An Argument for a More Selective App Store

How do you solve the problem of having too many ‘fart apps’ in your app store? If you are Apple the solution is to blanket ban any new ‘fart apps’, they also blanket banned any new radio apps the other week. I am all for it, in fact I think that perhaps Apple should be more restrictive in what they let in to the App store and what they let stay in the app store.

I like choices as much as everyone, but there is a difference between having great choices and letting everything in. The best way I can think about this is a Las Vegas buffet, these buffets are huge and normally offer just about every cuisine choice out there. 1 On paper this sounds great, something for everyone if you will, in reality though it is simply overwhelming. When you get to such a buffet two things happen: you know you can’t try them all, and you have no clue which ones to try. Usually you can add to that the fact that most of the dishes are just average tasting.

This is the exact problem Apple’s iOS App store and Android’s Market are facing right now – too many options, not enough quality. So how do you cut down on options? Does Apple decide which apps stay and which apps go? I think they should, but it would be asking for developers to raise all hell if they went that route.

What if we inject some democracy into the App Store though?

Perhaps any app with a 100+ ratings that does not make it above 2 stars is removed from the store. You are allowed to resubmit the app, but only after significant changes are made. Apple would then decide whether or not to let it back in. Would that be fair?

I would love the app store even more if there was less crap and more quality apps – I think everyone would. There will always be those odd cases where some really great sounding app can’t get in, but I think we have proven that if we are vocal enough Apple will, at the very least, hear us. Precisely the reason I think we should let Apple start removing some of the crappier apps from the store.

I think it would be great if Apple made an arbitrary cap and said only the 50 highest rated Radio apps will remain in the store. Then if a developer is about to be removed she has 7 days to get her ratings back up or she is gone. Let’s breed competition, it’s good for all.

This accomplishes two things that the app store needs:

  1. Give developers incentive to actively develop their app.
  2. Forces developers to innovate and not to just copy others.

Changes to Rating System

In order for any of this to work there needs to be some changes made to the rating system. First, developers need to be able to respond to reviews, either in the review stream (like how blog comments work/used to work) or via emailing that customer directly (perhaps using a masked email system through Apple). This will help to get rid of a lot of negative reviews due to what can only be called user stupidity (e.g. This app requires an online account that you have to pay for, even though it says that in the description – greedy bastards!).

Apple also would need to hold customers reviewing the apps to high standards. For instance: if you want to rate something below 3 stars you need to give a reason why. This could be accomplished via adding multiple choice type reasons (e.g. costs too much). Certain reasons when selected though would require more explanation, or action before you could leave that feedback – force reviewers to back up what they are saying when it is negative.

If you want to leave a 1-star rating because it crashed you can, but you must agree to allow Apple to let the developer contact you directly. If you want to leave a 1-star review because the price is too high, you need to write 10 words saying why you think it is too high.

A person should not be allowed to rate an app if the iOS device records that they have used it for less than some arbitrary amount of time (e.g. 15 minutes) and an app should be given a full 6 months to establish itself before it can be removed. If you just downloaded the app, used it for 5 seconds and then want to rate it – there is no way this should be allowed. If you allow this you might as well let people who have yet to install the apps rate them.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, each app shopper should be able to see what the person rating the app has rated other apps. Think about that for a second, would you care what Joe thought of this app if you see that he rates everything 5 stars, what about if he only rates things 1 star. Even better what if he only rates paid apps, to complain about the fact that they cost money? It would be nice to see what raters think of other apps, apps that perhaps you have already formed an opinion about.

The Exceptions

As with anything there needs to be some exceptions in the App store. First categories like games should have no limit to the amount allowed, instead just getting rid of the low rated apps. Same goes for other categories where no two apps really can be the same.

Twitter apps though would not fall under this rule, those should have a limit, as should fart apps and tip calculators. There is many exceptions that would need to be put in place, and contrary to the way Apple works right now, these rules need to be spelled out to developers.

The Goal

I want to stress that in doing this the idea is not to just rid the app store of crappy apps, instead the goal would be to change the app store from a place where finding good apps is like trying to find a needle in a haystack instead I want good apps to be staring you in the face. No, scratch that, good apps should be hitting you in the head.

I want to encourage both users and developers to raise their standards. I also want to force users to defend their ratings, and not allow developers who get crap into the app store to continue to pollute 2 the environment.

I chatted with a few people about this, the question I was most often asked is why. After reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Tab and using Android for an extended period of time it was evident that the biggest difference between iOS and Android is Apps. Android lacks any good apps on the platform, without such apps Android is going to struggle to gain the popularity and love that people show towards iOS devices. 3 I want iOS to shine because that is the platform that I use, the above argument though could easily be implemented with Android, changing the Android Market for the better.

More curation is not a bad thing for users, it is a great thing for users. For developers it is a cumbersome task, but if you succeed it will be well worth your effort. Think about it like baseball, there is a ton of kids who want to grow up to be in the Majors, these kids get cut down in drafts and minor leagues throughout the years. The minor leagues then get cut down to just a 25 man team in the Majors. What you see when you watch Major League Baseball is a carefully selected group of athletes, you don’t just see anyone who can swing a bat and throw a ball. 4

Do you have any idea how crappy going to a baseball game would be if just anybody was allowed to play 5 , let alone if minor leagues played against major leaguers. In fact that is what the iOS app store is like, minor league players mixed in with major league players – I vote we only allow major league players. 6 This also helps developers, a smaller pool of competition raises the rates you can charge, just look at some of the MLB salaries.

I am not trying to argue that we make the iOS app store so competitive and prohibitive that developers must raise the price of their apps in order to make it worth their while, a smaller selection means more sales for each developer (hopefully). What I want is an app store with consistently excellent quality through and through – I think we all want that.

  1. Not all of them, just a lot of them.
  2. For lack of a better word.
  3. Not talking about sales.
  4. Unless you were a Mariners fan this past season, God help us.
  5. Again M’s fans know this already.
  6. Android’s Market though is like letting anyone who can swing a bat play, truly.
Originally posted for members on: December 3, 2010
Follow along on RSS, App.net, or Twitter.
~I would appreciate it if you considered becoming a member.~