Developing Perspective

#175: Towards a Better App Store: Part 1


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing

00:00:04   news of known tonight's development, Apple and the like. I'm your host, David Smith.

00:00:08   I'm an independent iOS developer based in Herna, Virginia. This is show number 175.

00:00:12   And today is Thursday, February 27th. Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes.

00:00:17   So let's get started. All right, today I'm going to start a series, I suppose, is probably the best

00:00:22   way to describe it. I originally had sat down to plan out and record today's episode. And kind of

00:00:29   had thought that this would all fit into one episode

00:00:31   and quickly discovered that there's

00:00:33   no way that this topic could fit into 15 minutes.

00:00:36   And that topic is trying to unpack

00:00:39   what would be involved in making a better app store, making

00:00:43   a sort of the ideal app store.

00:00:46   What would that look like, practically?

00:00:49   It's something that I know myself included,

00:00:51   developers, we love to complain about,

00:00:53   that there are all these problems and challenges

00:00:55   and things in the app store that we really don't like.

00:00:58   There are ways in which that we think it falls down,

00:01:01   ways in which that it doesn't serve us greatly,

00:01:04   that it doesn't serve our customers wonderfully.

00:01:06   There's a lot of things that we kind of tend to complain about.

00:01:08   But something that I was kind of calling myself on

00:01:11   is that I was heading to complain

00:01:14   without offering constructive criticism,

00:01:17   without thinking about practically, well,

00:01:19   what would that actually look like?

00:01:20   What would that mean?

00:01:21   What would a better app store be?

00:01:24   And unless I can answer that question,

00:01:27   it's entirely kind of unreasonable for me

00:01:30   to complain about it or to make observations that

00:01:32   are negative about it because it's like simply complaining

00:01:36   without really offering any type of practical, constructive

00:01:40   solutions is only sort of productive.

00:01:43   I'd rather be thoughtful and think

00:01:45   about, based on the experience I've had,

00:01:47   how would the apps world be better?

00:01:49   How could what we have now move into something that was better?

00:01:53   And honestly, this also got started

00:01:55   from what I've started to be thinking about,

00:01:57   maybe I'll build that.

00:01:58   Maybe I'll build a better app store.

00:02:00   Maybe I'll make a web app that is a better app store

00:02:02   industry, a better app catalog, and see where that goes.

00:02:06   See how hard this problem actually is.

00:02:08   And if anything, just to build some solidarity with the App

00:02:12   Store team, to understand the challenges and the problems

00:02:14   and the things that they're facing,

00:02:15   to realize how difficult that is-- because I'm sure it is

00:02:18   incredibly difficult to manage a million apps that are

00:02:21   constantly being updated, that are constantly

00:02:24   having new things thrown at it every day.

00:02:26   And as much as I feel like I understand the industry,

00:02:28   I doubt I even sort of--

00:02:31   I'm probably barely even breaking

00:02:32   the surface of how hard that is and how difficult a problem

00:02:34   this is.

00:02:35   And that's not necessary to announce something

00:02:36   that I'm going to be building.

00:02:37   It's just a thought that I've been thinking

00:02:39   about that drives to this point, to the series

00:02:42   that I was going to do.

00:02:44   I'm not really sure yet how many episodes it's going to be.

00:02:47   It'll certainly be more than probably two or three.

00:02:50   Essentially, what I'm going to try and do today

00:02:52   is to set up the goal, the problem, why I think

00:02:55   that we need a better app store.

00:02:57   And then I have a whole list of different areas

00:02:59   that I'll get to at the end of the show

00:03:01   that I hope to unpack specific recommendations,

00:03:03   specific areas that I think it could be better, ways

00:03:06   that I think the app store could be a better place,

00:03:09   to be a place where I feel like it lives up to its possibility,

00:03:15   maybe is the right way to say it.

00:03:17   So let's just sort of dive in.

00:03:19   So first, it's a little bit probably glib and kind

00:03:23   of arrogant to assume that the App Store needs fixing.

00:03:27   I'm sort of starting from that position,

00:03:29   but I understand completely that at the same time,

00:03:31   the App Store is probably the most successful marketplace

00:03:34   for selling software in history.

