App Store needs to step up it’s game

The bottom line on this review really doesn’t matter because we’re stuck with the App Store whether Apple improves it or not. That doesn’t mean we can’t hope, but right now the App Store:

  • Doesn’t allow us to review the store itself
  • Needs more search criteria
  • Needs to identify apps with hidden charges
  • Replaces your search strings with its own

In addition, I discuss the nature of fanaticism and hypocrisy, snark on Windows, and pass on urban legends as though they were the absolute truth.

I thought it was time to take on the mother of all iPad apps, the App Store. Apple created the App Store to strike the mother load for Apple iPad revenue. Every time you click “install” on an app, a percentage of the money you spend goes to Apple. The App Store is the iPad’s heartbeat and blood supply. Without it, you really wouldn’t want one, unless you were the most die hard of Apple fanatics (like me).

This means there needs to be a David to cast stones at this Goliath and I volunteer.

There’s just a little hypocrisy in the App Store’s relationship with Apple developers. Steve Jobs wrote an open letter criticizing Flash for making their developers pay licensing fees to distribute their products. But in my opinion the Flash developers have the better end of the deal. They pay once and they’re free of Adobe. Apple will have their hands in the developers’ pockets for the lifetime of the app.

Furthermore, Flash developers don’t have to get Adobe’s approval to distribute the app. The simply pay the license fee and then succeed or fail based on the quality of their product. Apple gets the final say as to whether or not an app even gets the chance.

This doesn’t mean I hate the App store or that I’m a negative person. I just believe that when you are the monopoly, someone has to throw stones so the developers will finally fix the glaring holes in the facade.

Let me state for the record that I am an Apple fanatic, all though I prefer the term “aficionado.” It sounds a tad less rabid. I didn’t used to be an Apple fanatic. When I made money as a designer I used both Windows and Mac computers because some of my clients hated Apple. And there were a few good things to say about Windows. I loved my Mac, but I kept my PC set up in its own apartment for me to visit when I felt the urge.

Then came Windows Vista and the attraction vanished. I still run XP when I need to in a virtual window on my MacBook Pro, but XP is feeling more and more dated.

Carol, who worked with Windows apps all day long—at least until the Republicans took over the Legislature and forced her into retirement—has no desire to return either. Apple is far more cat friendly than her PC ever was and it doesn’t crash every time she walks away to feed the cats or change litter boxes.

That being said, I don’t feel the need to say positive things about Apple or the App Store simply to appear objective or supportive. I get enough of that with overly sensitive students who need to be told they spelled their name right before I point out that they didn’t meet any of the objectives of the assignment. (Not to mention department heads who insist that, not only should I point out that they spelled their name right, they did a magnificent job of spelling their name right.)

When you’re the only player, like Apple, you don’t need to hear praise. You’re the only player. You need someone to remind you that being the only player is entirely different from playing your A game, or even your B game.

App Store not open to review

Mainly the App Store needs serious review because it is the only app that can’t be reviewed by users in the App Store review process.

No review for the App Store

Does this make sense to you? Any user who has an app crash on them can post a review claiming “this app crashed and that sucks,” (even if the app works fine for everyone else) but if they have a beef about the App Store itself, there’s no review process.

You can complain by email to the iTunes store, and they say they’ll get back to you in 48 hours. In my experience it’s more like three days or even longer. Most vendors have a 24 hour response time by comparison.

The response time on my latest inquiry has been three weeks with six emails exchanged and the problem still unresolved even after being handed off to a senior advisor. I received the most recent just before posting this blog. Essentially, it asked me to repeat information I had previously provided with no hint that there might be a solution forthcoming.

The email chain started after I spent several hours on the phone with the Apple Genius who then told me I would get a quicker, better response from the iTunes staff.

What is my problem? Ironically, the guy who reviews iPad apps daily in a blog can’t post reviews in the app store. I can only say nasty (or supportive) things about them in an obscure blog read mostly by We Rule players.

(Here’s a shout out to JustasIam for plugging my blog.)

