Apple’s App Store went live on July of 2008 with iOS 2.0. Four years later, we all agree that it was really a game changer. What used to be called “software” is now called “apps”. We buy apps like we buy coffee in a coffee shop. Expectations from apps features are high but we don’t really want to pay for it anymore as prices goes down. Four years ago Apple created a new industry but now, four year later, I feel Apple is behind the curve. As a matter of fact, the App Store features are essentially the same since its introduction with the exception of the Game Center and In-App purchases. Here is a quick overview of what is missing and how Apple could improve the aging App Store.
iOS 6. As of this writing, iOS 6 DP3 is being tested by iOS developers. What we know so far is that this new release will bring a complete store makeover. In other words, the App Store will be updated on the surface. The buying experience will be improved as the user won’t have to enter their password in order to buy free apps (currently in DP3 but I expect Apple to revert this decision on the final release). The same applies to updating applications on the device: users won’t have to enter their password in order to update an app. Are those changes enough? I really think much more is needed than a new skin.
Discoverability. With more than 500 000 apps for sale, how one person can find the right app for a specific need? This is not an easy task. Apple didn’t address this problem in four years. They bought Chomp a few months ago but we are still waiting for the fruits of this acquisition. The “What’s New” and “What’s Hot” sections of the App Store doesn’t help much about because many apps from major developers are featured many times. Handpicking a few apps out of half a million doesn’t do much to help users discover the right apps for their need.
Try before you buy. There is still no way to try an app before buying it. So on one side users rely in part on review sites to make the buying decision. On the other side developers fill the App Store with free versions of their paid apps. So instead of spending time adding new features to paid apps, developers are forced to maintain free versions. Apple could provide a way to download an app that would expire after a period of time. A more profound change would be subscription model for apps. Yes In-App purchase provides a way to mitigate the problem but more is needed.
App exchange. Sharing on Twitter or Facebook link to apps is nice but would this be too hard for Apple to allow users exchange apps between their devices? The process could be very simple: Apple would provide an API to allow a developer to add sharing capabilities from within the app. The application owner would be presented with a small form asking for an email address. The receiving user would open the email and would be presented the option to download the app after authenticating with an Apple ID. This process isn’t very far from what we can do right now on the App Store (gifting an app is an example of this).
Demonstration and promotional videos. Developers are limited to five screen shots to show their apps. There is still no video demonstrations available. Adding promotional video would be a nice way for developers to show and sell their apps. All kind of restrictions could apply to them (Apple is good at imposing restrictions) but still, seeing an app in action would be a real plus. By the way, promotional videos could be seen as enough to prevent adding the “Try before you buy” feature discussed in the previous paragraph.
Packaging: What about offering a way for developers to bundle applications together for a promotion? What about offering application B at a lower price if you already own application A?
Paid upgrades. There is no paid upgrades on the App Store and the rationale behind this seems to be about keeping the user experience simple for the average user: Apple probably think that paying for upgrades is a thing of the past and the average users don’t want to mess with them. For the developers, there is no way to charge for major releases. This implies that users are entitled for endless free upgrades of their apps unless the developer create a new app based on a previous one (which many developers do by the way filling the App Store with more of the same). The subject of paid upgrade has been intensely debated in the past.
No analytics. Application developers don’t have a clue of how often their application description page are visited and from where. Are people visiting from the desktop iTunes.app more than from a mobile device? They don’t know how a change in the application description page is affecting the buying decision because they don’t know the relationship between the number of page visited compared to downloaded apps. Apple must provide some kind of analytics to developers in order to make them more effective in selling there apps.
Price tier per country. Selling an app at 2.99$ in the US may be way too high in Spain because of the economic crisis.
Responding to user reviews. This issue has been addressed by this earlier post on my iOS developer blog http://www.buildingiphoneapps.com.
As you can see, there is room for improvement on the App Store. Sometime I feel that Apple is slow to bring even small improvements like promotional videos or per country price tier. More complex improvements surely takes time to come but are much needed to keep Apple’s App Store ahead of the curve.