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Why is it still so difficult for App Stores to get it right?

Whether you’re creating apps for Apple, Android, Getjar or PlayNow Arena (I bet you haven’t thought about those two!) it seems to me that there’s still so much for the app stores to get right. App Stores go back to the turn of the millennium with Handmark’s store for Palm devices, today there are 7 OS native app stores and countless third party stores, yet it seems only Android and Apple get a look in. Perhaps it’s because they’re currently the cream of the crop of smartphone operating platforms or it’s the ease of downloading the associated applications, whatever it is, the other app stores have much to learn. Below are a few of the areas I’d address in creating an app store that developers want to distribute through and users want to download from:

Visual Presentation

Perhaps one for users, but a professional, cool looking app store both on the handset and web with an equally slick user interface that really addresses the users journey through to app download is a must to bring the masses to its door.

Robust, easy to use developer programme

One for developers. Nokia learnt the hard way with this one. It was very difficult back before the launch of the Ovi Store to find information on how to develop for Symbian, there were no tutorials or ‘hello world’ apps to practise with or snippets of code * that just worked * to drop in your app. As a result people stayed away, it took real commitment and stamina to see it through to the final app. Creating a useful, educational, informative developer programme will help encourage devs to your door and even encourage the innovation for the next killer app.

Flexible payment mechanisms

Making it easy for developers to get paid by users and for users to have flexible options to pay developers will encourage both parties to your app store. Whether this is easily set up subscriptions, preloading credits, one off payments (for physical goods anyone?), or in-app digital sales, its imperative that as app stores enable content to move beyond buying upgradable armour or a games next 10 levels. Innovation in content will / is being stifled without being able to pay for it accordingly and this will only lead to the best apps going elsewhere along with their customers.

Searchable inventory

There’s nothing so disheartening for a developer than to see their app get into the top 100 (if your lucky) due to prominent positioning in the ‘New’ section for a week yet because they only got to position 21 they’re below the fold on handset and computer where they’re almost immediately forgotten and left to disappear into the wilderness. It’s also why those that get into the top 20 tend to stay there. App stores need to introduce considerably better searchability; personalised recommendation engines can’t be that hard to build or buy (well done Apple with Genius), surely integration with Facebook shouldn’t be hard so friends can recommend apps or add ‘Like this’ recommendations… Get this right and developers will know that while 99.99% of their apps will be part of the long tail, there is still hope that someone will buy their app after the first two weeks…

Doing these things well, as well as looking to the future and innovating new ways to enable developers to create / deliver apps and users to access them easily through their handsets and website should see greater competition / innovation in the app market place and greater choice for users.

2 replies on “Why is it still so difficult for App Stores to get it right?”

Funny you should praise Android Market and talk about visual presentation in the same post. The Android Market recently got a facelift, which was automatically pushed out to most devices, and it’s a GIANT leap backwards in terms of visual presentation and usability. There is a MONSTROUS snot-green banner across the top of the app now, taking up 1/3 of the display area (nearly 2/3 in landscape mode). What’s worse, each app’s page was truncated, now requiring you to click a tiny ‘More’ button to read the full description (which often contains the all-important changelog for updated apps). I hate it, but there’s no way to permanently revert to the old market (you can revert, but it’ll just automatically upgrade you again eventually).

One of the key things for me as someone who uploaded and published apps to all the above stores, plus BlackBerry App World etc, is that every app store has a different process, different requirements, and generally makes it as much of a pain as possible to use a specific store.
While I know it may not seem in the interests of one app store to make it easy for someone to cross-publish, the actual result is that you end up wondering whether it’s worth the time and effort to resize all the images, rewrite all the descriptions, etc, etc. If some of the smaller app stores standardised things such as description texts and images boxes, it’d make life a lot easier and encourage people to upload to them all…

The other issue is one that’s true in a lot of software – all the usability and presentation efforts are consumer facing. Not so much of an issue in CMS software, but when you’re dealing with developers as ‘consumers’ of your app store, the fact that quite often bits are broken or completely counter-intuitive is another pain which then means people lose interest in your app store…

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