There’s a new report from adjust, a leading app analytics and attribution company, presents some intriguing facts and figures about apps in Apple’s App Store, and an idea of how to solve the ever-growing discovery problem. The issue is indeed a serious one—adjust’s study shows that what they term “Zombie Apps” constitute more than 90 percent of the apps in the App Store. In 2012, adjust coined the term “Zombie Apps” to describe “an app that doesn’t attract enough attention to rank on iOS App Store top lists and can’t be found organically—you’d need to search for the name in order to discover it.”

The Zombie App Problem

The problem has been serious for years, as anyone in the mobile app business can tell you, and adjust’s latest analysis concludes that the Zombie rate has reached a new peak. In other words, it’s getting worse. Fortunately, there are things that marketers can do to help the situation.

Before looking at solutions, it’s important to examine the data to understand the scope and nature of the problem. While app lists have varied in size over time, the rate of Zombie Apps has always risen. There are now more than two million apps available to download for iOS devices (this combines smartphone and tablet apps). From January 2014 to January 2016, the App Store grew 83 percent, from 890,000 apps to 1.63 million apps. June 2016 saw over 2 million apps, which means the number of apps grew 26 percent in the first six months of the year. Along with that increase in apps, the rate of Zombie Apps has increased from 72 percent in January 2014 to 90 percent in May of 2016.

So what’s causing apps to become Zombies, hidden away out of sight in the App Store? Essentially, it’s that many of the visible slots are being taken up by extremely popular apps. This can happen across different lists, and among different countries or categories.

“Multiple lists feature some of the best performing apps for extended periods of time, rather than being a true reflection of a single category,” adjust’s report noted. “This has the effect of potentially creating more Zombies, as while there are a fixed amount of ranks, there is an ever increasing number of apps available in the App Store.”

Major companies like Facebook are owning a number of spots in App Store lists. “Facebook owns four of the five most popular apps on smartphones accounting for 62 percent of all downloads on both stores in May, which shows how much list real estate a single brand can hold. Further down the lists, the problem is much more widespread than a single publisher, especially in far flung marketplaces,” the report stated.

Other Key Stats From The adjust Report

  • The App Store has grown 130 percent from 890,000 apps on January 1, 2014 to over 2.1 million available apps as of July 1, 2016.
  • The global Zombie rate increased from 72 percent percent in January 2014 to more than 87 percent in December, and reached 90 percent of all apps in May 2016.
  • The highest Zombie rate is the US English App Store at 90.9 percent, and lowest are the French markets with 85.2 percent being Zombie Apps.

What Can Be Done

The outlook for improvement isn’t good, unless Apple makes some changes to the App Store. We know change is coming to the App Store, with the promise of paid searches. That’s going to shake things up, for sure, and there will be many marketers who see that as a grand opportunity. Eventually, though, the prices of the best paid search terms will probably rise to approach the value, and that will leave the paid searches to accrue to the benefit of the companies with the biggest bankrolls.

The other possibility is a change in the way the App Store is curated. “With the sheer number of apps, and the dubious quality of some calling the rest into question, it’s a hard sell to get more people to try apps without a significant amount of word of mouth, and advertising spend too. By creating more ways to showcase the best Zombie Apps, the App Store could boost user exploration,” the report suggested.

Perhaps the implementation of New and Recommended lists could help, but there are curation possibilities that go well beyond this. One example is to see what Apple is already doing with its Beats 1 station. Here’s what Apple says about it: “Tune in to Beats 1. It’s free for everyone—even if you’re not an Apple Music member. Broadcasting live from cities around the globe, Zane Lowe and his handpicked team of renowned DJs create an eclectic mix of the latest and best in music.”

In other words, it’s offering you a curated list of music which helps in discovery. Why can’t this concept be extended to other categories like games? Imagine, if you will, experts in different genres of games who made sure to see every new game in that genre, and post regular updates about their favorite new titles.

Those game genre experts could create several different lists, included Recommended and What’s New, and possibly sub-genre lists (for instance, under the Sports genre the expert could list Football games). Short videos and/or articles could discuss new or interesting games, or perhaps why the expert chose the ones in the list. You’d think this would also be an excellent place for advertising, and perhaps for paid searches as well.

Apple, though, doesn’t seem to be all that interested in making things better for shoppers, at least if past experience with the App Store is any guide. Still, under Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, we may see more marketing-oriented improvements in the App Store.

There’s nothing that prevents some enterprising third party from creating and maintaining such a curated list of game apps, of course. Still, even if that third party already had a large audience, being located elsewhere than the App Store would mean those lists would not be seen by most of the App Store visitors. It could take months or years for such a site, (if ever!) to develop an audience even a reasonable fraction of the size of Apple’s App Store visitors.

Whether or not more curation comes to the App Store, it’s clear the discovery problem isn’t getting any better. Still, the runaway success of Pokémon GO shows that it’s still possible to find players, even without huge spending on marketing. All it takes is powerful brand combined with innovative game play that perfectly matches the IP, and perhaps some luck.