Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Something New

James Thomson:

The recent change to the iPhone App Store so that the listed release date of software is the date of initial submission—and not the date of the last update—seems to have had a very profound effect on our sales, and not in a good way. PCalc is now currently sitting on the 29th and last page of the Utilities section, since it was one of the very first apps submitted to the store, and that means it’s now effectively dead in the water.

Thomson is a longtime developer of great Mac software, and his recently updated PCalc is one of my favorite iPhone applications.

I think the App Store’s rigid interface is increasingly becoming a barrier for users. It’s hard to find which applications are new, to find the changes between versions, and to sift through the outdated and often inaccurate reviews. Amazon has become a convenient and reliable source of information, and it’s worth going to even if you plan to buy from another vendor. With the App Store, the situation is almost reversed, and I find that the less I rely it and iTunes, the better. I try to use a third-party feed, Twitter, and blogs to track changes to the store. When looking at an app, the first thing I do is go to its developer’s Web site. Then I search Google for reviews.

The bottom line is that, unless there’s a demo, it’s hard to know what you’re getting. There’s a lot of junk, some of it highly reviewed, so the odds are not in your favor. Since the prices are generally low, I haven’t been shy about buying apps that look promising. This looks to Apple like a success, but I wish I could return about 2/3 of my purchases. That said, I’ve not soured on the App Store because a bunch of the applications I’ve bought are fabulous.

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It would be great if you could list the applications you bought and would not return.

For me there are only 3 at the moment (in the order of purchase): OmniFocus, InstaPaper Pro, and PCalc.

Some of the non-free apps I’m glad I bought (in alphabetical order): Air Sharing, Crash Bandicoot Nitro, iFlix, Kiwi, MyWeather, OmniFocus, PCalc, Skizzle, Subway Shuffle.

I totally agree. Why isn't there an ability to create a demo version of apps? I think that would go a long way towards resolving this problem.

I've pretty much given up on trying to use the App Store to find anything of interest or quality. The few apps I have bought have been purely as a result of recommendation from blogs or reviews on sites like MacRumors, Daring Fireball and so on...

My biggest issue with the store itself is the lack of clarity on version histories, not just for the apps themselves but also for the reviews. There is no indication of which version of an application a review is directed at and even the descriptions of the applications don't always make it clear if changes have addressed criticism levelled at a previous version.

Add to this the appalling amount of crud in the store and the fact that it's not really much fun to browse (like you can with music or video) and it's frankly not worth the bother. It will be interesting to see how Google gets around this as it's becoming quite clear that Apple's experience selling digital music counts for nothing when it comes to selling software.

I predict that what will happen to the iPhone and iPod Touch market is what already happens in the general software market which is that developers have to promote their own apps themselves with a proper website. This obviously goes against Apple's assertion that the App Store does all the work so developers don't have to but unfortunately the reality of the store doesn't seem to be living up to hype.

@Jamie ... As a developer this is my experience as well. But the underlying date issue is one of the two biggies right now (along with poor "findability/browsing" issues that make finding the gems a pain).

I have a decent website (including good SEO, CSS usage etc) that promotes the games, have had five brilliant reviews of my latest (third) game on external, trusted websites, and yet because the date is listed as my original submission date (a week before it even hit the store) it's nowhere near the sales of the first two ... at all. It's not even listed as being "new" anymore despite only being in the store for little more than a week.

I agree that the review system needs reworking to include the version the review relates to (since a fixed and resubmitted app will often clear up any complaints from the initial version, if any), the "What's New functions need reworking etc.

But for me, that date thing is like James Thomson says, terribly implemented and affects sales in a very bad way, even for great apps.

My app too has fallen further and further into the depths of the App store. Sales are directly proportional to your positioning. This creates a bigger problem for both devs and users, as there is less incentive to create new versions / features. I cannot open my inbox without feature requests. I love to write software but at the end of the day this is a business and a stream of revenue is crucial.

My latest/best version so far was very well received by existing users, but new users were few and far between.

¡Ay, yai! I was not aware that the store had changed its date ordering. That definitely seems like a change for the worse, for consumers as well as developers.

It would of course be easy for them to compromise by adding a "Most Recently Updated" sort order to the pop-up, but that's the kind of thing I can easily see being vetoed for 'overcomplicating' the UI.

I agree that the entire store interface is too limiting. This seems like a great opportunity for someone to build a better 3rd party directory website with better browsing, review and recommendations, which would send you to the official app store only when you were ready to buy.

My biggest gripe with the App Store is that even if the author has provided a nice web site that includes more screenshots, videos, etc, if you're browsing the store on your iPhone, you can't click the link to view the developer's site in MobileSafari. You can't even expand the URL to write it down-- it gets cut off!

I have no way of making an informed decision about a purchase without going back to my computer and browsing the store from iTunes.

We need an for iPhone apps. Can desktop apps retrieve the application list (at least in library, if not installed) from iTunes?

I hope others have done what I did, complain to Apple via their feedback form.

The App Store needs upgrades to make buying apps better, especially finding them. It is almost impossible to find the latest and best apps. I get more information reading reviews elsewhere.

