Under the Radar

Under the Radar 20: Improving the App Store, Part 2


  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never long within 30

  minutes so let's get started so last

  week we talked about kind of why Apple

  probably needs to improve the App Store

  in broad terms like you know challenging

  the the question of like does the after

  need to be improved and it's so like

  what kind of improvements might we see

  and last last week we talked in kind of

  high-level of mostly just like why why

  we think it really does need improvement

  why we aren't just like being selfish

  and serving our own needs as independent

  developers try and make the App Store

  more more beneficial for us you know I

  think we argued well that it we that

  Apple really should change it to benefit

  not only the developers but themselves

  and customers as well that I don't think

  the app store is as good as it can be I

  don't think we've learned nothing from

  it's eight years of existence that could

  inform you know directions it should try

  to take or changes that it should try to

  make and I and I don't think that the

  apps are as good as they can be for the

  customers that that result from the

  system that we have now you know I'd

  like I recalled when I was getting on a

  plane how I tried to download like a

  bunch of good games and they were

  actually pretty hard to find and there's

  so much on there that's just kind of

  crappy and and simple and simplistic and

  and even like outright hostile to users

  which is like you know shoving hands all

  over the place and tricking them into

  buying coins and everything and III

  think that there's there's clear

  evidence that the App Store not only can

  be made better but should be made better

  but the actual specifics of doing that I

  think are really tricky but I think we

  yeah you know we can think about it and

  have some ideas like we've the nice

  thing on the plus side is that we've

  been following the App Store for I mean

  I think I've been some making a you know

  my first app was submitted almost eight

  years ago now like or whatever you know

  I was there almost at the beginning and

  so yep me too I look at it and it's like

  I think I have some ideas I think one of

  the most obvious is to look at the

  editorial side you know because right

  now the you know there's always the

  question that people raise of

  discoverability and when people complain

  about discoverability what they're

  usually really complaining about is they

  think their app deserves more

  visibility trying to look at this from a

  neutral perspective not just saying that

  I think my app deserves more visibility

  I think the main problem the App Store

  has with discoverability is that they

  have this massive number of apps there's

  just this unfathomable number of apps

  that they have to you know kind of kind

  of sort through and surface somehow and

  then they only have really a pretty

  small number of places that you can

  browse those apps that there's the the

  total surface area of discoverability

  beside just search which is a separate

  problem is it's kind of low you

  basically only have top charts and you

  and you have top charts in different

  categories so that helps a little bit so

  but you have top charts and then you

  have the editorial picks and even though

  the editorial staff is from what it

  seems massive because they have

  different editorial stats in different

  countries too so there's like the the

  amount of staffing devoted to picking

  those like you know 20 or whatever

  featured apps on the front page every

  week plus all the little subcategories

  of the collections plus doing that or

  some subset of that in a whole bunch of

  different countries and regions around

  the world that is not a small endeavor

  but the the total result of that is that

  when when a customer goes to the App

  Store and looks through the editorial

  picks there you know you can you can be

  through the entire editorial list in

  like a minute and a half it's not like

  you know there's not it it takes so much

  human effort on Apple side to produce a

  relatively small number of

  recommendations every week and every

  week is not that frequent so then you

  have the top charts which is just like

  it just has the problem of basically the

  rich get richer where it's it's very

  hard to break into the top charts it

  they tend to be self-reinforcing because

  then people who browse the top charts

  buy from the top charts and keep them

  going up even further so that system

  also only helps a very small number of

  apps and then you have search where

