of apps on online sites is far from user friendly
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
August 10 - 16, 2010
issue #1085; reposted
on LowEndMac.com as: Mobile
App Stores: The Solution is the Problem
High Tech Office column
Much of the reason for the continuing excitement about smartphones and
tablets is due to the availability of free and inexpensive “apps” –
small applications that let users customize their gadgets, adding
games, travel, restaurant and movie guides, and yes, even business
Apple’s App Store is the biggest source of apps. It lists more than
200,000 for the company’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. Google’s
Android Market is coming up fast, with some 70,000 apps for that
growing smartphone platform.
A lack of apps – and a failure to get developers involved – helped doom
Palm’s otherwise promising WebOS platform, leading to the company’s
purchase by HP. And while still in the lead in sales, the relative lack
of apps for RIM’s BlackBerry phones is a sign of that platform’s
Microsoft, with its Windows 7 Phone platform still unreleased, has
promised a free phone to every employee – perhaps to encourage the
company’s developers to build apps for it in their spare time.
I count 55 apps installed on my iPad. Still, there’s a problem with
With so many apps, if you’re a developer how do you let people know
about your product? And if you’re a person with a smartphone or tablet
how do you find the best apps to reflect your needs and desires?
Vancouverite Tim Bray is best-known as a creator of XML (extensible
markup language) for standardizing data so that it can be shared
between computers. He’s worked with Digital Equipment, Sun
Microsystems, Vancouver startup Antarctica Systems and more. Currently,
he’s a “developer advocate” focusing on Android at Google.
Despite the Google job-title, in his blog, he recently suggested that
neither Android Market nor Apple’s App Store (nor any one else) is
doing a good job of helping users sort through the thousands of listed
Bray recognizes it’s not an easy task. He compares the onslaught of new
apps coming to the stores to “a firehose,” calling it “mind-boggling,
overwhelming, terrifying,” but notes that as sci-fi author Theodore
Sturgeon once suggested (in another context), almost everything is crap.
He contrasts these app stores to online retailer Amazon. Expanding
beyond books to sell music, video, garden tools and more, Amazon stocks
far more items than any of the app stores. Bray notes, however, that
Amazon helps potential customers with detailed and expert reviews.
Amazon has an advantage, he recognizes, in that customers are often
looking for brand names or products by specific artists or performers.
High profile brands are almost completely missing from the app stores.
While both Apple’s and Google’s stores let users rate apps, the ratings
tend to be less helpful than Amazon’s. Too often, they’re very high or
very low without apparent reason. And Bray points out that there’s
“first-mover advantage” to the first reasonably competent app in any
particular app category, making it hard for later competitors – even if
better designed – to gain attention, reviews or market share.
Apple’s App Store has some advantages over its Google equivalent; users
can browse Apple’s listings on their Mac or Windows PC while Android
users have only slower (and perhaps expensive) browsing on the small
screens of their phones. And each App Store entry gets its own web
page, making them Google-searchable, unlike Android Market apps. While
Apple has taken some heat for controlling what gets listed in its
store, that offers at least a minimal level of quality control compared
with Google’s more unsupervised market.
Bray recommends the website www.appsfire.com
, which promises to help users
“discover and share the greatest apps,” while a blog reader offered
www.mimvi.com, a search engine for mobile apps, content and products.
But Bray suggests that these sites more reflect the extent of the
problem than offer a solution.
The app phenomenon is still young. Apple’s App Store opened in
mid-2008. While Bray notes “it’s a mess,” he’s hopeful a solution will
arise. In the meantime, though, be aware that having tens of thousands
(Android) or hundreds of thousands (Apple) of apps is less of an
advantage if there’s no easy way to find the handful that you really