Uptodown CEO Luis Hernández on the rise of alternative app stores

Alternative app store Uptodown offers developers a new home for their apps

Uptodown CEO Luis Hernández on the rise of alternative app stores

While Apple and Google have long dominated the app store space, some are exploring the possibility of alternative app stores. While the most prominent app stores can provide developers with broad audiences, some developers are growing tired of managing the rules and fees each comes with.

Uptodown is one of many companies looking to tackle the dominance presented by big name companies with its own independent apps market, consisting of 132 million users worldwide. To find out more about Uptodown and what it offers, we spoke with Uptodown's CEO, Luis Hernández. Can you tell us a little about where the idea for Uptodown came from?

Luis Hernández: In the early 2000s, we sought a way to connect app developers with users as directly and easily as possible. Sorting out all the information about software and making it available to everyone with just one click was our obsession when the Internet was growing and the world of software started to conquer the world.

How has Uptodown changed over the years since its creation? And how much growth have you seen in recent years?

A few years later, we discovered that this idea of collecting, sorting, and facilitating access to software covered a universal need on any platform. In 2011, we moved to the mobile space with the same purpose - to make it easier to obtain apps.

At that time, Google and Apple also found value in the distribution of apps, proposing their stores as intermediaries between users and developers. The battle that raged for the next ten years focused on building walls around their gardens to lock in users and control developers, earning commissions on every transaction within their ecosystems.

Against this restrictive model, Uptodown defended from the beginning the web as the most valid, accessible, and transparent platform to obtain apps. Fortunately, Google did not completely close the door to other sources of app acquisition, and we grew along with the Android system - now exceeding 100 million monthly users and focusing all our efforts on this market.

Small developers have always been subject to the conditions imposed by Google and Apple.
Luis Hernández

Do you feel any critical moments or events have triggered users and developers to turn away from big app stores such as Google and Apple?

Small developers have always been subject to the conditions imposed by Google and Apple. The shift occurred a few years ago when the major studios perceived that they were losing control of their own users and even their products.

Without realising it, we all assumed that it was not possible to publish an update without the permission of the big stores, that we could not agree on conditions and offers directly with our own users, sell on our own website without assuming consequences, pivot or touch areas where Google and Apple already ruled with an iron fist. The price is too high - any problem with their capricious content policies can put you out of the industry with no possible defence.

It was too late when they discovered that the same company that imposed its own hardware, operating system, ads, monetisation and payment systems, browser, or search now also wanted to control the content. The litigation of companies such as Epic Games or Spotify over the past few years are good examples of this awakening in large developers - a change in thinking that has impacted how these stores and their monopolistic practices are perceived.

What would you say sets Uptodown apart from other app stores?

Uptodown has a more secure model that respects your privacy when obtaining apps. You don't even need to create an account to download any of the +1.4 million files we offer.

In addition, our main distribution channel is the most accessible one available on the web. All you need is a browser from any device to download files. Still, do you want to receive updates? In that case, you can use our own native store to access the usual app store features, but it is completely optional.

And of course, Uptodown is not only a file repository, but we offer added value to the download of apps. All content is enriched with in-house reviews, videos, screenshots, FAQs, tutorials, etc., created by our internal team. It is a platform that helps you discover apps and games where what you read is not only what the developer says about himself.

What benefits do developers gain by using Uptodown to market their games? And what do developers have to do to be able to market their game on the store?

It has taken us years to convince studios of this, but we have proven that an app published on Uptodown not only improves their discovery on the web thanks to our SEO authority and search engine visibility but also helps them compete in the big stores. Today, more than 37,000 app developers publish directly with us, including top studios and publishers who have trusted our store to increase the reach of their apps.

Publishing and downloading apps on Uptodown is completely free for developers and users.
Luis Hernández

Uptodown is an independent channel 100% compatible with the native store model, with zero risk and giving you access to our huge worldwide audience. In addition, our service respects developers who do not wish to use our payment systems or services, so we do not force them to use a specific SDK in their apps or integrate any particular service. We promote the direct relationship between them and their users, so our role is to help connect them and guide the users to find what they are looking for.

And best of all, publishing and downloading apps on Uptodown is completely free for developers and users. Developers only have to register in our Developers Console, and in a few hours, they will have their content published in our store without any commitment or clause. Even if they have their app on Uptodown, it is theirs, and they decide how to make the most of it.

How did the deal with Unity to allow developers to distribute software directly to the app market come about?

It has been challenging to counter Google and Apple's marketing about the danger of anyone else distributing apps. Every little bit helps to ease this transition of developers to third-party stores. Unity and its Unity Distribution Portal service have played a crucial role here, making any game developed on this framework easily publishable on Uptodown and optionally integrating an alternative payment system.

They contacted us a few years ago and agreed on how we see the industry. We must give developers and users more power, not manufacturers, operating systems, browsers, or even stores. It made sense to collaborate to prevent Google and Apple from definitively closing the door to development outside their platforms.

How is application safety managed on the store?

Contrary to what is being promulgated by the major technology companies, competition is the only mechanism for improving security and respect for users' privacy in the distribution of mobile apps.

Uptodown has automated processes such as reviewing all our content with more than 70 anti-viruses or checking the developers’ signatures so that no modified file can be distributed in our store. In fact, we make all available file security reports public. In addition, Uptodown has its own content team that tests and reviews any app before publishing.

At the infrastructure level, we are also protected. Through our partner OVHCloud we ensure that we control the entire storage and delivery process with maximum European guarantees. We are very clear that transparency must be our top priority if we want to compete, especially considering the volumes we handle, as we serve more than one Petabyte of data annually.

Is there anything you can tell us about the future of Uptodown or anything you have going on right now?

We are experiencing first-hand one of the most important changes in the mobile industry.
Luis Hernández

Our mission remains intact. We develop tools to ensure free access to software and organise information from apps worldwide, but we are experiencing first-hand one of the most important changes in the mobile industry - the recovery of the right to decide where to download software for your device. This is a right that has existed since the birth of computing, protecting innovation on the part of developers, as well as the users' own ability to decide.

In this context, and after twenty years of defending an alternative model for the ecosystem, we are very excited and working on different fronts. We have recently been working in Europe through our advisory services to the European Commission to establish principles of interoperability and respect for minimum standards that do not jeopardise the necessary device neutrality. The Digital Markets Act has recently been passed in Europe, making big information watchdogs such as Google and Apple have to adapt to more open policies that will allow all players involved to compete on a level playing field after two decades of fighting for change. At last, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Deputy Editor

Paige is the Deputy Editor on who, in the past, has worked in games journalism covering new releases, reviews and news. Coming from a multimedia background, she has dabbled in video editing, photography, graphic and web design! If she's not writing about the games industry, she can probably be found working through her ever-growing game backlog or buried in a good book.