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

on August 19, 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.