Voxel Eyes Opportunities In Try-Before-Install App Ads

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David-ZhaoApp install ads are hot, but what if the apps they advertise are not?

Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup Voxel hopes to add an additional dimension to app-install ads via a feature that lets users click on an ad to sample the app in a 30- to 60-second demo that takes over the device’s screen.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth in app-install ads as companies rely on it to get users, but the user experience is pretty bad,” said CEO and co-founder David Zhao. “You get sent to a store before you get to try the app and you still have to go through the installation process.”

Zhao continued: “Let’s say you were trying out Candy Crush Saga. As soon as you tap on it, you’re dropped into a level of the game to get a sense of what the app is like. We think this provides a better user experience and a more effective way of doing app ads.”

Voxel’s platform lets developers create mini versions of their apps that exist in the cloud. Prior to Voxel, Zhao founded the cloud-based storage service ZumoDrive, which was acquired by Motorola Mobility. Voxel’s other co-founder, Russ d’Sa, was an engineer at Twitter and claims he invented Twitter Cards (technology that lets users attach video, photos and other media to their tweets).

After the demo, users have the option of closing the ad or downloading the app from an app store. The technology is still in beta, but Voxel is deploying its capabilities through two ad networks and is in a trial stage with two other networks. (Zhao declined to name them.) Like other install ads, Voxel measures results through CPI and CPM metrics.

Voxel’s app technology has been deployed to dozens of app developers, he added. The developers include Ruby Seven Studios (maker of Big Spin Bingo and Time Quest Slots), TapSlots (SlotGalaxy) and Luandun Game (Zombie Hell, Super Goalkeeper).

There are other startups that let users sample apps before downloading them. App.io lets developers create sample versions of iOS apps that work on browsers or websites and other mobile devices.

And two years ago, Facebook acqui-hired the Pieceable mobile engineering team, which also built technology that lets users preview an app on a Web browser. It is unclear what the former Pieceable engineers worked on after joining Facebook, however.

Adding the ability to sample an app directly into an ad unit underscores that mobile advertising is still largely experimental. Chia Chen, SVP and head of US mobile practices at DigitasLBi, said these ads exist in a “different landscape.”

“Your brand is actually the software you put on someone’s phone and that’s a huge change,” Chen said during a panel discussion on Tuesday at AppNation NYC. “Marketers have to think, ‘how do we now approach mobile when it’s about native apps vs. the Internet of the (the mobile) Web? It’s a different paradigm.”

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