AppGratis is a French app promotion and discovery platform startup that was recently ejected from the App Store on the grounds that it violated Apple’s developer T&Cs. Back in September 2012, Apple tweaked its developer guidelines, adding a clause that states: “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.”

Simon Dawlat, the CEO of AppGratis, shares his vision in great detail here and explains why he thinks the ban is totally unfair. Even France’s digital industry minister, Fleur Pellerin, has spoken up in support of AppGratis, describing Apple’s actions as ”extremely brutal, unilateral, and without explanation,” and calling on Cupertino to “behave ethically.“ Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch fairly and exhaustively summarizes the whole story here.

Without going into the legal details here, one may argue that there is a blurring of the line between app discovery and app promotion. I personally viewed AppGratis as a traffic booster based on curated app discovery experiences. I think it definitely helped gain some initial visibility in app stores, but I think app developers and publishers still needed to measure the customer lifetime value and make sure their audiences would stay engaged.

Anyway, the AppGratis controversy highlights the growing dependency from publishers and developers to Apple and Google in the app economy.

Let’s be fair. Most app stores are considered a “black box.” App store players share little to no information — and marketers have little control over app store merchandising. There are some tips here and there, like the precise 100-character description of your app in the Apple App store, the importance of the app description and icon design, the use of video demonstration in Google Play, the quality of the screenshots submitted, etc.

However, having your app stand out from the crowd is far from just mastering App Store optimization or mobile advertising. Even if you could crack the Apple App Store ranking algorithm, you would still have to deliver a differentiated experience to maintain your app in the list of top 50 or top 100 applications. The use of advanced analytics and push notifications to maintain the quality of the app over time is key.

That being said, there are some best practices in promoting mobile apps. I have recently looked into how European consumers discover apps. Recommendations from friends and family, as well as social app discovery, are critical. According to Forrester's European Technographics® Consumer Technology Online Survey, Q4 2012, up to 50% of iPhone users report that they first learned about an app by speaking with friends and family, versus only 41% of Android users. Nineteen percent of European iPhone users and 15% of European Android users report that they initially learned of their mobile apps on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Influencing the influencers and integrating social features into your app will be increasingly key.

Clients willing to know more about app discovery and promotion can download my new report, “Mobile App Discovery: Best Practices To Promote Your App,” here.