00:03:37   I guess the Google Play Store is probably

00:03:39   sort of either the neck and neck competitor to that.

00:03:42   But either way, these mobile app stores

00:03:47   have been tremendously successful.

00:03:49   And it's hard to keep track of the exact numbers,

00:03:51   but it seems like the iOS app store has probably

00:03:53   been 10 billion applications downloaded.

00:03:56   And that's a big number when you think

00:03:57   about the number of people that are on Earth.

00:04:00   It's kind of a crazy thing to imagine

00:04:02   how much they've been able to reduce friction and hassle

00:04:06   and encourage user trust and even just familiarity

00:04:11   that customers feel happy and encouraged and safe

00:04:17   when they go to the app store, they get an app,

00:04:19   and they put it on their phone.

00:04:21   It's a very different experience than I

00:04:23   think they would have had with software 10 years ago, where

00:04:26   it was perhaps a bit more of a scary thing.

00:04:28   It was much more fiddly.

00:04:30   It was much more risky.

00:04:31   The number of times they downloaded something

00:04:33   from the internet and things went horribly, horribly wrong,

00:04:37   this is a very different experience that they're now

00:04:39   comfortable with.

00:04:40   The number of people from young children to older folks who are now completely comfortable

00:04:47   going to the app store and just downloading an app and using it.

00:04:50   And they don't like it, they delete it.

00:04:51   And that experience is completely kind of revolutionary as an app developer, as someone

00:04:56   who makes software that now I have this huge customer base of people who I'm selling to.

00:05:03   And that's awesome.

00:05:04   I don't want to sort of underplay how amazing and impressive that is.

00:05:10   You know, when I say that I think the App Store could be better,

00:05:12   it's like the App Store is already doing kind of amazing things.

00:05:15   And it's important to kind of keep that in the back of our minds

00:05:18   as we think about how we could make it better.

00:05:20   Because what we wouldn't want to do is to take things that, you know,

00:05:26   things that have actually helped get it to where it is now

00:05:29   and remove them and in the process sort of kill the golden goose.

00:05:33   goose. You know, that's not what we want to do. The goal is to make it better, to take it from here

00:05:38   and to evolve it forward, not necessarily to kind of start from scratch or to be revolutionary in

00:05:44   that way. You know, it's a great thing that we have. And I just personally think it could be

00:05:49   better. And it's funny because in the App Store is something that I have a tremendous amount of

00:05:55   sort of genuine personal affection for. It is it is allowed me personally to do something that I

00:06:00   I wanted to do for a long time and never necessarily thought

00:06:04   was possible-- to be an independent app developer,

00:06:06   to make software just for myself,

00:06:10   to be that person who's sitting down in Xcode making an app

00:06:16   and putting it out into the world,

00:06:17   and being able to do that, and to be

00:06:19   able to make a sustainable living from that.

00:06:20   I mean, it's kind of remarkable.

00:06:23   But I think the App Store could be an even more special place.

00:06:27   And there's something I wrote a couple of weeks ago talking

00:06:30   about this was back with the whole app review prompt dialogues thing, but it was something

00:06:35   that I wrote that I want to quote again, which is a little funny quoting yourself, but this

00:06:39   is what I said. "I want to believe that the App Store is a special place. I want for it

00:06:43   to be the singularly best venues for customers to come and find innovative, well-designed

00:06:49   quality software, software that pushes the boundaries of what is possible and continually

00:06:53   amazes and delights its customers. I want for there to be an aspirational pull upwards

00:06:58   on my own development, I want to feel like I need to work extra hard to make sure my

00:07:01   apps meet the high standards my customers have been trained to expect."

00:07:06   And that paragraph that I wrote a couple weeks ago I think captures why the motivation behind

00:07:11   this, the series that I'm going to be unpacking over the next few weeks.

00:07:15   Because I think the App Store is so, it's like it's so close, but it's just not quite

00:07:20   there.