  search I think is really the one of the

  only places where most apps can be found

  but the search isn't that good in the

  App Store and and it has gotten less

  terrible over time

  I still wouldn't call it great or even

  necessarily good but it is at least you

  know less bad but good searches are

  really hard and you know as we see from

  web search which has similar challenges

  but Apple has you know even less data in

  some ways than what you have on web

  search to go off of although they have a

  lot more data in other ways that I'm not

  sure they're using but it seems like the

  the overall discoverability of an app in

  the App Store is pretty miserable for

  almost every app just because the the

  number of ways people have to to see

  your app are so much smaller than the

  number of apps in the store and I don't

  know is it deep do you know like what

  what do you think would be a decent way

  to address that problem so I think so

  the most the most straightforward that

  thing that I think they could do is the

  sort like on is like the technological

  so that word there's like more of a

  technological solution it's like things

  like search I always makes me think of

  when I go to amazon.com right and I

  think Amazon sells like several hundred

  million products but I find that I'm

  pretty able pretty able to quickly go

  through and find like good solid choices

  because their search is more than just a

  text box that I put some words into like

  I put that anyway I put some words in a

  text box and then I go through mean I

  can go through and I can sort in a

  variety of different ways I can

  subdivide or there's further categories

  beyond just the highest level category

  and I could imagine an interface in the

  app store that would let you have more

  fine-grained control over what I'm

  searching for that you know you have the

  ability to say like show me even it's

  like base obvious stuff like show me

  free or paid apps show me apps that are

  universal or iPhone only show me apps

  that have reviews above a certain amount

  or are have updated or updated

  frequently or whatever like there are

  various criteria beyond just a text box

  that you could do to increase the

  ability to surface apps that are more

  specific to someone's

  user sort of needs because I think the

  search as it is now for example has the

  same kind of rich get richer problem

  that sometimes I benefit from and some

  my apps and sometimes I'm I'm hurt by in

  other apps where if you're the top one

  or two search results that's great

  that's sort of a really powerful

  marketing tool but if you're not like

  you're just you're just invisible as far

  as the as far as yet the typical user is

  concerned and that may or may not be

  good like if you're somebody who's

  looking for something ever very

  particular kind you just have to do a

  lot of sitting there go you know sort of

  paging through the app store doing

  things that it should be able to do

  programmatically for you that's like

  that side of it seems like that's a

  straight more straightforward like

  that's a technological fix and then yeah

  like I think on the editorial side I

  think it can like putting more and more

  resources into that seems like a

  conserve only makes it better that if

  you turn over the featured area more

  regularly and also one thing I've always

  thought they should do is taking the

  work that they put an editorial to like

  whenever an app is featured indicating

  that the app was featured somewhere on

  that apps page for example like right

  now I think unless you are an editors


  yeah editor's choice gets you that I

  think right but I don't think anything

  else does that seems like one of those

  things if it's almost like if Apple has

  taken the time and effort to look at an

  app and say you know what this is like

  on the approved list like they're saying

  that when they put it into the into the

  featured tab like someone at Apple has

  sat down and looked at it like once your

  feature is over obviously I can put that

  in my description and say like you know

  featured by Apple in the stay on track

  fitness category in such and such but

  it's like wouldn't it be great if

  there's a little like sort of like a

  little thumbs up icon next to the apps

  that Apple has said are you know are

  really good and as a customer were like

  being able like I was saying in search

  of like being able to say like has been

  featured I think would be an interesting

  kind of a way to improve discoverability

  of these apps that you know they're

  doing this work anyway like they're

  spending that time to come up with a

