Can This Arabic App Recommender Escape the Fate of AppGratis?

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Last month, AppGratis made the news after it was pulled from the Apple Store, just a few months after raising a $13.5 million Series A round and announcing that the app had 7 million users and was making over $1 million in monthly revenue.

The reasoning? Apple cited that the app was in violation of two rules: one stating that Apps cannot display other apps for purchase or promotion in a manner that resembles that App Store, and another that prohibits the use of Push Notifications for advertising, promotion, or direct marketing.

The story of AppGratis is a cautionary tale for any app developer looking to build something similar, and yet, after we speculated that the Arab world might be a ripe market, we came in touch with App3ad, a new app that also promotes other apps, available for iOS

The app is developed by iPhoneIslam, an app development company known for having launched one of the first blogs about iPhones in 2007; today, their site is still popular in the Gulf, Egypt, and Jordan.

Creating their own localized content

In early 2012, iPhoneIslam decided to launch App3ad as a blog and later, as a paid app. Today, they have 66,000 users, says managing director Amr AbdelRahman.

“[App3ad is] not an app-discovery app; it’s a developer community platform,” he explains. After AppGratis’s misadventure, it's understandable that he dispels any claim that App3ad is doing app advertising. To support his point, he illustrates the social aspect of App3ad; users can like and dislike reviewed apps, and see what their Facebook friends like or disliked.

But the real added value of the app is that they’re not “copy/pasting information from the AppStore”, as they put it, but are rather hand-picking, testing and reviewing apps that they find useful to their Arabic audience, with both written reviews and videos. This is one of the main reasons why they will not meet a similar fate as AppGratis, he emphasizes; App3ad is creating its own content, and therefore it's not competing with the AppStore. But this argument has already been used by AppGratis. Are App3ad better at creating own content than AppGratis?

A more compelling side of their argument is that App3ad is in Arabic -a language that the Apple Store does not support. This could win them some time and immunity, especially if the App Store only wants to make an example out of App3ad and not take down every imitator. App3ad offers content that is tailored to Arab culture, says AbdelRahman. “We’ve developed our own algorithm of categorization, whereby you can find categories for Islam, Wisdom, Maps & Navigation, and others."

Recommendation or advertising?

The second reason AppGratis was banned from the AppStore was for its use of Push Notifications. With App3ad, however, AbdelRahman claims that “whatever we push to our customers, it’s not advertising, it’s recommendation,” linking to their own reviews and articles. Still, the company's revenue model includes charging app developers $150 for push notification services.

Its other primary revenue stream is simply app downloads on the Apple Store; the app costs $1.99. The price ensures that those purchasing the app will also likely purchase recommended apps, says Abdelrahman, and a price tag ensures that App3ad doesn’t attract too many users; they "don’t want to grab too much attention from the App Store."

Localizing Global Apps

Should App3ad be pulled from the Apple store, AbdelRahman is not worried; App3ad also has a blog and several other apps.

In six years, iPhoneIslam has in fact, created 40 apps, many of which are specific to Arab culture or local versions of international models, including an Islamic calendar, an augmented reality Qibla compass, an Arabic Crossword, and an Arabic Hangman.

One example is a localization of popular children's app Talking Tom Cat, in which a talking cat repeats everything you say, in a more high-pitched voice. iPhoneIslam's version, Talking Abu Youssef, is more peaceful than the original; Abu Youssef prays, and there is no involvement of violence. The free version of the app has collected 1112 ratings at the time of the article, reaching a 4.5 stars grade: quite a success. 

In light of their success, AbdelRahman explains that the most downloaded apps featured on App3ad are the international ones, but that local ones do well if they reveal elements of local culture. For now, the app is live; perhaps users in the region who miss AppGratis will test App3ad.

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