Apple’s iOS App Store has skyrocketed in terms of the number of applications available. Everything, from fart apps to professional drawing suites, exists — and with that massive number comes a sort of digital clutter. Search for a broad term, and dozens upon dozens of results are returned. In order to stand out, developers have to make decisions: doesn’t it make sense to name an app with a term that is popular in searches (example: the rise of the “insta” prefix)? Shouldn’t a developer make their application free, and then use in-app purchases to monetize the program?
Both of those questions can justifiably be answered with a “yes,” but answering in the affirmative isn’t necessarily good for iOS or the App Store as an ecosystem.
But why are these methods necessary? Shouldn’t the App Store be a meritocracy, an ecosystem in which quality surpasses quantity? Ideally, yes — but certain trends in behavior make it almost impossible to sell a well-made application on merit alone.
Why Do the Top Lists Exist?
Pop quiz: when you decide to browse the App Store, where do you go first? Chances are, the Top Lists are in the top two destinations to find the latest and greatest in applications. That makes sense — after all, if it is popular, it must be good, and who can argue with numbers? It’s an easy to way to try and appear unbiased towards specific developers or publishers. In reality, Apple must be biased — biased towards quality.
Let’s look at a similar case. In the games market (and I mean games as in those you play on a computer or console), publishers such as Activision, Ubisoft, and EA are responsible for a lot of the best games available. They’re also responsible for a bunch of crap. Another pop quiz! Who is the creator of Minecraft, arguably the most popular game of the past year? It’s Mojang, a tiny company based in Stockholm, Sweden. Now, if a game is published with the full marketing force of Activision or EA behind it, chances are it will become popular. Chances are, it will skyrocket in terms of sales. Due to this massive marketing push, sales and profit does not necessarily translate to quality.
Apple: Exercise Your Control
This same phenomenon happens on the App Store. Massive publishers and franchises can afford to have a massive marketing campaign that promotes their app or game across the internet. It’s a self-propelled cycle, once a certain critical audience is reached: by the time the app is climbing up the Top Charts, new people will begin downloading it without ever seeing this marketing campaign. Following the logic above, those people simply download the app because it has a high position.
Apple controls iOS. That is sometimes to the detriment of the platform, but it doesn’t always have to be. iOS is home to a vast number of incredibly well-designed and well-executed applications. Apple, as the gatekeeper of the platform, has a vested interest in showing off these applications, and in promoting them to the largest possible audience. These apps make iOS look good — in the most exquisite cases, these apps are unparalleled by anything on any other platform.
Highlight the Best, Not the Rich
The solution is simple: remove the existing Top Charts, which in and of itself just another way for those with money and influence to expand their presence on iOS. Use this newly freed screen space to further expand Apple’s editorial selection. Building a system such as this would go further in leveling the playing field.
Crucially, it also allows Apple to help promote a tone for the design of applications. As iOS 7 nears, there are exactly zero applications currently in the top 25 that is ready for the update. When users first open the App Store under iOS 7, they should be greeted by applications that have been updated and enhanced to fit the new OS’ design and functionality.