  weekly featured but then once they the

  app has been featured like that

  information just sort of disappears

  thinking too about like about just the

  the app page in general like we we also

  have have a

  a fairly big issue of just horrible

  abuses of at metadata and there are some

  rules around what you are what you are

  and aren't allowed to put in the

  description and your keywords and your

  screenshots but it seems like those

  rules are fairly loosely enforced a lot

  of the time and so you have things like

  spamming up the description of your app

  with like tons and tons of like

  testimonials and stuff on right on top

  and and and you have things like

  spamming keywords of other app names of

  your competitors apps so that you turn

  up for their searches which is it has

  been I think against the rule since the

  very beginning but is almost completely

  unenforced partly our necessity of just

  like a scale issue there but it's still

  very you know mostly unenforced you have

  things like whether you're supposed to

  put text and overlays on your

  screenshots or not the good correct

  thing to do is not to do that but so

  many people do it that you are at a

  disadvantage if you don't I feel like

  maybe just like some basic rule

  tightening of what you can and can't put

  in your app metadata and on that app

  page I think would improve the

  real-world browse ability a lot and

  would improve search because then like

  if you if you more strictly enforce the

  keyword issues and everything you won't

  have as as poor of search results for

  things I don't know I mean do you think

  there's meaningful change to be had

  there on the app pages

  I think certainly there should be a ways

  to make that better and I think the

  consistency is I think that a big thing

  that I know I've always been frustrated

  with and it's like I look at say for

  example the watch apps you know making

  watch apps now and right now I believe

  you you know your app your watch screen

  shot can only show you the screen shot

  like right of the app and it's a rule

  with so far they seem to be enforcing

  strongly and that used to be the case

  back in the case of with you know at the

  end with the iPhone and then just over

  time it stopped being the case and

  things like that like that consistency I

  think would be helpful like to be

  anything it's they did the same thing

  with at previews which I believe were

  originally only allowed to show in app

  screens but I've certainly seen a

  previews now that show other things

  really that wasn't even like a year and

  it's not that I don't see

  much but it has the same type of a

  problem it's like it's the scale that a

  purview is dealing with that do they

  really are they really able to every

  time an app goes through review evaluate

  every you know every single screen shot

  in every single country and the app

  preview is associated with that for

  potentially many sizes like I understand

  it's like that's just a really tough

  problem but enforcing that I think would

  be certainly helpful and I think there's

  certainly I like what they did for

  example with a previews I think that's a

  great way to improve like it's probably

  the biggest improvement for a lot of

  apps that the in the app store page from

  you know eight years ago is being able

  to kind of show people what your app

  will be like when you actually get it

  because we don't have a trial or

  something like that for a lot of apps

  like this a screenshot a static

  screenshot doesn't really show you what

  the app is or what it's like you that

  you if it's something that you kind of

  have to experience or the motion and the

  animation or whatever it is of the app

  is the important part having a way to

  show that is great but I and I think

  there's those the things that I think

  about on the app page is trying to more

  straightforwardly indicate to the

  customer like the the the overall

  quality of the app and some of those

  things that I could even I think about

  like on the app store page is the way

  reviews reset every time you submit a

  new update a blurry reviews and so

  interviews is a whole thing but like

  that's one of the things that I look at

  and I'm like when I launch a new app or

  when we've been worst is when I launch a

  new update like I am I try and get a

  bunch of attention you know I do a big -

  oh like and I try and get a lot of

  people come into the App Store to

  download my app and in the app suddenly

  has no stars next to it it has never

  abused yeah when you're studying all

  that traffic to it and it's like why is

