Most Apple users agree that iTunes needs a makeover. But one part of the iTunes Store more than all the rest fails to live up to Apple’s “simple & intuitive” credo: the App Store. Here are 10 things about the App Store that just drive me bonkers.
1. The App Store doesn’t belong in iTunes.
Apple first picked that moniker when they launched their digital music store a decade ago. Since then, the iTunes Store has grown to encompass movies, TV shows, books, and yes, apps. So why is it still called “iTunes”? Better yet, why isn’t the App Store a store unto itself? We have a solo Mac App Store. Why not a Mobile App Store?
2. The iTunes Store user interface works well enough for music, but for apps it sucks.
Its sloppy product pages fly in the face of every design principle Apple usually exemplifies. Perfect example: iTunes does a terrible job of making it clear what minimum hardware specs are needed to run its apps. The fine print where these specs are displayed is so microscopic that most app developers have to put things like, “WORKS WITH IPAD 2 ONLY!!” in all-caps so that iPad 1 owners don’t make the mistake of buying something they can’t run. Which means that lots of older-gen iDevice owners have bought those apps by mistake.
The problem is that the App pages are simply too busy. Where’s the elegance, the simplicity that Apple usually does so well? It’s not that the information iTunes provides about apps is all that bad (though it could use some serious refinement). The problem is that it’s presented in a counter-intuitive design. (It’s not as bad as the likes of Amazon’s product pages, which are so bloated with information they’ve been known to cause spontaneous brain explosions.) It’s hard to believe the exacting Steve Jobs ever signed off on this design template. It may have looked okay in the beginning, but one size does not fit all.
3. The App Store’s design makes it hard to discover the best apps.
For every great app, there are five terrible ones. But that still leaves thousands of quality apps that rarely see the light of day. Only the apps that Apple chooses to highlight on iTunes’ front page or one of the category pages stand a real chance of making it big. But those front pages can only display so much, so loads of the good stuff gets lost among the noise. There has to be a better way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Which brings up a huge gripe…
4. iTunes search is the worst possible way of discovering apps, when it should be the best and most powerful way.
This is such a huge issue, I don’t know where to begin… Let’s start with the filtering options. Or rather, the utter lack of them. You can’t filter search results by user ratings, by language, or even by device versions (i.e., iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, etc.). These would all be extremely useful, but the only filters we get — and you have to hunt for the “Power Search” option to access them — are “Title/Keyword,” “Developer Name,” “Category,” and “Device Compatibility” (which limits its queries to the very generic “iPad,” “iPhone,” and “iPod Touch”). These are redundant since Apple already provides pages that list apps by developer name, category, device, etc.
Search is also painfully lacking in anything resembling finesse. Searching from a specific part of iTunes — like the App Store, for example — does not give priority to search results from that section. Example: Navigate to the App Store, and search for something. I have two kids, so I’ll search for “spelling” for apps to help them learn. The search results I get show music first (I assume because music is still iTunes’ biggest selling item), and then the app results. And then all the other stuff — books, audio books, podcasts, TV shows, and so on. Why not just show me the results I was looking for, from the part of the store I was already in?
It also doesn’t tell you know how many apps your search has turned up. Nor does it tell you how many pages results there are; it just starts on page 1 and lets you move forward into the great unknown. And then there are the results themselves, presented as huge grids of icons. Beside the icons you get a minimum of information: the app’s name, its category, the date it was released or last updated, and its price. In other words, you learn absolutely nothing about what an app does, how it functions, what it looks like, or if it in any way will suit your needs. You’re left with the worst sort of “judging a book by its cover” imagineable, because you have to judge an app based on nothing but a 75px by 75px icon.
These aren’t proper search results — not even close. Apple, we expect better from you.
5. The App Store has a terrible time remembering your preferences.
Say you look at “All Finance iPad Apps.” In the top right corner, you can see that the default method of sorting is by “Release Date,” but you can change this to sort the apps alphabetically by name. Once you change the sorting order, click on any app on the list to go to that app’s page. When you click the “back” button (top left corner), you go back to the Finance apps list, but it’s reverted to the default “Release Date” order. Why should I bother sorting my search results if iTunes can’t remember how I want them sorted?
This becomes extra tedious when you move past the first page of search results, because clicking the “back” button from an app always takes you back to the first page. It’s not just bothersome, it’s downright stupid.
