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Masters of the App Preload

For mobile app developers, there is one good way to avoid costly ad campaigns and still gain the attention of millions of customers: Persuade handset vendors and wireless carriers to preload the app on their phones.

More often than not, developers pay for that privilege, though some say it isn’t worth it. And as competition among developers intensifies, even preloads may not be enough to win over users. Developers are pushing to get in front of device owners when they boot up the device for the first time, as part of the “set-up flow.”

Striking such deals can take years of legwork. That can include nailing down deals with small phone makers in order to get the big ones, like Samsung Electronics, to notice. Even well-known brands like Yahoo have struggled to get their apps pre-installed on devices.

After a deal is sealed with a manufacturer, the hard part begins. Developers must clear numerous technical hurdles to make sure their app works well on different devices and is “certified” for use by carriers in various markets around the world. Then they have to follow up with the handset maker’s local subsidiaries, which sometimes have their own priorities and can nix preloads that might not make sense for their market.

“To be successful in the distribution game one has to be thinking on a market-by-market basis and have relationships with everyone,” says Marc Leibowitz, who runs partnerships at Dropbox.

Doing an app preload deal or special integration with Apple devices is next to impossible, so the vast majority of preloads occur on Android-powered devices. And most of the focus of American developers is actually on non-U.S. markets where wireless carriers typically wield much less control over what is preloaded on a phone.

The Information compiled data on deals between American app developers and phone makers or wireless carriers in developed markets like Europe and the U.S. as well as in developing regions including southeast Asia.

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