  this like I understand why they did that

  and it wasn't me and we we've I remember

  when they implemented that policy it was

  because they people would run into

  issues we could have like a bad update

  that would you know crash for everybody

  you get you know hundreds of one-star

  reviews you'd fix it and then all those

  one-star reviews would still be there

  like that's problematic in one way but

  it's like you approach this like the

  thing they always make sense to me is

  like you should show if you don't have

  enough reviews for the current version

  then show

  like the weighted average for the last

  30 days or always show the weighted

  average for the last 30 days or 90 days

  or whatever like anything like that

  where there is data if there is

  information that we can show customers

  like we can show if you've been featured

  if we can show the kinds of reviews that

  you tend to get we mean even like

  they're there collecting all this data

  with the new analytic stuff and iTunes

  Connect like all the retention and

  engagement data like they have a lot of

  information about whether this app is

  good it's like it's for surfacing

  somehow that kind of information to the

  customer to say people who download this

  app really like this app like I don't

  know exactly know how you show that but

  if you have the data somehow indicating

  that to the customer seems like a good

  good use of it rather than it just kind

  of disappearing into the ether the whole

  star rating system I think really needs

  a lot of help the the idea of first of

  all you know star ratings are very

  prominent in the app and many in the app

  store and many things I think depend on

  them like you know the I know search

  ranking was but has been rumored to be

  shifting with star rating obviously you

  know apples are more likely to feature

  something that has good ratings from

  past versions and also just I think

  buyers are you know or

  getters are much more likely to download

  an app that has good ratings under it

  when they go to look at this page and

  then and you know if you're looking for

  an app if you reconnect it has that has

  a few one star ratings and and the

  reasons that the people site seemed

  valid then that's a big turn-off and you

  probably are going to reconsider buying

  or getting that app so they do matter a

  lot and the way they're implemented is

  so mediocre I feel like this is a this

  is an obvious area for substantial

  specific improvements so obviously one

  of the big ones is just quality control

  like you see a lot of a lot of reviews

  out there that really could have used

  moderation like bye-bye app store staff

  like I honestly I think they they might

  want to consider a review before publish

  model I know that's a big scale but

  they're a big company this is a big

  store you know you got it invest

  resources sometimes also just you know

  reconsidering the five-star system at


  it's basically a one-star and five-star

  system so why not consider it

  system that is more just based on do I

  feel good about this or do I feel bad

  about this app and and rather you know

  rather than have this trying to make

  people quantify like well how good or

  how bad do I feel because I think we see

  over and over again those systems don't

  work very well and they don't really

  accurately represent what people are

  thinking with this app and then the

  obviou the other obvious problem of

  having there be no way for developers to

  respond to these things publicly or

  privately and so you know I think

  publicly would be the only way you

  really need to I don't think you

  necessarily need to give developers

  access to privately contact reviewer I

  think that could be an area for abuse

  but publicly I feel like we should have

  the ability to publicly respond to to a

  bad review you know and and because a

  lot of times the bad review is not valid

  or is unfair or is inflammatory or you

  know so it's some other problem that

  doesn't qualify it for removal but

  that's by Apple necessarily but that is

  not really a fair representation so it'd

  be nice as a developer to be able to

  respond to those so that when people

  look at it they can see how you

  responded or if you responded and I'm

  saying this I know it would be more work

  for us like I'm giving I'm giving us

  more homework but I think that's really

  important homework if they're gonna if

  you're gonna keep having the system and

  have it be as prominent as it is then I

  think it's it's a little bit


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  real AFN so the last area that it seems

