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Don't worry, Apple has App Store curation under control


Jean-Louis Gassee's suggestion that Apple should abandon its App Store algorithms and rely instead on human curation entirely is well-intentioned, but flawed. It also ignores the tremendous amount of curation that already exists on the App Store today.

Gassee writes in part:

Instead of using algorithms to sort and promote the apps that you permit on your shelves, why not assign a small group of adepts to create and shepherd an App Store Guide, with sections such as Productivity, Photography, Education, and so on. Within each section, this team of respected but unnamed (and so "ungiftable") critics will review the best-in-class apps. Moreover, they'll offer seasoned opinions on must-have features, UI aesthetics, and tips and tricks. A weekly newsletter will identify notable new titles, respond to counter-opinions, perhaps present a developer profile, footnote the occasional errata and mea culpa...

There are a few points to tackle here.

For starters, with over 1.2 million apps currently residing in the App Store, tasking a team of employees, no matter how diligent, to comb through every category and sub category in an effort to find best-in-class apps would be a herculean effort. Ascertaining the utility of an app often requires, surprise surprise, that one devote a considerable amount of time using the app. Toying with an app for 5 minutes might be sufficient to produce a few cursory opinions, but asking Apple to attack the innumerable number of categories that currently populate the App Store and deliver human curated suggestions across the board would hardly be an efficient use of resources.

Second, a larger point is that iOS users aren't necessarily unhappy with the status quo. Frustrated developers and tech enthusiasts might look at the App Store's top lists and deduce that everything is a complete mess, with trashy apps often outselling higher quality offerings. On the other hand, it's important to remember that as with any gargantuan user base, the more popular items tend to skew towards the lowest common denominator -- which explains why an app like "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is currently a top 5 grossing app.

While it's unfortunate that there are a plethora of high-quality and thoughtfully developed apps which haven't garnered the attention or success they deserve, the dynamic of "overlooked quality" has existed for decades across many artistic mediums, from the music business to the TV business.

In short, critical taste does not necessarily equal mainstream appeal and I'm not quite sure it's Apple's responsibility to try and prove otherwise.

Which brings me to my third point: The App Store is a bustling marketplace like any other and, consequently, marketing one's app should be an integral part of the development process. Relying on Apple to get things done and hoping that they don't let any notable app pass them by is, to be blunt, rather foolish.

Fourth, Gassee ignores the increased level of curation Apple has already implemented. Relying exclusively on curation isn't necessarily the best strategy, and neither is relying exclusively on algorithms. Apple's current approach is a mixture of both. Given the astonishing and ever growing breadth of options on the App Store, I think they're doing a pretty good job.

For instance, here's how the App Store splash page looked last night.

Right off the bat we see that users aren't inundated with scores of apps from any and all developers. Rather, we see a layout crafted with careful consideration for end users.

To the left on the upper-most carousel, there's a section housing the best apps of July, right next a section devoted to indie games. And directly below are sections dedicated to the best new apps and best new games as determined by Apple's App Store editors.

Curation does exist! And it's helpful! But to a point.

Combining App Store curation with the Top Lists section provides users with the best of both worlds. Just as it's instructive and helpful to see what Apple's app store editors think I might like, it's just as helpful to see what Apple's 800 million strong iOS users are downloading.

And if we scroll down a bit, it's hard to ignore the curated sections staring me back in the face.

Clearly, there is already a heck of a lot of curation going on, and it's front and center to boot. Indeed, all the Top Lists that some developers curiously think should be tossed aside are located on the right-hand side, not quite prominently displayed.

Gassee writes, "The App Store may be a gold mine, but it's buried in an impenetrable jungle."

That hardly seems to be the case. If anything, Apple has made great improvements to make the App Store much more approachable.

Fifth, Gassee neglects to mention that Apple at WWDC 2014 announced a number of new App Store features designed to make the app browsing and shopping experience much more enjoyable.

A few of the upcoming enhancements we can look forward to include:

  • The ability for developers to include short preview videos of an app alongside the app description. This is a great way for users to make more informed purchasing decisions
  • The addition of an "Explore" tab on the mobile App Store that promises to make it easier for users to really drill down through the vast and extensive App Store catalog.
  • The addition of a "Trending Searches" section that, as the name implies, will enable users to see what apps are gathering interest even though they might be far from cracking Apple's vaunted Top Lists section.

There's of course even more Apple has planned for the App Store (TestFlight, app Family Sharing, and App Store bundles), but the underlying theme is clear: Apple isn't letting users go it alone on the App Store. Not only is curation alive and well, but Apple is also taking steps to make the overall experience more efficient for both end users and developers. Effectively managing a digital storefront with over 1.2 million titles is a challenging task, but I think Apple today is handling it as well as one might hope.

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