I Love The App Store. I Hate The App Store. I Love The App Store. I Hate The App Store.

Brian S Hall / August 19th, 2013

Apple’s App Store is a bloated, visually appealing, industry-shifting revolution. Forget tales of Google Glass, the Internet of Things or talk of HTML5. The App Store — the home of the humble app — has only just begun to completely re-make computing, user interface and hardware design.

The App Store has permanently altered the fortunes of iPhone, which has permanently altered the fortunes of Apple, which has  upended the personal computing industry yet again. The App Store binds Apple products with one another and with every user.

I both love and hate it.

The App Revolution

I love the App Store, first and foremost, because I am so in awe of it. For those of us who lived through the dark times, when Microsoft ruled over all, it wasn’t even imaginable that it could ever be easier to have more and better and cheaper software available for Apple products than Microsoft products, no matter how far into the future we dared look.

Thanks to the unerring vision of Steve Jobs, we now barely give this once-unfathomable reality a second thought.

We have nearly a million apps to choose from: well-designed, tightly-focused, highly intuitive software programs constructed for all manner of activities, and offered at amazingly affordable prices. From my iPhone or iPad, with a few swipes of my finger, I find, review, buy, download. Takes maybe ten seconds.

Again, this is all once-unfathomable.

Apps that make my work more productive, my free moments more fun, my decisions better informed. Apps that connect me with my friends, my colleagues, and my self. I know with absolute confidence that every single app I purchase will work just fine on my iDevice. It just works.

But, damn, I can also hate the App Store.

Attention App Store Shoppers

More than half a decade in and Apple insists upon offering search options that wouldn’t pass muster on the world wide web in the 1990s. Given Apple’s loathing of Google, I fear a remotely workable solution may be years off. The “genius” service is a joke. Unless, of course, Apple actually believes that because I have purchased the Weather Channel app that I want half a dozen other weather apps on my phone.

There is no trial period, no money back option. Reviews are a jumbled mess, and I never know if an angry review is over the very latest release of an app, or from year’s past. If there are methods to filter an app quest – from the phone – I have yet to discover any. Nor are there any usable methods of ‘bookmarking’ an app for later reference, as Apple apparently believes that every app purchase is an impulse buy; now or never.

Plus, my God, forget the flat vs skeuomorphism debate. Who do we need to get fired so Apple will stop with the whole 99 cents nonsense?

And speaking of firing people, how is it even possible that there is still almost no social integration with the App Store? Whose app reviews should I most trust? Which of my friends have recently purchased what apps? I’m at a baseball game, which apps are most popular with this crowd? Which of the “hot” apps are just right for me? I will never know. Fact is, they are “hot” at this particular moment in time because Apple’s user base is downloading them right now, for inexplicable reasons. By this logic, my favorite cereal is the unbranded Cheerios sold at WalMart.

I am hopeful, however. As I wrote a few months ago, the upcoming iPhone (5+) AirDrop feature could enable one-to-one and one-to-group sharing of apps and other content. This would be a great way to trial an app, and a clever workaround to Apple’s failed search and recommendation functions.

Billions And Billions Served

The smartphone is how we connect to the world. The app is how we connect to the smartphone. Apple’s App Store leads the way, and has from the beginning. Yet for all the App Store has done, for all it has wrought, Apple can do better. Much, much better.

Apps are software and services, deconstructed. The App Store, however, is the reverse. This strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen.

For more than a generation, Windows dominated the personal computing landscape. It was an intensely popular, global standard — and a  hideous, ungainly mess. Until it became largely irrelevant. Windows worked for everyone yet was optimized for no one. Apple is now in a similar position with its App Store (and iTunes). The company has hundreds of millions of users, soon a billion, spread across iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and next, iPhone 5S, 5C and beyond. Plus, multiple iterations of iPad. Is it even possible to please — to delight — so large a user base? I’m not so sure.

Yes, Apple controls both hardware and software, unlike Microsoft. But, doing right by a billion people may simply be a hopeless endeavor, even for Apple. See also: Facebook.

