How Apple Can Improve the App Store (and iPhone) in 2010

No, this is not going to be another one of those posts. And yes, it’s a couple of weeks into 2010 yet this is a 2010 post. On the first point, I’m not even going to touch Apple’s App Store policies or the approval process, which by the way, are already showing signs of vast improvement in 2010. In fact, I’m not going to take the developer’s perspective at all. I’m going to focus on the user…because while I’m a developer (technically, the product guy), I’m also a user.

iPhone Apps About iPhone Apps

It’s my job to live in the App Store. I’m starting to spend more time in the Android Market but until the numbers start playing out differently, it will largely be all Apple all the time (especially if the tablet rumors are true). For some perspective, in 2009 I spent somewhere around $500 on iPhone apps for product development research and staying current with what was happening in the store.

Over time, I’ve begun seeing more and more iPhone apps about iPhone apps. These apps range from sharing apps with friends, recommendations, and even providing insight into the App Store. Many of these apps are trying to compensate for features missing in iTunes, the App Store, and to a lesser extent the iPhone itself.

Now, if the prediction of 300,000 iPhone apps by the end of 2010 is true, the problem of discovery and app management is only going to be exacerbated. That’s going to make users and developers frustrated, with Apple working around the clock to try to please both parties. Thus, I believe the best way for Apple to begin improving the App Store in 2010 is by learning from these different categories of iPhone apps about iPhone apps. While it may seem like I’m selling these developers out to Apple, what I actually would recommend to Apple is to buy the apps, assets, and the developers themselves because these issues are big problems to solve.

App Wish Lists

From my experience, people are still relatively stingy when it comes to buying apps on the App Store. The latest data I saw from AdMobs was that those who purchase apps are buying about $9 worth of them per month. That data is a little stale but if it holds approximately the same today, that means there is an increasingly larger amount of inventory with a similar or smaller demand (assuming the economy is affecting spending habits).

Apple has a way to help with this issue in iTunes through its wish list. Yes, there is a wish list in iTunes but it’s extremely buried. In addition, the wish list is not accessible on the device itself. Adding the wish list there would make it easier for the frugal conscious and many others to quickly make their purchases when they are ready to do so.

App Sharing

Any time friends get an iPhone or iPod Touch, the first question they ask is, “What apps should I get?” Appsfire and Chorus are two apps that help solve these problems. They each provide desktop software that indexes all iPhone apps in a person’s iTunes library with the goal of helping tell friends about these apps. Of course, Apple already has this type of information. So, the main functionality they would need to build is an interface for selecting what apps to recommend.

Appsfire provides a way to showcase these apps to friends online (e.g., here were my “must have” apps back in Sept. ’09). Chorus focuses more on using these apps to make recommendations around the apps friends are buying, which leads to the next topic.

App Recommendations

The Genius function turned on in the OS 3.1 began providing recommendations based on past download history. As noted above though, people aren’t buying many paid apps.

Apps like Appsaurus and Appolicious provide additional ways of app discovery. Appsaurus is particularly interesting because its recommendation engine “evolves” as users continue to indicate apps that they like. Appolicious is less automated and the recommendations are based more around friends’ preferences and the reviews on their flagship site.

App (Store) Insight

Want to pick up an app when it’s on sale or reaches a certain price point? Then download Bargain Bin or PandoraBox. Bargain Bin even provides push alerts. Apple could tie features like this one directly to a user’s wish list.

As a bonus, on the developer side, keep an eye on PositionApp, which is going to provide information about changing app positions.

App Organization

Since the iPhone’s release, app management and organization have come a long way. But these features must keep pace with the growing number of apps in the store and on users’ devices.

Having used several jailbroken apps like Categories and PogoPlank, I can write that in general, Apple’s approach is smart and intuitive. But allowing screens to only be located to the left or right of each other is limiting. Let screens act more like Spaces, where they could be up, down, left, or right.

There’s also only a sense of SpringBoard organization if it is explicitly defined by the user. Why not offer some sort of automatic categorization or grouping of apps such as alphabetical, last purchased, or by the category (since Apple knows that)? Why not provide similar functionality to AppButler, which offers labels and dividers that the user can leverage to help organize his apps?

Pushing the iPhone Forward

A quick note on the iPhone itself. The Nexus One has spurred heated debate with some believing it to be awesome and others saying it’s not ready for primetime. Regardless of those positions, I’m extremely glad for its presence and for the competition.

The Nexus One should make Apple uncomfortable and looking to further innovate. While I’m sure there are some good things (or at least many of us hope there are) for the next version of the iPhone OS, Apple needs to expand its horizons. An obvious place to look is the jailbreak community.

There are some really impressive apps and tweaks improving core iPhone functionality. Go search for iRealQuickSMS (instantly reply to SMS without opening the SMS app), Action Menu (copy / paste on steroids), and SBSettings (easily toggle network connectivity and other common options). These are just some of the more common and popular jailbreak apps and there’s many more from which Apple can learn. If I were Apple, I’d hunt these developers down and offer them jobs.