  like we couldn't wait into thinking

  about a better App Store without

  discussing would be around

  thanks business models mmm around I mean

  the things that are perennial e-topics

  that come up for this

  so obviously that you think about things

  like trials or paid updates those types

  of questions or even just the way that

  in-app purchase kind of has become and

  is are things that I think there's

  certainly room for improvement like I

  remember a couple years ago and I wrote

  my big towards a better UPS App Store

  thing the thing that I was noticing even

  back then is the strange thing around

  trials the difference between like

  trials and refunds where like the App

  Store has this very ambiguous refund

  policy like I've gotten refunds for apps

  that I get downloaded and was totally

  different than what I actually expected

  it to be based on you know the

  description I saw in the app page see

  our discussion five minutes ago

  and you know I've it says you know live

  for a refund and I got it like okay

  that's great but if you go into the App

  Store like the actual like terms and

  conditions like that massive thing you

  sign every time you update anything like

  deep in there like it says that there

  aren't any refunds it says best I can

  tell and like having ambigĂș and big you

  around that in some ways is problematic

  like if there are refunds for people who

  don't like apps they download then

  basically you have trials but if you

  don't make that public or don't make it

  obvious and easy to do then it's not

  really a trial and so I think about

  things like that like if there are if

  they'd really don't want trials and

  don't have any refunds but I think they

  do and so why don't you make that

  process more straightforward and obvious

  like I love the thought I think and I

  know this is what a couple of other apps

  do of you download an app and if you

  delete it within a certain period of

  time you get a refund for it as though

  you know it's like you it has this

  built-in trial mode and the duration for

  that in many ways to me like I don't

  really mind too much exactly what that

  is like it could probably be fairly

  short and I'd be happy

  it could be fairly long and I'd be happy

  I mean maybe developers can choose that

  which might be even better

  yeah I mean I think ultimately I think

  it has to be optional because there are

  so many abuses of those systems for

  those do is I think Windows Phone was

  the one that was the big one where like

  you know you would like you try to like

  you basically have a large incentive to

  get all the value could out of an app

  within a short period of time and then

  delete it and claim a refund so for

  things like games it was especially

  problematic where like you just try to

  beat the whole game and like you know 24

  hours and then all right delete it I got

  every I want a refund like and that it's

  so that that kind of system being

  applied without choice to everybody is

  is obviously not good but it'd be great

  to have that as an option that you could

  opt into and especially if you could

  even set the duration because then yeah

  that is free trials if it happens

  automatically at least and and so that

  is you know I think with looking at

  things like trials and upgrades which

  we'll get to in a second I think this

  this won't solve the problems I

  mentioned last week about just there

  being way too many apps in the storage

  that they're being tons of competition

  it won't solve that problem but it will

  make it easier for the apps that can get

  some kind of attention and towards them

  to both get new customers or new users

  and then to stay healthy to sustain the

  business because I think if you look at

  the App Store one of the biggest

  problems it has and this is something

  Apple should care about because it's

  affecting their product lines is there

  are so many formerly great apps that

  have just fallen into disrepair no

  longer being maintained because the

  developer just couldn't make sustainable

  revenue from them enough to justify

  ongoing maintenance and ongoing

  expansion so then you have issues like

  Apple launches the iPad pro and a ton of

  iPad apps are not ever updated for it

  and then that might hurt sales of the

  I've had Pro you know like so this was

  something like Apple should care about

  these kinds of things because it is

  those are really hurting them

  so the question is you know are they

  doing everything in their power to to

  ensure that developers can that

  developers have the tools they need and

  the methods that they need to build

  sustainable businesses to keep their

  apps and the App Store and the platform

  healthy enough and I think the answer

  for that so far is is obviously know

  there's lots Apple could do that they

  have that they're not only not doing but

  that it seemed that they've never even

  tried or don't think they need to try

  and of course trials and upgrades I

  think are the two big examples of that

  and you can kind of simulate trials and

  upgrades through various app store hoops

  to jump through you can you can kind of

  do it with in-app purchase to some

  degree but there's a lot of restrictions

  around it and a lot of things that don't

  work very well if you try to do it that

  way and a lot of ways that customers can

  get really mad at you can give a whole

  bunch of one-star reviews like if you

  try to do a paid app upgrade by just

  having a second app and you replace the

  first app like that's a quick way to get

  a whole bunch people to hate you and and

  so I feel like if Apple implemented

  these things as first-class citizens

  these you know actual well-functioning

  trials and upgrades they'd be way better

  for the customers and for the developers

  and so we'd have more of them so we

  could have better apps because we'd have

  more ways to make sustainable income

  yeah and I think the reality is the

  things like just like we were saying

  around like we just want to see change

  here like I can't imagine that the

  business model that was sort of that the

  app store was conceived of you know all

  those years ago and still think makes

  the most sense now and so yeah I'd love

  to see even like I could see there's

  anything any system they have I could