No keyword search

Right now you can only search for apps by typing variations of possible app names, looking on the “featured” page, or looking by category. When there were only a hundred or so apps available, it wasn’t that hard to narrow down a search using Apple’s three categories.

Now that the number of apps has exploded almost exponentially, these three categories are no longer sufficient. I don’t want to look through three dozen screens of games, when I’m only interested in a narrow category of games, say baseball games, hidden object games or puzzle games.

The App Store needs to offer a keyword search as well as a name search. Instead of wading through all of the utilities or productivity tools, it would be so much more productive to type “notes,” “spreadsheet,” or “mileage.”

Free apps aren’t really free

When you first start searching the App Store you may easily become impressed with the number of free apps available. Beware. Most of these apps aren’t really free, they’re gateway apps to more expensive and addictive apps.

That’s right. Most free apps offer nothing more than a taste of the heroin, a hit on the crack pipe as it were. If you want more, you have to download the paid version of the app. Or the app pusher may be even more insidious. In order for the app to work you have to pony up hard earned dollars. The cool animation program may be free, but the animated characters cost $3.99 a set. If you want to raise the betting limits (or play more players) on your Texas Hold ‘Em game you have to buy into the casino.

And then there are games like We Rule, that can seduce you into emptying your bank account to buy mojo.

I’ve heard real horror stories, or at least urban legends, about people’s addiction to mojo. Carol told me that a friend told her about a cousin who knew somebody who spent tens of thousands of dollars on mojo to build their We Rule kingdom. I’m actually relieved to hear this. It makes me feel so much better about the hundreds I spent for mojo during their fourth of July fire sale.

I think Apple should require developers to tell users of any charges they will encounter in the app in the app description. Or, better yet, add categories to the price button such as “Demo app,” or “Free + fees.”

The App Store seems to be so sensitive to criticism that after I spent a good half hour typing this section on why apps aren’t really free, Pages erased the entire section.

I’m not kidding. I closed Pages to attend to a push notice from another app (okay, it was We Rule offering me more mojo for another $30) and when I returned the entire section was gone. Nothing else was gone, just this section.

So now, it seems, the App Store not only won’t let me review apps inside the store, it’s paid Pages to delete this review as well. (I fooled it though. After retyping, I cut and pasted this entire review into a Documents to Go Word document.)

No public guidelines for reviewers

When first responding to my inability to post reviews inside the App Store, the iTunes tech suggested I wait a few more days because the reviewers who decide whether a review could be posted might be lagging behind.

Since then I have asked in every correspondence what the review guidelines were. No one has provided me with any official public guidelines.

No one would deny Apple the right to kill a review that says, “______ your mother for your ________, _________ing application you _____ of ______ developers.” But it would be so nice to know if there are any other criteria.

The search field replaces your search string with its own

This is a major point of irritation. Whenever I enter a search string to find an app, the App Store replaces it with the full name of the app I choose to look at. This means I either have to retype the search string every time I want to look at other apps that might match (or at least remember to copy and paste).

Apple, if I type “browser” to search for browsers, and I see a list of six browsers from which I choose “browser4two,” I don’t need you to replace the search string with “browser4two.” If I can’t remember which app I wanted to see, I will recognize it when the search window opens to show me the description of “browser4two.”

Maybe you don’t mind erasing “browser4two” from the search field and retyping “browser,” but after I’ve done this six times, it gets a little wearying.

This should be an easy fix.

In the end, I know Apple is never going to allow reviews on the App Store, but they should improve the search process and notify users of additional charges in the price button.

Until they do, I think users who post reviews should snipe about these flaws in the reviews for apps as well. Maybe their reviewer will pass the message to Apple so he doesn’t have to keep reading all the complaints.

Jenny Manytoes rates the App Store

Jenny Manytoes thinks she needs to nap when I enter the App Store. She isn’t happy about this because she believes the app that’s the equivalent of the food supply should at least raise a purr.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad
iPad Envy.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in Apple Apps, iPad, Utilities and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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