Pingjam shuts down after Google deletes apps with its SDK
January 28, 2014
Google's KitKat operating system
The Google Play application store is becoming a less friendly environment for developers, as evidenced by hyperlocal advertising platform Pingjam shutting down following the deletion of more than 1,000 apps leveraging its SDK.
According to Pingjam, Google's moves coincided with a new feature in the KitKat 4.4 operating system that is similar to what Pingjam offered. However, it could also be that Pingjam's user experience did not meet Google's increasingly strict criteria.
“When Google launched KitKat 4.4 with a business caller ID feature, they were very quick to claim that they would never, ever place ads on phone calls,” said Elnor Rozenrot, CEO/cofounder at Pingjam, Tel Aviv, Israel.
“Whether that’s actually going to hold, only time will tell — I don’t know,” he said.
“I don’t know exactly what Google is going to do with these ads, but with this new business caller ID with KitKat 4.4, they know exactly the businesses that you’ve called, and I’m pretty sure that exactly the same way that they read your Gmail, now they can do your phone calls, and that’s a really powerful thing for a marketer.”
Google declined to comment for this story.
Leveraging the phone call
Yesterday, mobile advertising platform Pingjam announced via a blog post that it was shutting down after apps that leveraged its SDK were kicked out of Google Play several months ago.
The decision to remove the apps could reflect Google's own interest in a similar service that will become available soon in KitKat 4.4.
The new Android feature will match unknown incoming numbers to a database of shared phone numbers. This data will come from Google Places, Google App domains and Google +.
It became clear last fall that Google is policing its app store more aggresively with a significant change to policies in late August. The changes banned leveraging the notification bar within apps for advertising. The idea was that a marketer can still use in-app notifications if they are linked to an actual app function, but they cannot use the notification bar for third-party ads.
For example, an airline can use push notifications to alert consumers about changes to a trip, but cannot use in-app notifications that are not related to the original app content.
About two-and-a-half to three months ago, Google kicked out more than 1,000 apps from Google Play that worked with Pingjam.
The premise of Pingjam was to become a hyperlocal advertising platform that leverages a business phone call to serve up a relevant offers and deals.
Developers could integrate the Pingjam SDK into their mobile apps so that when a consumer makes a call to a business, they are served a small text ad based on the nature of the call.
For example, a consumer calling a pizza restaurant might be served up an offer for the item that they ordered.
Pingjam also notes the insurance industry as a vertical where these types of ads made sense.
The company worked with ad aggregators, and clients included 1800 Flowers, Expedia, Groupon and Yelp.
Once a consumer downloaded one of the participating mobile apps, a screen would pop up explaining to consumers exactly what the Pingjam service does and would require an opt-in to serve consumers an ad.
Consumers could also opt-out of these ads once they were served.
In addition, an opted-in consumer would receive caller ID information whenever a business called them, regardless of whether that number was in their phone’s contact list.
From a privacy standpoint, Pingjam claims that user information was not collected in the process of serving up an ad.
The company claims that more than 6,500 apps were equipped with the Pingjam’s technology.
According to Pingjam, the company is not completely sure why Google decided to push out the apps.
One idea is that Google simply did not like Pingjam’s service.
However, another explanation gives marketers a better idea of how Google plans to make a harder push into a potential new advertising opportunity that stem from the new business caller ID service in KitKat 4.4.
“When I look at the challenges of mobile ad spend, basically what I’m seeing is something very, very simple,” Mr. Rozenrot said.
“Targeting on mobile is literally impossible,” he said. “Everyone is trying to find some type of signal that provides intent, and the classic signals of intent that work on the Web do not work on what’s happening on mobile.
“There are a lot of players that are locked out, and that’s one of the biggest issues. The way that Google is playing this – at least the way that I’m seeing it – is that on Android they have the ability to collect any small piece of data that they want on you, and based on that build out the best possible targeting information out there.”
By closing some of these services such as Pingjam and others, Google could be setting itself up to own the space, similar to the way that Apple has positioned mobile advertising.
In addition to killing off large numbers of apps, the shutdown of Pingjam also signals that Google may become more aggressive in policing the app ecosystem, which is an area that the manufacturer has notoriously lagged in.
On the other hand, Google may have killed off the Pingjam apps because the user experience was not that great within the apps.
Marketers are constantly searching for the perfect mix of content and context, and it has yet to be seen how much of an annoyance the call-based ads were towards consumers.
Going forward, the news signals to marketers that Google will step up its app policing efforts to give consumers a better experience.
“There is a good reason that most platforms' — when they open — objective is to get as much attention and draw from the app developer community because it is extremely competitive,” said Chris Cunningham, cofounder/CEO of adtivity by appsavvy, New York.
Mr. Cunningham is not affiliated with Pingjam or Google. He commented based on his expertise on the subject.
“Samsung, and others — even Microsoft — they are all competing for the app developers time and attention," he said. "So the best thing to do out of the gate is make it feel like there are limited restrictions when you first start, because if you feel as a developer that this is going to be a really difficult platform to get adoption, then why go there?
“Clearly, Google has done an effective job out of the gate getting developers interested in the platform, given how big it is. But it sounds as though that there may be a next version that is now putting greater restrictions on what is actually happening in there.”
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York
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