The App Store revolutionized software, creating a safer, more unified, more convenient way to get apps onto our devices. So what needs to be revolutionized about the App Store?
Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, has just been put in complete charge of the App Stores—iOS, OS X, watchOS, and tvOS. That's led to some hope, especially among indie developers, that longstanding issues might get the attention and address the deserve. Yet the App Stores are complicated beasts.
Prior to the App Store, anyone who wanted to get software—and it really wasn't that many people—had to hunt around the web, open accounts on a variety of sites, figure out how to install and uninstall, and be willing to pay dozens of dollars for even the most basic of apps—$40 sticky notes for Treo, I'm looking at you.
The App Store made software awareness, discovery, purchase, installation, and deletion so easy that almost everyone now does it. But it's also led to an environment apps can be lost among the sea of software, and people don't want to pay much if anything even when they do find them, making sustainable businesses tough for anything other than a top casino-style game.
I've already written about the sum of all compromises that has led us to both the heights and depths we're at now, why the Mac App Store lags so far behind the iOS App Store, and how I think a dedicated VP of App Store might be needed to really give the App Store the attention it needs.
Now I'd like to turn it over to you, our community. For developers and customers both, if Phil Schiller asked you what changes you'd like to see in the App Stores for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Watch, and TV, what would you tell him?
- Appoint a dedicated VP for App Store.
- Appoint a dedicated Director for Mac App Store.
- Bring Mac App Store up to parity with iOS App Store.
- Enable trial/demo periods.
- Allow for upgrade pricing.
- Obliterate Top Charts.
- Create a premium store/put freemium in a separate category.
- Build a social or Apple Music-style recommendation engine and enable shareable app "playlists".
- Improve App Store search with automatic widening, nearest neighbor, etc.
- Enable purchases via iTunes Preview on the web.
- Enable cross-platform purchases (i.e. link to, search for, and buy tvOS apps on iPhone or Mac).
- Allow developers to respond to reviews.
- Commit to 24-48 hour turn-around for app review.
- Provide a secondary, more communicative track for any app that causes concern.
Some of these might sound obvious and even easy. Each one, however, will need to be carefully considered.
To break out just one by way of example—how do you handle trials? How long should the period be? Should it be consistent so customers don't even have to think about how long they have, or should it be set by developers to suit apps that might be critical but only used once? Should the period be absolute or relative, so once you open the app you're immediately on a timer, or you're only timed while actually using the app? What happens if the period expires, you don't buy, but then you re-download the app a month or a year later? Do you get no repeat trial, a shorter repeat trial, or a new trial altogether?
What happens to customer data when the period expires and no purchase is made? Should the customer lose the data because they didn't pay, or should developers have to provide an export mechanism? Should Apple pay developers a fee during the trial period so they're compensated for their work, or should developers contribute some time with their app the way Apple contributes the infrastructure to enable it? If you download a trial through an affiliate link, then go through another affiliate link before buying, who gets the credit? The considerations, while not endless, are involved.
Other platforms have been doing some of these things, in some cases learning and evolving through them, for years. There may not be a need to start from scratch. Yet the implementation details will always need to be well planned, and execution is always more challenging than idea.
But there are incredibly smart, incredibly good people in App Store. Despite some long standing gripes, there's also an incredible history of excellence and success. The App Store has done a lot right. And now, with one senior vice president on top and a unified team throughout, there's every opportunity to nail even more of it.
So, once again, if Phil Schiller came to you and asked you what you would change about the App Store, what would you tell him, and how would you like to see it done?
Special thanks to David Barnard. Originally published in June. Updated following App Store reorganization.