The App Store needs a Refresh

There is an interesting post from Marco Arment today on “App Rot”. In it he takes a look at App Store economics. Like many people before, he points out that the structure of the iOS App Store needs some improvement. There are so many apps, and discovery on the App Store is not that advanced. Arment’s post stands out because he is looking at it from the point of view of an independent app developer, and weighs decisions in terms of what job a developer should take next. (Arment was one of the early developers of Tumblr, and has made some great apps since setting out on his own.)

The root of the problem is that the App Store is out of date. There are basically two ways for users to find apps there. Either Apple chooses to feature them or the app does so well that it is listed in one of the various Top 10 or Top 50 lists. There is a search function but it is pretty basic (albeit greatly improved over past versions).  The problem is that neither of the two leading discovery methods work that well. Apple’s choice of which apps to feature appears to be a random process, at least it appears that way to outsiders. And the ‘Top ‘ lists are self-reinforcing, leading apps can hold onto those positions for a long time.

Arment’s suggestion to developers is to get more efficient in writing apps. Use the best practices and the latest iOS features to stand out. To its credit, Apple is doing a great job of adding features to new versions of iOS every year, and smart developers are getting new tools, and new code (e.g Swift) which make writing apps easier.

Nonetheless, the root of the problem remains. My post on App Store Optimization is over a year old, and the problem pre-dated that post by a couple years. Analytics site Xyo showed data a few years ago showing that the length of time a Top 10 app stays in the Top 10 is growing, meaning that there are fewer new entrants to the Top lists.

I think the best solution is a revamp of the App Store. I have no idea if Apple is working on this, but I can think of a few features I would like to see.

First, better search. Apple knows which apps I already own,  and I would like to see better personalization in the apps I get served as search results. For instance, I have no interest in Korean language apps. I am sure they are wonderful, but my Hangul skills are pretty limited.

Second, the landing page of the App Store should be greatly reduced. There are too many apps on display. This seems counter intuitive. The problem, as I see it , is that once I am on the App Store, I spend the first 15 minutes just looking at what is new, and then I lose interest. Even clicking one level deeper, for instance to look at the Games page, requires another 15 minutes of looking. The landing page should be intended as a starting place for navigation, and geared to helping me think about what I want to look at next. Right now, every click on the app store is a choice between looking at 100 apps or just looking at one. I would prefer a more gradual process that lets me look at a smaller number of the best apps, with links to more exploration.

Third, better filters.  There are large categories of apps in which I have no interest. I would like to have a way to not have to look at those. For instance, a huge portion of games are now Free, with monetization through In-App purchases. I would like to be able to avoid seeing those most of the time.

An important subset of this feature would be the ability to find the latest apps, as well as those using the most up to date versions of iOS. When I search for certain apps, I find a lot of the results are for dated apps with basic functionality and old code. How about a section that show the most up to date apps using all the coolest iOS tricks?

Fourth, a human-curated section. I find that I discover a very large portion of the apps I buy (especially games) from the “Apps We’re Using” list compiled by Apple employees. How about a whole page of those?  I think a dose of human editorializing would go over well.

Fifth, I would like a page of random apps. Just show me 20 or 30 apps picked at random from the App Store (adjusted for language preference and excluding apps I already own).  I think this sort of randomness could greatly accelerate purchases. For a while, I used to look at the App Store on my iPad which allowed for sorting of apps by release date. This was only really useful in creating a list of random apps, and I found a lot of things that way that I would not have found elsewhere. A more organized randomization process could create a nice jolt of serendipity.

Finally, better recommendations. This is a tricky one, it is a hard problem to solve. It would probably work best with links to Facebook or other social networks. But Apple knows what apps I have, combine that with what apps my friends have and what apps the people I follow in Twitter have, and the end result is probably some good app ideas.  There was news this week of a start-up called Homer that is trying to do this. You log onto this app with your Facebook ID, then send them a screen shot of your phone. Homer then decodes the screen shot to capture the apps you own and compares it screen shots it gets of apps your friends own.  The trouble with all this is that individual Apps cannot see what other Apps you have on your phone. This is a sensible privacy policy, but it also means that only Apple can really make these social comparisons.

I could go on, but I think this list is a pretty good set. It would help improve searching for specific apps as well as  enhance discovery of apps I never new existed.

UPDATE: I wrote this post in the morning California time, but did not get around to publishing until late in the day. And over lunch a discovered a healthy Twitter conversation on some very similar subject.

One response to “The App Store needs a Refresh

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