Curing iPhone Apps Overload

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I read an interesting article yesterday in the New York Times. The main crux of it was that despite over 140,000 apps in the App Store, the majority of iPhone users generally stick to 5 or 10 applications they like. They equate it to cable TV subscribers who have hundreds of channel choices and end up watching the same line up.

Although the Times article tended to draw the conclusion that the phenomenon revolved around people’s tendency to stick with what they know, I would also suggest another element at work. It’s long been known that discovery is one of the shortcomings of the App Store. Despite many of the efforts to improve the situation, finding applications can sometimes be a hit and miss operation. The number of iPhone recommendation applications is a testament to that. So how could discovery be improved? I would suggest two ways.

The first would be to create discovery categories that aren’t based on either downloads or earnings. The Top 25 category is merely based on popularity (downloads) and I haven’t ever really figured out the demographics for the Featured categories. The addition of Genius capabilities was a good start but personally Genius doesn’t seem very . . . smart . . . to me. If Apple could figure out a way to suggest applications to me based on an aggregate of what I own versus just a one-to-one comparison, that would be a good enhancement. Showing an intersection between popular apps and the categories I own would be interesting too.

The second would be to add a social element to the feedback system. Currently the five star rating system is notorious for its ability to be gamed. Since anyone can leave a rating for any application it should come as little surprise that a less than reputable developer might do a little astroturfing for their own application. Instead of a five star feedback system I would suggest more of a Digg-style interface. Applications could be “dug” up and down much like items are on that popular web site. One of the best things about Digg is its ability to expose otherwise unknown items around the web. If the same could be done for apps, it would surface and expose many more of the wonderful apps that would otherwise languish in obscurity.

The App Store is one of the major reasons the iPhone is winning the smartphone wars. Its also one of its bigger weaknesses. With the number of apps set to explode again with the introduction of the iPad, it’s time for Apple to shepherd discovery and recommendation from its infancy to adulthood.

What do you think? How could Apple improve the application discovery and recommendation process? Should they be content to leave it to third party apps or should they take the lead? Leave us a comment below.

By: Erin Peterson

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