00:07:21   There's a lot of things that it does that, you know, kind of are counter to that goal,

00:07:25   for wanting the App Store to be a special place, for wanting it to be a place that is

00:07:28   training customers to expect high quality software, that is pulling, raising the bar

00:07:34   in terms of what developers need to do in order to shine in that marketplace.

00:07:39   And it's very hard to do.

00:07:41   It's not something that I think is straightforward or easy for Apple to do, but I think it's

00:07:46   possible.

00:07:47   And if I didn't think it was possible, this whole thing would be kind of pointless.

00:07:49   But I think it is possible.

00:07:50   And I think there's like just, you know, there's five or six areas that making relatively small

00:07:55   changes could really turn that around in a very impactful way and just provide that kind

00:08:02   of aspirational pull on developers and you know, that in the flip side, improving what

00:08:07   customers expectations are of their software.

00:08:10   And then same way I kind of think about how, you know, other industries where like, customers

00:08:16   You have a certain expectation for--

00:08:18   if you go to a blockbuster movie,

00:08:21   you have a certain expectation for how it's edited,

00:08:23   for how it's put together, for how you'd expect something

00:08:27   that's professionally done to be,

00:08:30   to have that level of quality.

00:08:31   You're not expected to have weird jump cuts

00:08:33   and strange edits or out of sync dialogue

00:08:37   or these types of things that would be kind of you're like,

00:08:40   what is this?

00:08:41   I paid $14 to go see this movie.

00:08:43   I expect it to be better.

00:08:45   And I want I'd love for there to be that same type of expectation about software for it

00:08:49   to be, you know, a professional art in that way.

00:08:53   And so we'll see.

00:08:56   So taking us to the next step logically sort of from that of kind of saying that I think

00:09:01   the App Store could be better.

00:09:03   And then I then I kind of thought started thinking, well, I need to have a goal, I need

00:09:06   to have a target with which to aim the rest of my analysis with which to aim the rest

00:09:11   of my kind of recommendations.

00:09:13   And I tried to boil it down as best I could.

00:09:15   And I hope this will kind of evolve over time

00:09:18   as I kind of work through this process.

00:09:19   But right now, the best definition

00:09:21   I have for what I mean when I say a better app store

00:09:24   is I want an app store that helps customers find quality

00:09:28   apps to fill their current need as quickly as possible.

00:09:32   And there's a couple of different parts to that.

00:09:34   I want to help people, help customers find quality apps.

00:09:37   So what does quality mean?

00:09:39   I want to help them fill their current need,

00:09:42   whatever that is, and as quickly as possible.

00:09:45   But generally speaking, this seems to kind of work.

00:09:47   What I'm trying to do is to say that I

00:09:49   want to help a customer to find the highest quality

00:09:52   app that fills whatever the reason they're

00:09:54   going to the app store is, whether that's

00:09:56   specific or general.

00:09:57   It could be that they have a very specific thing in mind.

00:10:01   They're looking for an app for an event.

00:10:03   They're looking to find the weather in a place

00:10:05   somewhere far away.

00:10:06   They're looking to keep a list of things

00:10:09   they need to buy at a grocery store.

00:10:11   They want to listen to an audio book.

00:10:12   They want to listen to a podcast.

00:10:13   They could have a very specific thing in mind,

00:10:16   or it could be general.

00:10:17   Their need, the reason they're going to the App Store,

00:10:20   it could just be that they're bored.

00:10:21   I do this myself.

00:10:22   I go to the App Store sometimes just because I'm bored,

00:10:25   and I want to find something to do.

00:10:27   Are there interesting apps that have come out recently?

00:10:30   What are my friends talking about?

00:10:31   What are, just in general, hey, I

00:10:34   have this cool smartphone that can have apps.

00:10:37   What apps should I put on there?

00:10:39   So whether that need is specific or general,

00:10:43   the goal of the App Store should be

00:10:45   to take that customer from when they launch the App Store

00:10:48   to when they feel satisfied with their experience

00:10:51   and compress that down as quickly as to as short a time

00:10:54   as possible so that they're not disappointed, confused,

00:10:58   they don't have any regret about the decisions they've made,

00:11:00   that they go to the App Store with a need, specific or

00:11:04   general, and very quickly find something

00:11:08   that meets or exceeds that need or that expectation.

