iTunes App Store sucks, and finally Apple acknowledges it

February 24, 2012

I had this blog post drafted already, and originally had it titled “iTunes App Store sucks, and Apple doesn’t give a shit”. Well, after the acquisition of Chomp Apple shows it knows. Finally!

To be more precise, I think that app discovery in the app store sucks, and this hurts both users and developers.

Right now, the only ways users find apps are through New, What’s Hot or the top 25 of a category. With almost  600,000 apps,  that is basically an Office Depot with aisles that are 50 miles long. You look at the top 25, but that’s it.  App search is just really bad. Genius? Anybody ever used Genius more than once? Genius is a joke like Ping is. Apparently, Apple is just not good at social.

So how does an app get into What’s Hot, New or a top 25? An app gets into New, by being new (and a little bit lucky), but obviously only stays there a short while. An app gets into What’s Hot by being very lucky, like having extremely excellent design and an original app. So the important trick now it to get into the Top 25 of a category. This should be based on downloads, revenue and ratings. Unfortunately, too may bad apps, copycat apps or down right fraudulent apps get in the top 25 by playing this system. They do this by just cloning popular apps like Temple Run or using download bots to increase download numbers. And even good and legitimate apps have a hard time getting in a top 25. The problem is, as top 25’s are used so much, getting in there means staying there. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy that way. I see in my Dutch iTunes account that WhatsApp is still number 1 in Social Networks. Good for them, but this app is already like 2 years old.

As a result, app browsing is seeing the same apps all the time, and nobody uses search. So users don’t see new newsworthy apps and stop looking for new apps. For developers it is also bad. That $4 billion payout today might seem a lot, but not when you divide it by 138,000 something publishers/developer you get almost $ 29,000 over the last 3 years. The gold rush with stories about making tens of thousands of dollars with a simple game are way way behind us. Even worse, this top 25 failure means a complete winner-take-all distribution. My guess: top 5 % of app publishers do 70-90% of this revenue, and the rest of the publishers either have another core business (Facebook, LinkedIn, your bank) or are just doing bad. This means that the long tail and with that the whole ecosystem is doing bad, which will drive new developers away from the iTunes app store to different stores like Android Market or Windows Phone marketplace.

So now Apple has acquired Chomp, an app search engine. Congratulations both! Some advise to the new owners of the app store:

  1. improve recommendations and search. If Google can do it for the web and Amazon for shopping, so can you.
  2. use other metrics than downloads and ratings for top 25s. Like number of times opened, home screen, amount of time used.
  3. app refunds would be great (although free apps + inapp purchase also works), and you can do this as you control the whole ecosystem
  4. create favorite app lists, and sharing of them with (Facebook?) friends
  5. allow communication between users and publishers
  6. allow publishers to respond limitless to reviews in the app store
  7. give better statistics, including view, download and referral statistics. Keep statistics indefinite
  8. profile users, and give aggregated and anonymised profile information to developers.
  9. allow more dynamic pricing models, with business rules that automate this
  10. offer A/B testing of pricing, icons, screen shots, etcetera

Let’s make the App Store a great place for everybody again!



Dirk de Kok


6 responses to iTunes App Store sucks, and finally Apple acknowledges it

  1. Jonathan Osborn April 5, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    The search ability isn’t even the main problem. Apparently, Apple is concerned about trivial matters like where and how Apple is mentioned, whether revenue flows through Apple and so forth, but give not a whit about whether the apps actually work. I have downloaded more than a few paid apps that do not work. They crash, they freeze, they announce curiously obscure errors, but they do not perform anything close to how they are advertised.

  2. An other suggestion is to make Games an entire separate category. Right now games are behaving like spam when one is looking for serious apps. I’m not against games i have lots of them myself..

  3. I’ve been a developer since day 1 on the iOS App Store. I’ve released numerous titles and seen the gold rush happen early on. I agree 100% with this article and have witnessed it 1st hand. #1 priority for me is to let developers respond to reviews. This would not only improve the products but it would also point out all the malicious developers that simply write bad reviews against other developers all day long thru numerous different accounts. Face it, the store is flawed and seriously needs reworked. I am completely giving up on the App Store and wont return until these issues are fixed. Apple has admitted to removing a few developers due to unfair marketing tactics such as using 25+ publishing companies and bots that simply give 5 star reviews for apps that are complete junk but this only proves that there are hundreds if not thousands more people doing the exact same thing. Displaying time spent in the app is a great idea. I wish they would actually listen though, sadly they never have in the past and I highly doubt they will now.

    • You’re right — Apple’s secrecy policy makes it easier for them to not listen. This App Store thing is one of Apple’s worst efforts so far. They need to clean up their act but at its best App Store would be a crowdsourcing app, and crowdsourcing and Apple are not big friends, to put it mildly.

  4. You’re right about how apps get recommended. But that’s not the worst from my perspective. The reason I hate the App store is that the shareware model is broken under this system. You can’t download an app, try it for free and then rate it, unless the developer makes a separate version for free available. You have to buy it based on a description first, then try it and you are screwed if you don’t like it. That’s why the App store sucks for me.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Roque app: Syn for iPhone slips through Apple review process | Mobtest blog - April 10, 2012

    […] The main thing Apple did wrong here is the top 1 position in the iTunes App Store, in spite of the average rating of 1 star. Apple is just asleep at the wheel, anybody can spot something is wrong. Fake or accidental downloads by tricked users gave it this nr 1 ranking, and this shows how broken the algoritm is. As I said before, we expect better from our beloved Apple. […]