Apple's App Store score hides problems

A few days ago, I read in a ComputerWorld article that ABI Research (a tech market research firm) had ranked the app storefronts for various platforms and found Apple's to be the top storefront.

No surprise there. Users of iOS devices love to buy apps.

The ranking had two elements - "implementation" and "innovation" - with each element being given a score. In the "innovation" element, Microsoft's score (77/100) just barely beat out Apple's (76/100). An overall score combined the two elements.

When both implement[ation] and innovation scores are combined, Apple wins with a ranking of 80.8 out of 100, compared to Google's 72.2 and Microsoft's 63.9, according to ABI researcher Aapo Markkanen in an email interview.

It's not all that interesting to me that Apple's storefront won - it'd be surprising if it hadn't. What I do wonder is, what would that score have been prior to the iOS 6 changes to the App Store?

Prior to those changes, I never felt Apple's App Store was great. It suffered from the same problem that the iTunes store has - poor discoverability and a crappy search experience. It's easy to say "profitable as hell", but how many more sales would there be if it were easier to find exactly what you want?

Compare two different search-based shopping experiences. At Amazon.com, I want to find a good soccer ball. Go to Amazon (or use the Amazon iOS app, to be fair) and search for 'soccer ball'. Once the list returns, I can:

  • See the top sellers, by relevance.
  • Narrow the results to include only the Sports & Outdoors department.
  • Narrow the results to include only items eligible for Prime shipping.
  • Narrow the results to include only items with 4+ stars in their ratings.
  • Narrow by brand of ball, seller, and price range.

Now go to the App Store on your phone and search for 'soccer coach'. From there, I can:

  • See the first result out of 151.
  • Swipe to see the next result.
  • Keep swiping.

And here's what I can't do:

  • See the average customer rating (nevermind filtering by rating).
  • See how many of the 151 are Paid apps vs. Free (nevermind filtering by Paid/Free).
  • See when the last update for app was release.

So if I know I want a Paid app (no ads) that was updated recently (more likely to be in active development) and has good reviews, I'm out of luck. I swipe, then tap to open the details.

Any inclination to spontaneously buy a soccer coaching app is gone. If I don't know the specific app I'm looking for (name or developer), then I'm gonna move on and do something else.

Oddly, the iPad's App Store UI does allow for a bit more flexibility - the same search shows me the top 6 apps out of 126, ordered by Relevance. I can also:

  • Filter on Paid/Free.
  • Filter on iPad Apps vs iPhone apps.
  • Change the sorting to Ratings.
  • Filter by Category.

Seeing 6 apps at once helps in that the "card view" shows ratings so I can narrow in on the stronger apps, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through in both storefronts.

All I want is to find the "best [name your interest] app in the App Store" - where best can be defined by metrics that Apple already has for each app (price, ratings, last update).

It wouldn't surprise me if the score for Apple's store in a similar survey had been higher in the past... or if they don't lose ground to Google and Microsoft in the future without some improvements.