00:11:12   So that's kind of at a high level,

00:11:15   kind of what I'm thinking.

00:11:16   That's the goal that I'm trying to drive towards.

00:11:18   And generally speaking, I think if the App Store were improved

00:11:21   in ways that accomplish that, it would

00:11:24   be a big boon to developers.

00:11:26   One thing that I did want to kind of address,

00:11:28   though, is that I think a lot of these discussions

00:11:30   about the App Store and making it better,

00:11:32   there's often this theoretical divide between good developers

00:11:36   and bad developers.

00:11:37   And I know that I've fallen into that stereotyping trap before.

00:11:41   But the more I think about it, that is likely not really

00:11:45   particularly constructive to try and somehow say that there's

00:11:49   this one group of developers-- of course,

00:11:51   the one that you're in-- who are the good developers, who

00:11:54   are the people that everyone should aspire towards and be.

00:11:57   And then this other group, oh no, we don't want to be them.

00:12:00   And that's not to say there aren't things

00:12:02   that I think are likely categorically undesirable,

00:12:04   things like copyright infringement or deceptive marketing or kind of very things that break

00:12:09   the law.

00:12:10   Like there are things that are obviously not what we want in the App Store, but it's very

00:12:15   hard I think to objectively define what a good app is and who a good developer is.

00:12:21   It's not something that I think we can drive towards from that angle.

00:12:26   The goal isn't necessarily to go into the flock and separate out the good sheep from

00:12:30   the bad sheep.

00:12:31   We're not-- that kind of an exercise to try and work on making the App Store better, I

00:12:36   don't think would be productive.

00:12:37   The goal is to look at the output, to look at what these developers are putting out,

00:12:42   and to find ways to differentiate that in the market itself, to help the market to define

00:12:49   what is quality, what is serving a purpose, what is meeting those expectations that these

00:12:55   customers are opening the App Store for.

00:12:59   And that, I think, is the goal.

00:13:02   That's the thing that I'm trying to drive towards.

00:13:03   And so I think focusing on the output, focusing on the thing that we can actually look at

00:13:11   is the more productive way, not necessarily to get into trying to determine an app developer's

00:13:15   motives, for example.

00:13:16   Like, are they making this app to make a quick buck?

00:13:19   Are they doing this to spam the app store?

00:13:21   Are they doing this because they're a quality artisan who's been sweating over the details

00:13:25   for the last two years?

00:13:27   That type of thing is, in some ways, kind of irrelevant to the end result.

00:13:32   It doesn't matter how long an app took to create so much as the quality of the experience

00:13:37   that that app can deliver.

00:13:39   So that's kind of where I'm starting from.

00:13:41   And I think it seems like it's productive and constructive.

00:13:44   I've been developing this out a little bit farther as I'll be addressing over the next

00:13:48   few weeks, and it seems like it helps.

00:13:50   It seems like it's a good way to think about this problem of making an app store that helps

00:13:55   customers fill their expectations as quickly as possible and to overall make that experience

00:14:01   better and better because what I want as an app developer is for customers to feel happy

00:14:05   and delighted every time they open the app store to come away with a wonderful experience.

00:14:11   So here are some of the problems that I think I'm going to unpack. This list may grow, expand.

00:14:15   If you have specific recommendations, I definitely want to hear them. But the kind of areas that

00:14:18   I think we could see a lot of improvement and they kind of break down into these seven

00:14:23   seven categories in terms of the catalog size, the business models that it encourages, search,

00:14:30   ratings and reviews, editorial in terms of featured and, you know, sort of, you know,

00:14:37   proactive editorial review of applications, the way the categories are structured and

00:14:42   set up and the effect that TopCharts has on it.

00:14:45   And I think unpacking those will have a big impact on making this better.

00:14:48   And that's it for today's show.

00:14:51   As always, if you have questions, comments, concerns, or complaints, I'm on Twitter @_DavidSmith,

00:14:55   David at DevelopingPerspective.com, and I look forward to this series.