Apple’s App Store discoverability problem

The app store on iOS has an app discoverability problem. At least so say my friends and I. I don’t know if it’s because of the maturity of the platform or the sheer number of apps in the store. Every WWDC Apple updates us with the number of apps currently in the store and it’s in the high millions. However how often do you visit the app store or install new apps? I have my set of apps which were installed long ago. Since then I have installed very few apps. Usually the only times I head to the app store is when an app gets mainstream exposure, after reading a review on a blog, recommendations from friends or on podcasts and lastly if a service is shut down and I have to find a replacement.

How does Apple fix or make discoverability better? I don’t have a magic answer but I do have a few ideas. Now I know a few people have compared the app store to the iTunes or Apple Music store. In my opinion that makes no sense since there are major differences between the two. Music is everywhere which means discoverability is not a problem. The radio, soundtracks for TV shows and movies, TV ads, TV channels like BET, MTV and others play all the hottest music videos. Besides that singers have fans that know when new songs and albums drop. On the iPhone in order to listen to music you own the music app is a must. It prompts you to buy those new songs you’ve been meaning to while you’re there. By contrast app developers are not rock stars with millions of fans. Users also don’t need to launch the app store to launch their apps. Which makes standing out in a sea of millions of apps and hundreds if not thousands of similar apps very hard. My first thought is that Apple needs to give users a way to discover new apps easily and constantly. There used to be apps that would create top lists of other apps. Apple squashed those apps but I feel like they need to then provide that functionality. Apple needs to make their own version. The service needs a group of curators behind the app that comprises of employees, users and engineers. Users can then install it and sign up for the service. Which will send a weekly highlight email maybe. It’s a constant highlight of new and existing apps. The fact that users sign up means the information is not spamming iTunes account holders. I find that the top lists in the app store is not very effective. Most times I head to the app store I know what I want. I hardly ever stop to look at the lists. I feel like an app with real life people commenting, reviewing and maybe showing it being used would work. It would have to cover all the different categories in the app store but in manageable chunks. I feel like this would improve discoverability because it would provide a constant showcase. Another benefit is that with a team of people looking at the apps they would be able to spot and flag fraudulent, clone apps and copyright infringing apps.

Another thing Apple could do that would have a dual benefit is to change up their free app offer. Currently the free app syndrome is very prevalent in the iOS app store. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say “I’m not going to pay 1.99 for an app”, it’s disheartening ever time I hear it. I feel like Apple’s FREE app of the week furthers the attitude because users feel like they are getting something for free. They don’t place any value on the item. I’m thinking instead Apple could credit iTunes’ accounts $1.99 or whatever for the week. Then users would be able to buy whatever app they want. The point is they would put a value on the app and get used to looking for the value it provides. I don’t work at Apple and I’m not sure how they offer the apps for free. Perhaps Apple works something out with the devs (developers). Then maybe they would need to work something out whereby though users pay for the app with Apple’s credit Apple still retains the money. At the end of this Apple is a company and needs to make money. Giving even $0.99 credit to all accounts weekly or monthly is going to add up to a lot of dinero. My point is that habit is learned and if Apple can make assigning value to apps a habit that would be much better for the app store ecosystem and devs.

My final thought is to break the little known and under used Connect app out of Apple Music. I think the app could be much more useful and much more used than it is now. The best thing about the app is that the name is very broad. It is not tied solely to music. As I was saying, app recommendations today are very social. Most recommendations come from friends. It would be great if the Connect app allowed users to connect to one another. Users could then create and share lists of their apps. Then friends could easily see what apps all their friends are using. I think the current app review system is not very useful. It requires time on the user’s part to write a review. I’ve used many apps that I love and I’m always prompted at the wrong time for a review. If users had a social tool that allowed them to write reviews and leave ratings of their apps it leaves the power in the user’s hands. It starts conversations between users when they read reviews. It would also open a channel of communication between devs and users. I’ve talked to devs on twitter before about each others apps. The best devs are the ones that connect with their customers. The app should allow devs to be verified users. It would allow another place where they could showcase all of their apps. Devs could post updates about upcoming features and get feedback from users. Allowing devs another way to reach out to users and showcase all their apps is a great thing.

These are just my thoughts about how to increase discoverability and exposure for devs and their apps. They might not fix the problem. But in my opinion they would be a step in the right direction.

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