Both Apple and Google have humans maintaining their storefronts to some extent, but what they offer is incredibly limited. They're not a fraction as good as Steam for finding new things you might like.
And for the last point about tracking metrics, here's a great blog post on the subject by a then-Google developer:
The best advice that I came across was to make it a point to avoid doing what ever everyone else was doing. So go after a niche gaming audience and maybe even think of another platform where the well funded publishers aren't playing.
The niche strategy is the other option. I've seen certain niches that have really loyal, under-served fanbases with deep pockets and a high willingness to pay for quality. Take the RPG segment, for instance. Square-Enix (an 800lb gorilla, sure, but still) recently released an RPG for a whopping $30 on the iOS App Store, and by all accounts, it seems to be very successful. I'm sure you can measure the number of people who paid for it in the hundreds of thousands, and probably not the millions, but still, that's a successful launch. A small, hyper-loyal niche without much price sensitivity can be the basis of a very lucrative strategy.
The first dot-com bubble was all about user-acquisition and loss-leading. Look where that ended up.
That being said, I don't think loss leading, in and of itself, is out of the question for a small developer. There are periods of time during which dropping your price to free can drive a significant boost in trial. This is a valid promotional strategy, assuming it's used sparingly and strategically enough that it doesn't piss off the userbase who paid for the game.
We've got just over 800 indie games in the Windows Store right now, and many of those are (quite frankly) basically crap. To me, this looks like a tremendous opportunity for indie game devs. It's still a gamble, but that kind of comes with the job.
"Although 2D and casual games are still dominant, a growing fraction of mobile gamers are looking for console or PC level quality."
Gameplay/concept/'atmosphere' comes before graphics, surely. Sometimes even the big players get this (eg: WoW, especially near its launch).
Android grew faster in games with 2.3 introduced the best NDK support (C/C++ rather than Java) (NDK initially was limited in 2.2).
Windows Phone 8 allows native support, this will be a land rush soon if there are decent phone sales. The only pain point of going to Windows then will be the DirectX portion compared to OpenGL (they really should have gone OpenGL ES on mobile for port reasons, it won on embedded already).
Platforms like Unity and others will be setup for it so it opens it up for many more devs = more games.
A big issue was surely the tiny market size Windows Phone has.
I know a few cases in German studios.
The first company in the world releasing a .NET commercial game back in 2002.
EA Phenomic, http://www.phenomic.de/
Has that improved?
Play! is actually great to launch on and test initial builds, then when solid update for the others. Being able to update right now is so useful in promotion and software, but it does lead to more versions and less quality control I bet in the end. But it is more responsive to issues.
Look, if you can't get someone to open your app more than 3 times, maybe it's because you are not making interesting things.
If you build something that is high-quality and that makes a difference in peoples' lives, they will flock to you, because there is so little of that. On the other hand, there is an overabundance of 99-cent and free-to-play software that has no real reason to exist other than to try and make the developers money. But this is the mindset that this article comes from (evidence: the author's first three pieces of advice are "cross-promote", "market well", and "internationalize", things that have nothing whatsoever to do with what is being made or how good it is.
These are not useful tactics, at least not in isolation, because they don't address the core problem: that a developer in this situation is a dime-a-dozen. The solution is to stop being a dime-a-dozen.
You don't need to differentiate your particular piece of software so much; work on differentiating yourself as a developer, in terms of the quality and interestingness of what you produce; be a thought-leader rather than a follower who mainly thinks about cross-promoting; and once you manage these things, you will automatically be doing okay. (And you are much more likely to be satisfied with your life, which is quite a nice side-benefit).
Of course, most people will not follow this advice, because it requires effort, introspection, course-changing, all that stuff. Most iOS developers will continue going as they are and continue suffering the consequences. Not pretty but that is just how it is!
I did not find that the author was advocating marketing tactics to the exclusion of development efforts, or to the exclusion of product differentiation. You say that his tactics, "in isolation," are not effective -- but the author wasn't claiming that they should be used in isolation. He happened to be focusing on them in this article, because this article was specifically about launch tactics. It was covering one small area of a broad spectrum of efforts required in app development. That doesn't imply a suggestion that this is the only area.
While it's true that a developer should focus first and foremost on making an amazing product (and on making himself amazing), he shouldn't ignore the tactics offered by this article and others like it. There will come a time when his app is built, and when he's getting ready to launch. When that time comes, he would be well served to have a launch strategy, and some tactics he can draw upon to execute that strategy.
Building a magnificent app, then simply tossing it into the wind and hoping for the best, is doing disservice to the effort you put in to build that app.
Articles like this reduce games to some grey, by the numbers marketing exercise. The reason so many games on the app store sink like a rock is because they just plain aren't enjoyable experiences and treat their players very cynically. It's totally disappointing that micro transactions, sneaky psychological tricks and nagging the player at every stage is so actively encouraged in the mobile space.
Gameplay and designing experiences for the player is seen as some sort of afterthought.
Games can be such a wonderful immersive medium, but it's hard to get lost in another world while there's a bright bouncing icon asking for your credit card or facebook details every three seconds. Mobile games really could be so much better than this.
I for one would love to see more focus on building great things and less on monetization. Long live the indies and hats off to people like yourself who are out there pushing things forward.
My game (http://buttonbrigade.com) is completely unique and those that play it love it, but so far the market has shown very little interest, even for the free version. From this side of the fence, it seems much easier to market and make money off of a clone of an existing game.
I wish it were simply a matter of making a great game and enjoying success, but if I want to keep doing this for a living, it seems I need to put much more effort into marketing than actually making great games.