Monetizing Mediocrity


I laughed out loud while reading a recent Bloomberg article describing how Apple has a secret team hard at work to improve search in Apple’s App Store. Key to this initiative: finding a way to introduce paid search so that app developers can pay to come up first in search results. Oh yes, as a secondary objective, this secret team is also “trying to improve the way customers browse in the App Store.” Note that they’re improving browsing, not search!

Yes, the App Store, which the article correctly notes is a vital part of Apple’s business, urgently needs to be better monetized. Better functionality? Maybe, they’ll look at that too.

The App Store is a case study in bad design and a bad user experience. My sense is that it was created with the notion that users would primarily browse for apps of interest. But with 1.5 million apps and only 25 categories, you better have a lot of time to kill if that’s the way you want to find new apps.

Search is even worse. It starts with the well-hidden search box. Start typing in a word, and the search software will helpfully suggest phrases. But if you click on one of these search phrases, more often than not, you’ll come up with no results. Further, Apple seemingly permits companies to stuff their entries with the names of competitive products too, so you have to be extremely careful what apps you download, something I discussed in an earlier post.

Searching in the App Store is incredibly literal too. Apparently, concepts like wildcars or Soundex or even relevancy eluded Apple’s celebrated designers. In almost every respect, Apple appears to have succeeded in spite of itself.

Besides serving as a useful case study of how not to build an online store, business information companies need to consider how this impacts their products and digital strategies. Most business information companies distribute their apps through the App Store. It’s important not to take for granted that they will be found. Try searching for your own app in the App Store using common searches your typical user might try. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be disappointed if not shocked by the results. Saying “download our app from the App Store” is unfortunately not enough direction for users. Also, spending some time to really think through your App Store listing is absolutely time well spent.

You should also keep an eye out for scammy apps that may be presenting themselves in confusingly similar ways in the App Store. Apple doesn’t seem to care, but you may be losing business to other app developers that don’t have your user’s best interests as heart, and this could ultimately reflect back on you. There are a stunning number of apps that seem to be gaming the system.

Apple’s planned solution to App Store search seems to be not to improve it, but to charge money for you to get the results you would expect to get if its search functionality worked properly. And much as I hate to say it, it may be worth paying up, because digital adoption starts with your users getting their hands on your app, and Apple is making that incredibly and unnecessarily difficult to do.