Google Play store accounted for 70 per cent of app downloads in the third quarter of this year, but Apple’s App Store logged 65 per cent of the revenue, according to App Annie, a mobile analytics firm.

A big part of Google’s new effort involves emerging markets, where Android is stronger relative to the iPhone. The company has steadily expanded its support of direct carrier billing, a popular payment method in emerging markets where consumers often do not have credit cards. Google now offers the payment method in 47 markets.

To improve app recommendations for users, the Play store has also made extensive use of machine learning, a branch of AI that gleans insights from vast troves of data. Google’s Play store and machine learning teams began collaborating three years ago, and a partnership was struck last year with Google Brain, a cutting-edge research project.

The jolt of AI is welcome as developers hunt for an audience for their apps, said Greg Cohn, chief executive of Burner, which makes an app that provides temporary phone numbers.

“The harsh reality is that there are a few apps that get the vast majority of people’s time and attention,” he said.

Last week, Google reported a 20 per cent jump in revenues from the same quarter the year before. 

The company also recently unveiled its new flagship smartphones dubbed ‘Pixel’, which introduces a new smart assistant that leans heavily on Google’s advances in AI. 

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