The App Store helped Apple achieve what I once thought impossible. All I’m asking for now is that Apple do so again.

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.
  • Excellent negative feedback to Apple.

  • benbajarin

    No question the discovery process needs to get better. I think Apps near me may be interesting but what I really want some AI engine to figure out is what kind of apps do people LIKE ME use. I’d rather it know my habits and help me discover things based on what similar people are using. Kind of like music, I will be more inclined to listen to recommendations from people who like the same music.

    • Agreed. Top 10 lists are of limited value. True discovery integrated with an Understanding of who I am.

  • Herding_sheep

    Just one minor correction to add. When you see reviews in the App Store, the default selection is for the “current version.” You can see that right at the top of the reviews tab, two buttons labeled “current version” and “all versions.” So yes, those reviews you see are for the current version of the app, unless you toggled to view all version reviews.

    Everything else is spot on. Apple has a ton of work to do in the App Store. But they seem to realize this, and are making some steps to help solve some issues, with their Chomp acquisition and integration, and some new things in iOS 7.

  • Kenny

    @brianshall:disqus

    As i mentioned on another thread, this kind of improvement requiter Big Data and artificial intelligence solutions, which are Apple weakest Link, something that are hardly to change soon giving their paltry R&D investment, and slow pace of Cloud Innovation.

    • Perhaps. There is so much data coursing through Apple thanks to iPhone, iPad, iTunes and App Store that I think they will eventually get it right. But, this has not been one of their core strengths over the past 30 years.

      • Kenny

        the things is the majority of this Data coursing through Apple IDevice are more beneficial to Google right now than anyone else, because the majority of Apple users are also Google service users, and that it’s not going to change soon.
        Apple did for Google, what the the majority of Android OEM has failed to do though this days. Provide the best integrate hardware solution.

        sometimes I wonder why these two giants can not get their stuff together and start working as sister companies.

        • aardman

          There’s this small matter of that dagger’s hilt sticking out of Apple’s back that gets in the way . . .

          • Kenny

            do you mind clarifies about this small matter of that dagger’s hilt sticking out of Apple’s back that gets in the way you speak off?

  • Vesko Kateliev

    I like the article. There is really a lot of reasons to LOVE and HATE the app store. What I agree with the most is that it would be really great if Apple implements some sort of social element in it. Think !Ping but for apps… and although Ping was a failure I think the ability to add fiends, see what they like as Apps, what they purchase (if they want to of course) combined with the option to simply recommend my friends my newly favourite apps is as simple and as functional as any other social element out there could be. I mean people ARE the best “artificial” algorithm for finding great apps… and following people you know you have common interest with, is a pretty sure way to get your hands on some apps that can actually be useful for you. Of course with time, after liking, recommending and following some certain apps or developers let’s say, it would be great if there is some sort of algorithmic solution to handle all this gathered database. This will enable the app store to show you some new apps which might be interesting for YOU and nobody of your friends have heard about yet. Anyway, Apple really should think about implementing something like this. It will bring a lot of life and enthusiasm to the store. It’s just what I think.

    • Great idea. Thanks. I wish Apple would do this as well.

  • Don

    Why not use OPML (collapsable outline format) and add staff who specialize as “librarians” who do what librarians do now, namely break down apps into much more granular functions. Think equivalent to the Dewey Decimal System. How is it possible to justify nearly one million apps broken down to only 23 categories?! It amounts to nothing less than an insult to the users intelligence. Where are the filters to eliminate apps written only for Chinese speakers or Maps for countries I’m not interested in. What if I could care less about games at the moment and would like to filter out all games. These are very simple concepts which certainly don’t require buying another company to implement. The current situation is the result of a fixed idea imposed by the old paper paradigm of linearity. The index IS the document. The document IS the index. The computer enables these to become an elegant (simple) whole. This is similar to the difference between a list of turns and a proper map. It is a difference in all-important context. Of course there is also keyword search, but keyword search lacks context and participates in the fallacious assumption that the searcher already has the appropriate vocabulary to do a proper search. Really what the whole internet, not just the App Store, need is this contextual, functional map, a knowledge navigator.

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