6. Developers aren’t required to put their apps in the right Store categories. Not really.
Oh, I’m sure Apple has some heavy-handed guidelines about how apps are expected to be submitted to the category where they truly belong. They probably even list some terrible consequences of sending your apps to the wrong categories. And maybe there are loads of cases that we never find out about, where Apple catches the really blatant policy violators.
But you wouldn’t believe how many apps I see popping up in the wrong categories. There are loads of Games that are wrongly categorized as Entertainment apps, for example. And that’s just one example. Already, it’s incredibly hard to find the best apps, and now we can’t even trust one of the more powerful filters (categories) to always be accurate. Regardless of whether developers do it by mistake or with some malicious intent… I can’t imagine why Apple lets them get away with it. And speaking of what Apple does and does not approve…
7. Apple’s review and approval procedures are so subjective, they’re all but useless.
Supposedly, a team of Apple workers review all app submissions for quality control, but often their approvals and rejections are awfully arbitrary, with more heavy-handed, entirely subjective control, and not nearly enough concern about quality. How many times have you heard of a really useful app being rejected by Apple (or approved and then quickly yanked a few hours later), while piles of mindless drivel (stuff made based on popular trends, intentionally made to take advantage of consumers who aren’t savvy enough to know a scam when they see one) are allowed into the Store on a daily basis?
The approval procedures need a major overhaul, one based on objectivity and quality. You’ve probably heard the infamous story of how not so long ago, Apple revised their guidelines to tell devs that “we don’t need anymore fart apps.” So why are they okay with never-ending Angry Birds clones?
8. Multitouch gestures confuse iTunes.
The iTunes software seems to be built partially on Safari technology, because when Safari was given multitouch gestures with the advent of OS X Lion, iTunes got them too. Sounds okay in theory, but it’s horrible in practice. Swiping to go back a page or forward a page is fine I guess; the problem is that there’s another use in the App Store for horizontal swiping: viewing screenshots.
Say you’re on an app’s page, checking out the details, and you scroll down to the screenshots. You’ve always been able to two-finger-swipe left and right to scroll through screenshots. So why does Apple allow “forward” and “backward” to be mapped to those exact same gestures? iTunes can’t tell the difference between a swipe to scroll through screenshots and a “back” or “forward” navigation swipe, and trying to do one and getting the result of the other is just maddening.
9. Curated content is only updated once a week.
This may seem like a little thing to you, but spending as much time as I do looking through apps (it comes with the job), I find it incredible that Apple only changes its selection of highlighted apps once a week. Modern Internet users are accustomed to visiting blogs, news agencies, ezines, and even plain old webpages that are constantly in flux. We expect to find new content every single time we visit a website. If I visit a website twice in two days and find that it hasn’t been updated with anything new, I don’t have much reason to keep coming back.
Apple, on the other hand, is content to change the front page of the App Store weekly. That’s one time every seven days (it usually happens around 4:pm EST on Thursday, fyi). App Store metrics (tracked independently of Apple based on app’s published release dates) tell us that on average, about 500 new apps are added to the App Store every single day. Five. Hundred. Even if only 10% of those apps are worthy of consumers’ attention, that’s 50 new apps a day — 350 a week — competing for our attention among Apple’s “New and Noteworthy” front page list. On the main front page, Apple usually selects between 20 and 40 apps to highlight once a week, and at least half of them aren’t even new! They’re “recently updated” or leftover new apps that were listed before the current week.
The numbers don’t lie. We’re missing out on finding out about a ton of the latest and greatest apps. And surely Apple, with all its money and resources, could easily do something about this. An easy and obvious fix would be for Apple to update its curated lists daily instead of weekly. Personally, I’d love to see iTunes’ front and hub pages switched to something more akin to a blog format, where great new apps are highlighted on the App Store’s front page by Apple staff members as soon as those apps are released — not just daily, but up-to-the-minute.
10. The iTunes web interface isn’t made for browsing.
Right now, iTunes’ web interface is limited to individual product pages. Nothing else. No home page, no search, no category lists or lists of any kind, and no navigation from app to app. Click on any link on an iTunes product web page and it forces open your copy of the iTunes software itself.
Yet another area where iTunes either drops the ball — or is intentionally ignoring it.
What do you hate about the App Store? Share your gripes in the comments area below.