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