  imagine there there being a reluctance

  to do it because of like the possibility

  for abuse for example but it's like it's

  not like the current system with which

  is essentially in-app purchase driven is

  devoid of abuse or opportunity for

  business right and so like yeah it would

  be very interesting to be able to do

  things like proper paid upgrades or are

  having trials that are time limited or

  those types of opportunities because I

  think the thing that it also speaks to

  is there's there are different you know

  it seems like there it seems is the for

  my experience it seems like there are

  different customers in the App Store

  there are people who are much more like

  the kind of like me I never download a

  paid app I've never paid for an app in

  my life I only ever download free apps

  like there are some people that I know

  and I have met who that's that that's

  their mindset and like that's totally

  cool like I'm having a problem if that's

  the way they see the App Store as part

  of you know as something that they just

  want to be there sort of as a free

  add-on to their phone great but I think

  there also may be many people many who

  I've met who view the who are delighted

  to pay for apps who are in who would

  prefer if they are presented with a free

  or a paid option for something that

  seems somewhat equivalent they'll take

  the paid one both because they like that

  in sort of the concept of supporting the

  person who makes it more directly maybe

  they feel like it'll be better supported

  down the road like they'd like to feel

  like they paid for something they don't

  like ads whatever it is like they have

  reasons for doing that and creating

  tools for developers to you know

  capitalize on those people and it's like

  in a good way not gonna like

  capitalizing on sounds like kind of

  skeevy but like having if your customers

  are looking or and willing to you know

  you pay for a big upgrade to the

  software that they've been using for a

  year having a mechanism to do that that

  isn't going to annoy them like seems

  like a good thing and that isn't going

  to hurt the people who like free apps

  and only want free apps if paid apps can

  have paid updates or things of that of

  that kind because they're just totally

  different markets and so giving

  developers tool to do that it seems like

  a good way to make sure that they're

  taking advantage of every opportunity

  they have for revenue because revenue is

  so hard to get in the first place that

  like giving us more options and choices

  seems like it will only be a good thing

  well and part of the power of the App

  Store when it first launched a part of

  the power it still has is you know

  before the after everything was

  web-based and paying for things on the


  sucked so much that it was just really

  hard to ever get someone to pay for

  something on the web because they would

  have to jump through all these hoops of

  entering their payment information and

  it was just this clunky process most

  people would just say a never mind

  they'd abandon it

  whereas in with the App Store they had

  the credit card already on file from the

  iTunes Store and they could just type in

  a password and bam it's bought now it's

  even easier with touch ID

  so part of the you know we've seen

  already that if you make it easy to pay

  for it people are more likely and more

  willing and happier to pay not everybody

  will but more people will so if they you

  know right now we have all these methods

  of making of trying to use in-app

  purchase or swapping you know a new app

  for an old one that to try to kind of

  simulate trials and and upgrades but

  they're all worse than the way it would

  probably be if Apple built those in as

  first-class citizens so I think we would

  actually get more money we would

  actually do better and customers and

  developers would all be happier if Apple

  did these things because we could make

  more because it would be easier and it

  would work better and ultimately I think

  customers like ultimately it seems like

  you know you can ultimately hopefully

  wind anything Apple related back to

  customer sad right like that is

  ultimately the thing that seems to drive

  a lot of weather the way Apple thinks

  and customer satisfaction is something

  that you could see a lot like improving

  the tools around the business models

  that are available to developers

  improving that if you create

  opportunities in you know for a

  developer to make a good stable living

  their apps are going to be updated more

  regularly and stuff like you were saying

  within you know when when new platforms

  come out people will adopt them like

  that's only good for developers there's

  only good for customers and if it

  doesn't work like maybe they'd try all

  these things and in the end it wasn't

  the answer right like like I'm not

  completely convinced that adding paid

  upgrades would somehow dramatically and

  catastrophically improves things for a

  developer sustainability I think there's

  a good chance that would help things

  maybe it won't but trying seems like a

  way that like having never tried or just

  saying like hmm maybe that would work

  maybe it won't and if it's not for sure

  let's not do it it's not that's not

  helping anybody and so that's where I

  hope like you know if Phil Schiller ever

  hears this or is sitting down you know

  running up to WTC and thinking about

  things he wants to change in iOS 10

  hopefully these are the things that

  they're thinking about thinking about

  ways they can make things better for

  developers better for customers and you


  ultimately even in their own

  self-interest make their people you know

  more have more affinity for their

  platform because you know it's like the

  the app there's an app for that was that

  one of the plan to serve the marketing

  campaigns that I think really helped

  cement the iPhone you know as what it is

  today and it's all about the apps you

  know in that in that campaign exactly

  well I hope we see some improvements

  here I really do I'm hopeful that you

  know under new leadership maybe we will

  and I really I'm looking forward to

  seeing the result of that so that's all

  the time we have for this week

  thank you very much for listening and

  we'll talk to you next week bye