The paid apps I bought that were most worth it for me were Byline, TextGuru, Jaadu, Wurdle, NetShare (no longer available), Photogene, Where To?, Send Conact, and FTPOnTheGo. Not so many since I downloaded about 180 apps!

hans, it exists:


Did you try other file apps besides AirShare? I think I like DataCase better.

I think that Airshare, Motion Alarm and FS5 Hockey are all outstanding.

Motion Alarm has a particulary ingenious usage of the accelermeter.

Stephen: There are a bunch of Web sites like iusethis and VersionTracker, but so far none has been able to reach critical mass for reviews, in my opinion.

Tof: Yes, I’ve tried Air Sharing, DataCase, Files, FileMagnet, and MobileFinder. Air Sharing is by far my favorite, although DataCase comes in second.

App Store definitely lacks a trial mode, more than a return of disliked application.

The latter could be used for using applications for free.

The former could be an excellent reason for having a kill switch infrastructure that nobody otherwise uses. When the trial period has gone, I can pay or seeing the trial software go away.

This would save me even the hassle of personally deleting disliked apps.

lux: Yes, exactly: people have (rightly) been talking mostly about how Apple might abuse its powers, but they could also be used for good purposes, like an infrastructure for trials. Imagine: every app automatically runs for a while as a trial, the user doesn’t have to bother with serial numbers, and the developer doesn’t have to worry about anyone (except jailbreakers) cheating.

Everyone says "hey the App Store needs to work more like a warehouse", then when it becomes more like a warehouse, everyone says "waaah, now it's like a warehouse, fix it!"

I don't know how you could realistically expect the App Store to just be this standalone thing, where the previous dynamics of marketing and word of mouth would not apply.

George: The “everyone” I hear wanted the App Store to not be the sole source for iPhone software. Were that the case, applications wouldn’t be censored, and at the same time Apple could be more selective about what to sell in its store, just as with its retail stores. I do agree about the unrealistic expectations, however. A bunch of us said that this is what would happen, while others seemed to believe that Apple would take care of everything but the actual development work.

FWIW, you CAN return an app (well, get a refund). It isn't well publicized, but if you use iTunes to view your account details, purchase history, then "Report a Problem", you can get your money back. I've had about three people return FatWatch since I started selling it, according to my reports from Apple.

Benjamin Ragheb: I tried that in order to get a refund for an app that bricked my phone three times, and I never got a response from Apple. I also tried to return a game that looked good but that I could tell 30 seconds after launching wasn’t going to be any fun: also no response. I don’t deny that some people have gotten refunds, but for practical purposes I don’t think they really exist.

As of Tue Oct, 14 there are several app updates on the 1st page of the Utilities Category when sorted by Release date.

I'm fairly certain of this because apps like Luminaire and Clinometer are old apps and they have Oct 14 and Oct 13 as their Release date.

Did something change recently?

I also have AirSharing (which I count as a free app since I got it for free), and Kiwi (which I have not yet the chance to use).

About AirSharing: be careful with the size of the file names. I had to do a full restore of my iPhone because of it. See this forum post on their site for more information about it:,2346

It's basically an Apple bug but it's still frustrating...

Alan Schmitt: Wow. Mac OS X actually has a similar limitation; it’s just that 1024 byte paths are less common.

I haven't been able to read all the comments here, but I'll chime in. The problem with the iPhone app store is the same problem that exists with every other platform-app-store, especially those on Facebook, MySpace, Nintendo Wii, etc. It's just a big list, with a few drill-downs, and *maybe* a search bar. No one is thinking about making the finding process easier, and there are a couple of reasons for that:

- carelessness
- stupidity
- greed

I'm going to bet that it's greed, because these platform owners (whether it's Apple, Facebook, Nintendo, etc) want people to pay for promotion, whether that's a featured spot on iTunes, or on the MySpace apps page, or in the weekly email update that goes out to Nintendo subscribers. And people will pay, because it's the difference between getting some customers or no customers at all. In order for independent developers to survive when they can't dump a load of cash to get distribution, they have to come up with other methods of getting their products out there, be it sharing traffic, submitting their products to be reviewed on review sites, or just classic virality & word of mouth. That's about as much as anyone can do, because these platforms never change; they offer a lot of traffic in the first couple months to those select early-comers, and then they become saturated and it becomes damn hard to get the same level of success.

I have the same complaints as you all, and...

There are so many good things about the app. store, or else all of us wouldn't be using it.

If you look at the history of the handheld computer (Sharp Wizard, Palm Pilot, Psion) it's easy to see what a huge breakthrough the iPhone and the store are.

The problems will be solved as the store evolves, it's only been open for a few months. Jobs said he has "never seen this" with regards to the amount of apps sold.

Regarding all the crap; unfortunately we are all getting skilled at being able to discern the good apps amid all the crap. And using hard won techniques for judging the quality and support of apps. It's the less saavy and the new users of the store who are going to miss out on the truly good stuff.

Yes we need a kick-ass central repository for reviews/advertisements (as developers begin spending money to promote their products) etc. It will happen as the store matures, I have faith.

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