This isn’t news, but after years of it resolutely being the case, it’s frustrating: the Apple App Store is broken.
The other evening I set about a task of doing a little market research for a new app idea we had at our company, Happiness Engines. The idea we had could potentially spill into one of two App Store categories — “Utilities” and “Productivity” — so I dove into both and searched various keywords for interesting and successful apps in the spaces.
The results were, shall we say, underwhelming.
Do a search for “contacts” in the App Store for iPhone apps, and you’re left with a massive unsorted grid of 2,000 apps. (I know it’s 2,000 because I counted. The precise number gives me the sneaking suspicion the amount was cut off artificially, and that there are probably more.) There is seemingly no rhyme or reason to their listing: the randomness leads me as a user to believe any app with the keyword “contacts” gets thrown into the mix.
Obviously there’s some basic sorts via popularity. Apps like Smartr Contacts, LinkedIn, and 1-800-CONTACTS (yes, they have an app) are floated toward the top. But there aren’t any other discernable attempts to make sense of this flood of apps for the user — and that’s a problem.
There’s no hiding that this is a problem of scale. The App Store just wasn’t built with this quantity of offerings in mind. A while back, Apple bought and subsequently shut down the independent app-discovery app Chomp. Chomp had a unique interface, but more importantly they had an innovative discovery mechanism for finding apps based upon genearl searches. While Apple may have integrated Chomp’s search methodology in its App Store mobile version, it doesn’t seem like that’s filtered into how their desktop software surfaces results.
There’s also a user experience problem to solve here in the interface, and it has to do with Apple trying to be too “smart” with its search results. Type a word into the search box in the upper right corner, and Apple tries to pull up results across its offerings: iPhone apps, iPad apps, individual songs, full albums, Podcasts episodes, full Podcasts, TV episodes, TV seasons, movies, books, audiobooks, iTunes U episodes, iTunes U collections, iTunes U materials, iTunes U courses, and (inhale) music videos.
Press the “See All” text to expand any of these verticals, and you have a giant category list (the aforementioned 2,000 apps, for example). Click any individual item to view its details; but click the back button, and you’re thrown back to the master list across all verticals — instead of the category list you just came from.
Putting this all together, there seems to be a problem here of both discoverability (how do I surface results meaningful to me?) and browse-ability (how do I look through those results effectively?). Although Apple’s certainly made strides in their mobile App Store version, they still have a great opportunity in front of them where their desktop software is concerned.
Cars are our way of moving through life. Cars are an integral manifestation of our being. Cars are an expression of who we are, like clothes. But we can drive naked, so the hell with clothes.