Just A Big Popularity Contest

With every positive thing Apple does, there’s always something else that seems to annoy me. Just installed the 2.2 OS which is great, and have also been playing around with the new phone version of the App Store. Some interesting changes, but not all good from a developer perspective.

The main thing I noticed was that in the updated “Categories” view, there’s now a new switch at the top to sort apps in that category by “Top Paid”, “Top Free”, or “Release Date”.

Previously, categories were only sorted by release date, but now the default view for a category is to show off the top paid apps. And if you set the category to list by release date, it will forget that setting the next time you go back into the store, and present you with the top paid apps again.

What does this mean? Well, on the phone at least, it means that most people when they go into a particular category will first see the top 25 paid apps, and then will probably look at the top 25 free apps. Possibly they’ll look at the new stuff, but it’s no longer the first (and only) thing they’ll see. So, if you have a brand new release or an update, there’s less opportunity for people to see it. Which is of course not going to be good for your sales or indeed you chances of ever getting into that elusive top 25 club…

Ok, James, but how is giving the user more control over what they see in the store a bad thing? You were only just complaining about that last week. Make your mind up.

Well, part of the problem with the store at the moment in my opinion is the strong emphasis on the top selling apps. It’s like an echo chamber – the top selling apps are prominently displayed in the store, so they sell very well. If you’re not a best seller, then you get relegated to the dark corners of the store and thus don’t sell very well. That’s some catch, that Catch-22.

Something like PCalc which is pretty specialist – calculators just aren’t sexy I’m afraid – isn’t ever going to make it into the top 25 bestseller list for a big undefined category like “Utilities”, so will have a hard time getting noticed if that’s the focus. Of course, if you actually made a separate “Calculators” category, it would probably be close to the top.

In iTunes, the default category view is still by release date, and the other options are for “Most Popular” and “Name”. I do wonder if the new category sorting options are due to appear in iTunes too. It would make sense for the two stores to be consistent. But if they do, then I think the “Availability Trick” isn’t going to be worth much, as people just aren’t going to see what’s new anyway unless they actively go looking for it.

I’m sure this is perfectly normal retail economics, and I wouldn’t actually be complaining if I was actually in the top 25, being featured by Apple in commercials, keynotes, and their new iPhone Your Life site. But I’m not, so I am.

I want a store sorted by quality, not by popularity. Is that so hard?

Author: James Thomson

Indie iOS / Mac developer, maker of PCalc and DragThing. Occasional writer, conference speaker, and podcast pundit.

4 thoughts on “Just A Big Popularity Contest”

  1. > I want a store sorted by quality, not by popularity. Is that so hard?

    Actually, it is!

    What you complain about is the lack of editorial content around the store. Traditional Mac news, opinion and discussion sources that help to identify “quality” apps don’t seem to work as well for the iPhone as they do for the so called Indie-developers scene. Right now, with its commercials and “iPhone your life” features, Apple is the leading editorial content provider for iPhone apps. And they’re not much at liberty to do a lot of real editorial work. I have no idea whether PC-using iPhone owners, whom I presume are the majority, flock to, say, Macworld or Daring Fireball (I guess that’s why you added this little platform poll on your blog…). I would not expect them too, though.

    What the mood and the style of iPhone-dedicated sources might be, and whether those would favor quality over, say, shallow coolness, we don’t yet know either.

    What could work, then? What you seem to be calling for is a store-in-a-store experience, where only a few select apps from the main store would appear. I’m only formulating thoughts here, but one could imagine some Apple-provided API to create online subsets of the main store.

    But don’t fret: Apple will no doubt recognize and solve the problem… once quality devs start dying out of hunger and leave the store devoid of anything save free junk. Seriously, a quality storefront is in their interest too, and that’s what they are aiming for. Meaning they won’t try yet to ensure quality gets noted beyond the front.

  2. I’m conflicted about this. On one hand, as a user it makes the App Store more polished (generally better apps float to the top now). But as you point out, it’s getting harder and harder to introduce a successful new app, no matter how much effort is put into getting the details right.

  3. I think you could do a lot just by allowing customers to sort by rating, but still I think you could define “quality” outside of actual editorial. If something has 50+ five star reviews, it’s probably “better” (for some definition of better) than something with one five star review, or 50+ one star reviews. All three products could have sold the same number of copies.

Comments are closed.