Apple has long been called a “walled garden,” with a closely connected hardware/software ecosystem. It’s why, without hacking your phone, you can only get apps from the App Store. And this model has paid off well for the company–Apple gets a 30% cut of every app they sell.
Now, Apple has entered into a partnership with Pinterest, in which their apps will be downloadable directly through the Pinterest on iPhones and iPads. And by “downloadable,” I don’t mean some link redirects iOS users from the Pinterest app to the App Store app. I mean, you tap “Install” on a Pinterest board, and the app installs right onto your iPhone. Every bit of friction is gone. The experience is as seamless as Apple’s own marketplace, even though, technically, pinterest is really just downloading the app from Apple’s servers full of Apple-approved apps.
So why would Apple do this?
As of July of last year, Apple had an estimated 1.2 million apps in their App Store. Think about that figure. You want a new tipping app. Okay. Here’s a pile of a million apps. Good luck finding it in the pile.
What I’ve heard from app developers is that if you aren’t in one of Apple’s top-selling apps, and if you aren’t an Editor’s Choice, you more or less don’t exist. That’s not just bad for developers; it’s bad for Apple. It severely limits the scope of their inventory. This is like your average 7/11 trying to sell all of Walmart’s inventory. And neither Google or App Store search boxes are doing anything to solve it.
“Search is not appearing to be the most predominant way to discover things in mobile,” Simon Khalaf, CEO of Flurry, told me last year. Flurry is the world’s largest app analytics firm, and was recently acquired by Yahoo. Their software is probably installed on between 7 and 10 apps. “The consumer is curating the apps. Discovery will happen inside the app.”
That may sound like marketing mumbo jumbo, but it’s not. “Discovery” is happening inside Facebook and Twitter’s integrated app ads, which offer App Store links in your news feeds. One game developer called these ads “the worst secret in the industry,” given how immediately successful they’d been right out of the gate when they launched last year.
If you think about it, that isn’t so crazy. Most ads we see on the web aren’t immediately actionable. There’s that pair of shoes you like from Zappos, targeting you on Facebook? Click that banner ad, and you’re still in for several steps to make that purchase. Facebook’s App Ads work largely because one tap can take you to the App Store to make a one-tap purchase.
Now, an Apple/Pinterest partnership has effectively removed a tap from the equation. With that bit of friction eliminated, the App Store more or less lives natively inside Pinterest today. Tomorrow, it’s easy to imagine that App Store living natively everywhere. (Though in reality, there could be security issues in for users who think they’re tapping App Pins on malicious sites, which may keep Apple conservative in this sense.)
According to the NYT, Pinterest isn’t making any money off of their App Pins today. In other words, Pinterest doesn’t appear to be getting a cut of Apple’s 30% they make off of every app. That means Pinterest is giving Apple advertisements that they’re not profiting from, and it’s hard to imagine that arrangement as sustainable, or maybe more importantly, viral. If Apple really wants widespread integration of their App Store, why not give out a 5% cut? Why not give every developer the impetus to promote other apps and make them downloadable with a tap? At scale, it could solve Apple’s discovery problem. Everywhere you went, you’d remember: Another app is waiting.