Six things that are wrong with the iPhone App Store
The App Store is a great concept, and I've downloaded some classy applications for the iPhone already, but there are some fundamental flaws which stop it from being brilliant.
Here's my take on the six things that are wrong about the App Store in its present form. Whether they'll ever be "fixed" is another matter.
1. No trial / preview versions
There's no official way to trial a piece of software before paying for it
This isn't a problem for free applications, because all you lose by downloading something you don't like is a little time and bandwidth, but for paid-for applications it's an issue, and the more expensive something is, the bigger the monetary risk.
Of course, you take the same kind of risk if you buy a physical off-the-shelf copy of software for your PC, but the fact that the entry-level criteria for iPhone apps -- price for developers to participate in Apple's programme, and quality of applications developed -- is much lower means you're more likely to download a dud.
Some developers try to get around this "problem" by releasing a free "lite" version of their software, and a more feature-rich standard version that they charge for. However, not only does this rile a number of users (as can be seen from the reviews) but it still doesn't offer a direct trial of the software.
The only way to legitimately run applications from the App Store is via iTunes, so I don't believe it would be technically difficult to allow software to be downloaded for a trial period, then either wiped, disabled, or charged for. Each iPhone has a unique ID and each user has a unique iTunes account log in. Why not?
Perhaps both Apple and developers are worried that, by giving users free trials of software, it will become apparent that a lot of the software just isn't up to scratch. There's an easy solution to that... Developers should write better software, and Apple should raise the entry bar. More of that later.
2. User Reviews
"Reviews" are littered with veiled comments from developers, and from users who've never downloaded the software
The User Reviews section has the potential to be a useful resource, but it suffers from the curse of so many online forums -- it's full of trolls and manipulators.
First off, developers should not be allowed to review their own software. They get an entire column to describe their application, bugs, features, future updates, and so on.
Secondly, users who've never downloaded the software shouldn't be allowed to review it. I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult to check whether a user has used the software (even briefly) before allowing them to comment.
Thirdly, although reviews are personal by nature, there should be some level of moderation to remove comments that rubbish application concepts rather than operation. For example, it's fine to say that an application contains some bugs, or is unresponsive, or could be improved by adding "x feature", but it's not OK to say "I hate Sudoku applications" or "no-one will find this application useful".
Fourthly, the review section is not the place for users to start having conversations / arguments with each other.
Apple manages to rule with a pretty heavy hand in the support forums on its own web site, and while I'm not generally a fan of heavy moderation, it should be employed here.
Perhaps a points system would help to encourage useful comments. What's clear is that the section needs to change.
3. Data stored with applications
Data is vulnerable to being lost or overwritten, and is difficult to retrieve by other applications
As far as I'm aware, all third-party software has to store user data within the structure of the application. In other words, because access to the underlying file system has been restricted by Apple, it's not possible to have a special user directory (as you do in the desktop version of Mac OS X) where data can be stored separately from the application.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that this has already led to data loss when applications are updated to a new version.
Additionally, it means that some applications which could be really useful are stunted because access to user data is difficult.
It would be great if Apple set up a special user directory on the iPhone where application developers could write data (in separate, protected subdirectories, of course) and which could be accessed, via iTunes, by the OS X and Windows operating systems.
Of course, syncing and the MobileMe services accomplish this to a point, but generally only on native applications such as Mail and Calendar.
I want direct access to all the pages I've written in my third-party note-taking app. Sure, it's nice to be able to email them, but that can become tedious.
Implemented properly, there should be no security risk in doing this. Each application would only be allowed access to its own directory, which could be size limited, and no executable code would be allowed to be stored (so no danger of someone trying to get a malicious piece of code from the iPhone onto a desktop PC).
How about it, Apple?
4. Apple exclusivity
Apple can easily zap any application which it thinks "competes" with one of its own
This is just one area where Apple's policies are inconsistent and irritating.
Two high-profile applications which have been rejected or removed from the App Store are Podcaster, which supposedly duplicated or competed with iTunes, and MaiLWrangler, which stepped on the Mail application's toes.
I would at least have a little respect for Apple's decision (after all, they can do what they like) if it was consistent, but the fact is that there are plenty of note-taking apps, calculators, weather widgets, and so on. Surely these also "compete" with native applications that do much the same thing?
I find it hard to see how any third-party application can really compete with Apple's own? After all, there's no way to wipe native applications, they can run in the background (so are arguably better for things like email), and they are the only apps that sync completely with the desktop and MobileMe.
What's the problem?
I would understand if an iTunes-wannabe app came along and tried to plop itself onto the iPhone, as Apple might argue it could take revenue away from its own music store, but apart from that, I really don't see the issue.
As with point five below, all it's doing is confusing and alienating developers. Surely Apple should be nurturing and encouraging those who are ultimately going to continue furnishing the App Store with new software?
5. Developer uncertainty
Developers can be knocked down at the last hurdle, after all the hard work has been done
Picture the scene. A developer pays to enter the official iPhone development programme, develops what he or she thinks is a kick-ass app for the iPhone, tests it, submits it to Apple... and it's rejected.
And it's often rejected with a rather vague reason.
As I've already bemoaned in point four above, Apple's policies seem inconsistent, and what's worse, developers don't seem to get much input from Apple during the application development process.
You would think that, when developers pay to get into the official programme, Apple would offer at least a basic level of liaison. This should benefit both sides. It means that developers get a clearer idea of what Apple is expecting, and it should reduce the amount of time Apple spends vetting submitted applications.
Apple is renowned for the silent treatment when it comes to rumours and lawsuits, but developers that are feeding a core part of the business need to be treated with a lot more respect, otherwise they'll go elsewhere.
6. Apple quality control
There's a lot of substandard stuff in the App Store, updates are slow
Perhaps Apple is trying to build quantity over quality to make the store look busy, but frankly there are a lot of very poor applications in the App Store.
Obviously, quality is a subjective thing, but there has to be a minimum bar for application content and substance.
When you see a dozen or more applications whose only function is to count down to a particular date, or dial a single number, or sound a couple of poorly sampled audio files, and they're being charged for, you have to wonder why Apple let them in.
I'm not saying that no-one would want an application that counts down to Thanksgiving (see point two on reviews), but instead of a developer creating twenty different apps with essentially the same function, why not create a bigger app with more options? OK, it could be argued that it adds complexity, but it also means fewer, but meatier, applications.
Unfortunately, having to trawl through pages of these applications means that the real jewels end up getting lost, and that's a real shame.
In addition, some of the existing apps show great potential, but have a few creases still to be ironed out. These are suffering because updates often take some time to get through Apple's vetting process. This leads to both user and developer frustration.
Quality has to be a more important factor than quantity if the App Store is to remain useful as it grows.
So those are my thoughts. What do you think? Is the App Store working for you? What needs to be improved? Share in the comments below
Came straight to this page? Visit www.iphonic.tv for all the latest news.