My take on cleaning up the App Store

A significant portion of my day is spent surfing the iOS and Mac App Store, scouting potential clients for Applingua and checking out what’s cool for my own iOS devices. Over the last few months I’ve found the App Stores, especially the iOS store, becoming ever more cluttered. Unless you are browsing the store on your iOS device, the whole experience is becoming increasingly cumbersome and, in my opinion, doing a disservice to a lot of great app developers out there.

Some of these points are quite controversial so please feel free to discuss in the comments below! Here’s how I would try and clean up and raise the quality of the iOS App Store experience:

1. Move iOS App Store and device management out of iTunes

The original iPhone had been built on the success of the iPod and the iTunes Music Store to combine a phone with the highly capable, portable music device. It made sense that the original iPhone synced with iTunes to manage and transfer music in one easy place. When mobile phone “apps” were quite unfamiliar to the consumer market, it made sense to have the then-experimental iOS App Store in the place users were most used to.

Well, times have changed. No longer is the iPhone sold on its music-player capabilities but rather the notion “there’s an app for that”. Apps have become the main focus and the hugely-successful, quality-driven App Store is one of the main differentiating factors over Apple’s competitors. I think it’s time to move the iOS store away from the iTunes Music Store into it’s own iPhone management app. I would propose a simple WebKit based app similar to the Mac App Store, which gives equal weighting to App management as it does Photos and Music. We currently seem to accept that both photos and Apps are secondary to music in the current setup, through several badly designed management tabs within iTunes.

2. Separate Games from the rest of apps

Apps that aren’t games feel second to Games on the iOS store. We all love to play a bit of Angry Birds or get frustrated at Doodle Jump – they are great games – but it’s becoming a bit too much like a high street game store. It’s difficult for users to discover new apps with games cluttering the view. Of the top 40 paid apps I could fit on my screen, 25 were games. That’s almost two thirds.

UK App Store Top 40

I’m not saying we should abolish games altogether – absolutely not. I just think that people are prepared to go into a Games category much more so than other categories. A metric would need to be worked out by which the top games could be displayed in the Top Apps lists. Perhaps it is as simple as a user preference to show games or not (or exclude any category you choose for that matter).

3. Remove all Karma Sutra / 50 Sex Tips / Sex IQ tests
Call me prude, but these apps are not what I had in mind when Steve Jobs famously said “We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone… Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone.” I took that as meaning all this kind of stuff wouldn’t be on the App Store. It’s not that users shouldn’t be allowed to access this information, but selling these apps for profit almost makes the whole experience a little cheaper. One of these apps always seems to pop up when I run a search, as if they’ve been allowed to list every possible keyword combination. The App Store has so many rules and regulations you almost wonder how any these got in, but there you go. Someone at Apple obviously needs 1001 Sex Facts.

4. Insist on Retina
The next two points may be slightly more controversial than the others. It’s already difficult enough to get your App without hitch on the App Store, to start insisting on retina quality images may push some developers over the edge. For retina device users, there is nothing worse than a pixellated app icon or hazy, up-scaled text on a starting splash screen.

I may also go a step further: give existing apps a grace period in which to update or kick them off. Of course this will unfortunately cause quite a few headaches for agencies and freelance iOS developers but you can always recharge. This would be Apple saying, update, or your app will no longer be for sale. Sure, it will piss people off, but app store policies already do that. Apple have reiterated over and over again: it’s our store, if you don’t like it, go elsewhere.

5. Improve App Icon guidelines

A good app icon may be one of the few marketing tools a developer has when uploading their app to the app store. If you are a developer who puts a bit of effort into your icon, you may not want Apple to enforce higher quality in all icons. But consider the following two sets of apps:

The Good:

Pretty app iconsThe Bad:

Ugly App iCons

As more an more people start dabbling with iOS development, I think we’ll see a rise in the number of bad, or rather effortless, icons leading eventually to an app store full of them. Apple should introduce guidelines sooner rather than later to tackle this. I’m not saying it needs to be a the point where you have to outsource your app icon to a professional designer, that would be quite discouraging, but subjectively more than 5 minutes effort should have been invested in the icon.

And there you have it. My little rant about the current state of affairs on the iOS App Store. You may agree with me, or you may be glad I’m not the guy in charge. Either way, discuss below 🙂

I would love to hear your thoughts…
  1. I agree that app management from iTunes to device is very bad, but I think this will be addressed in iOS5, hopefully with OTA syncing.

    I think one of the biggest challenges for developers is getting apps noticed. At the moment iTunes Connect allows for a description and some keywords – pretty much like old school web data. It would be nice to see an App Store with the ability to index the content within an app.

    Apps should be designed for the retina display as it is very little work to produce the extra images required. Devs/designers not adding retina ready images are just lazy.

    As for the icons, greater guidelines would be nice but I suppose it is down to the developer/designer to make the icon stand out. Personally, when it comes to purchasing an app, and if a number of apps have the same functionality, I generally go for the app with the prettiest icon. The icon should be iconic, right?*

    *Courtesy of handouts.

  2. Mike Cane says:

    I wrote quite a while ago that Apple needs to hire professionals to organize the App Store. Those professionals are called librarians. Now that they’ve exceeded 500K apps (or, at least, entries), the need has reached beyond critical. Also, with so many entries, there is just no way Apple can justify its 30% cut and claim it can market each and every app. A listing in a big pile is not anyone’s definition of marketing.