There continues to be lots of media attention and hype surrounding mobile apps. In fact, I can’t sit through one quiet day of Sunday sports without seeing at least a half dozen commercials touting how much better apps make the iPhone. What they are failing to show you is that the App Store model is broken, and not just for the iPhone. While the App Store may have been a good idea when it launched, it has lost its way, despite all of the hype. Where has the App Store gone wrong? Let’s count the ways.
1. The Price of Protection
In order to keep the phone safe from things like viruses, crashing, and resource contention, all the apps in the App Store have to go through a stringent approval process. During this same approval process, content is also reviewed to make sure it is appropriate for the phone. The problem is a very subjective approval process. For example, Google Voice and an app for a book with proceeds going to charity get rejected, yet a “booty-shaking” app is approved. Go figure.
2. A Needle in a Haystack
Think 65,000 apps is a good thing? Then think again. If you release an app, how does anyone find it. This has led to people writing stories on what you have to do to promote your app in order to get noticed. People often put it on their website so one can find it. Hmm, that makes sense – I’ll put the app on my website so people can find and download it. Shouldn’t I just create a mobile website to begin with? At least your mobile website will benefit from any SEO efforts that you use on your online website. For an app, you’re on your own. An app has to have its own promotion strategy since the search engines don’t index the App Stores.
3. Everyone has an iPhone, don’t they?
Based on the hype, you would think that everyone has an iPhone. The answer is that around 3% of the mobile users in the US have an iPhone – that’s how much exposure you get with an iPhone app, provided people can find it AND download it. What? You want to increase the reach of your app? Then you need to redesign it for BlackBerry, Android, Windows Mobile, Palm, Nokia, and Samsung, with more App Stores planned. Or you can design a web-based app once and cover every platform all at once. It’s not hard to figure out which model is more efficient.
4. The Elephant in the Room
Ah, the thing no one wants to talk about: upgrading. What happens when the iPhone gets upgraded? Is Apple testing each of the 65,000 apps to make sure they still work – I don’t think so. What about BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile? Yes, the hardware and operating systems of the phones change, and there is no guarantee that your app will still work when it does. Plus, when users change their handset, there is no guarantee that they will redownload your app. Given that the average user upgrade cycle is 18-24 months, there is a pretty good chance that your app will not survive the user upgrade cycle., resulting in a very short-term effect.
So what is one to do. Well, as I’ve discussed before, apps won’t die, but they will get relegated to specialized functions. If I have a cool app that takes advantages of specific features on a particular phone, such as advanced graphics for a game, or shaking to transfer content from one device to another, sure I’d do an app, and I’d even charge for it. On the other hand, if I’m a business trying to promote my brand and product or have an app that does not access to specialized phone resources or features, then I am doing a mobile website, or what I would call a web-app (an application that runs over the web for all mobile phones). Why should I limit myself to one platform, submit to the unknown powers that control its App Store, and risk not surviving the upgrade cycle?
Ultimately, the misgivings of the App Store will cause apps to lose their glow, resulting in a lot less hype. It can’t happen soon enough so I can go back to watching Sunday sports in peace.