Top-10 Improvements Apple should make in the App Store in 2010

Posted by on January 18, 2010 in Essay, iPhone/iPad | 0 comments

300px-next_logo_svgIn 1987, Steve Jobs introduced to the world the wonderful and somewhat puzzling NeXT “Cube.” It was designed as the computer for the college student who could also afford a $6000 machine with no floppy drive.  For all of the ridicule and head scratching the machine provoked, it pioneered a number of great technologies. Perhaps the most well known of these powers every Mac and iPhone now being made today: OS-X.

One of the other less successful aspects of the NeXT episode was Jobs’ software distribution model. Considering that the Cube was meant to be a networked based system, all software distribution would be via the net (either that or via the $150 Canon “floptical” disks that would price most applications out of the reach of the demographics). Jobs’ proposed electronic means of purchasing and distribution of NeXT applications would have been pretty cool. Except for one small detail: there was no general solution for handling small secure transactions over the Internet. That is, no way to pay. His dream quickly vanished and vendors ultimately would have to sell their wares by permitting stores to copy them onto the customer’s own disks.

It would take 22 years, but finally that vision would be realized in the form of the iPhone’s App Store. It’s not bad…for a first attempt that is. But there remains a lot to be done from both the developer’s and customer’s standpoints.

For developers and ios app development companies, managing the app and gleaning sales trends is unweildly at best. For customers, discovering great apps is tedious and a hit-or-miss affair. Go with the safe stuff, the stuff on the top-100, and you’ll be okay. If your app is one of the 134,115 other apps not on the list, tough.

I imagine that the success of the store and the SDK caught Apple by surprise, and as such the store worked fine for small numbers of applications, but in the end proved not to be very scalable and soon started bustin’ the seams.

Fortunately some early issues have already been addressed, either by Apple itself, or by third party vendors such as Flurry Analytics or Appfigures. Before promocodes, for example, developers would have to reimburse reviewers who needed to buy the app before they could write about it. The addition of keywords a few months ago was also a big win. And at long last Apple seems to have finally gotten the word about the delays in approval, as some authors are reporting uploading their apps in the morning and getting them accepted that evening.

With that in mind, there is still a lot to do.

So what follows are the top-10 improvements Apple could make in the store and related distribution mechanisms as we near the second anniversary of when this delightful madness all started.

10) Hidden pages for limited distribution

A lot of apps are very specific for a single entity such as a business, church or perhaps a high school. There is no reason anyone should see that app in the store unless they need to. So having a special category of app pages that are available only by a direct link would be helpful in removing some of the clutter that makes the app discovery process so random.

9) Beaming apps from one device to another

This one’s based on some rumors before the release of OS 3.0. So perhaps Apple has actually been working on it. Users should not actually have to go to a store to get an app that a friend has. They should be able to simply “beam” an app between devices, and let the transaction cost be handled in the background. Perhaps direct beaming could be done with slight discount for the app, or a small commission for the beamer. Nothing like getting millions of sales persons out there pushing your work.

8)  Short Descriptions on the App Store page.

When just surfing looking for interesting things all people have now are an icon and title to judge if something is worth their while to examine. A lot of authors have taken to adding descriptions to the actual app title, yielding some pretty unwieldy names. Adding an extra field for about 25 characters to the display would be a big help.

7) Permit cross-listing in different genres

In my own case, Distant Suns is both an educational and a reference application. I would love to have it in both categories, but while Apple does actually let an author supply two genres, they only use the primary one for display purposes.

6) Permit charges for upgrades

In the real world of applications, publishers charge for significant upgrades. This goes a long way to cover the costs of adding new and better features. At present, once you own an app, all upgrades are free. This may be a boon for users, but is certainly bust for developers. There should be a mechanism to allow one charge for upgrades and a different one for new buyers. True, we now have “in app purchase,” that could be twisted around to serve that purpose, but it is both a cumbersome and imperfect solution.

5) Support sub-genres

Currently only games have sub-genres (action, educational, family, etc).  Since the store supports that in one category, why limit it there? In Education, Distant Suns is seen side-by-side with math apps for 4-year olds, and an intro to conversational Klingon. I’d much rather see categories for age ranges and subject matter.

4) Rollback to previous versions

Many app authors I am sure have had that sinking feeling when fresh off the high of getting that first “Your application is now ready for sale” email they immediately get one that says “hey! Your application is crashing my iPhone!” Last summer with the release of OS 3.0, many authors have had that experience as one of the iPhone’s libraries was modified in a way that broke many applications (including mine). While it was easy enough to fix the application, the two-week delays in the approval process ensured that there would be a lot of unhappy campers. Things like that could be easily smoothed over by permitting the developer to rollback to a previous working version until things get resolved. The App Store does permit expedited reviews sometimes in cases such as this, but those are hard to get. And in my case, they ended up reviewing the wrong application.

Fortunately the recent decrease in the approval process (from two weeks to a day in many cases) makes rollback a little less urgent, but it would still be a real nice-to-have.

3) Page metrics

Some time ago I was at an Apple-sponsored event for iPhone developers. I was directed to one gent who had something to do with the store. We chatted about 20 minutes, and as I was leaving I asked him his title, and he said, “Uh, Director of the App Store.” I had already give him about a dozen suggested improvements (many listed here) but followed up a little later with the request to supply authors with page view numbers for each application’s iTunes page. He looked at me and said “WHAT? You mean we don’t do that already? That’s so obvious!”

Page metrics are absolutely vital to any web-based marketing effort. If I see that 100 people a day come to the Distant Suns page, but only have a single sale, I am doing something way wrong. If I have 30 sales, I must be doing something right. As of now, the branding and messaging on the app pages are just a guessing game more than anything else, hoping that it will sell the product.

2) Decrease the number of Applications

This might be the most controversial suggestion, but the store has way too many applications to be meaningful at many levels. Part of this makes it a victim of its own success, gumming up the approval process for developers while raising the noise level for consumers who must navigate 100s of bad apps looking for the diamond.

As it is, developing for the iPhone is in effect “too easy and too cheap.”  Imagine if Microsoft had an application store for Visual Basic apps, and let anyone publish. It probably would have collapsed under its own weight in about a week.

There needs to be a way to permit anyone with an application entry into the store, but yet elevate the serious applications above say, little Timmy’s 8th grade project. One way might be to merely make it more costly, raising the yearly fee from $99 to $499.  Perhaps having a “professional” level of membership that could make applications searchable, give preferred placement in the store, and early access to new OS revs. While still “anyone” could buy into that plan, it would be self-policing from the standpoint that it would attract authors who really believe in their applications and their ability to recover the yearly dues. I have a feeling that there would be far fewer flatulence simulators (fart-apps) were this in place.

1) Add in a Recommendation Engine

One of the things that make both Netflix and Amazon so customer-friendly is their respective recommendation engines. I have bought many items from Amazon simply because of the well-earned accuracy of their recommendation system. As both an author and a customer of the store I would love to see weekly emails alerting me of new applications of interest. Criteria for such a feature would be based on previous purchases, keywords, authors and genres. Or a section on the site that says “people who bought Distant Suns also bought….”

Final Note

If only half of these items were implemented over the next year it would be terrific. But as with the entire application ecosystem, there are growing pains and both Apple and the developers are learning and maturing at the same time. No doubt the store will look entirely different in a couple of years, and I am excited to be along for the ride.