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The App Store Is The Mall, The Apps Are The Stores

Much electronic ink is being shed about the different best (and worst) practices with the app store at the moment. Issues such as free to play with in app purchases, the in ability to offer free trials, and the almost constant asking for reviews have all found themselves the target of complains about the service with the blame being directed in different directions, most notably the developers, Apple and both.

Here’s a brief summary of the issues

Paid Upgrades

When Omnifocus and Tweetbot put out new versions of their app and in effect stopped supporting the old versions it caused a lot of annoyance of some users who had come to expect that apps always go updates for free. This had actually been a factor I had considered when promoting friends to adopt tablets, the apps are generally cheaper and upgraded for free.

However, personally, this seems to be perfectly valid especially within apps that don’t require a paid syncing service or other revenue source. There is no way a developer can keep working on an app for an ever shrinking market who are going to pay. Either existing customers need to pay again of they need to stop developing in order to make a living.

In app purchases

The majority of the most popular apps are games following the free to play with in app purchases. Many of these games have to actively harm their game play to encourage users to pay for the in app purchases. What’s more paying with in game “coins” is psychologically easier (they’re coins not money, right?!) which cause people to spend money than they would normally.
This is harming companies that make apps with a single (but significant) payment for their app as people often shun paid for free even when it really isn’t free.

The danger of pushing against in app purchases is you could eliminate the ability to pay for the service from within the app (at much greater ease) or demote apps like comixology which provide extra content for in app purchases. No one would say that their pricing model is devious and yet pushing against in app purchases could harm them as well.

Free Trials

One possible mooted solution is to offer free trials so it makes it easier for people to trial paid premium apps and make informed decisions regarding these apps. So far Apple hasn’t made a step in this direction. Some developers have created work around, offering it for “free” and then requiring the user to pay once a trial period expertise to continue using. However, this places it amongst the free apps rather than the paid and users can feel betrayed when their service suddenly cuts off.

Review Request

Some of these requests remind me of the sort of pictures with text you see on Facebook. You know the ones that go [sob story] [Large percentage] of my followers won’t share this because they [are evil/don’t care/ have no heart] But the [small remaining percentage] who do [statement that no one would ever disagree with] (I.e this is a puppy in a terrible condition. 95% of my followers don’t care enough to share this. Are you part of the 5% who acre enough to stop puppies suffering cruel and unusual punishments?)

Lots more fall into the categories where you are repeatedly asked, given no option to leave a negative review or strongly encouraged to give a 5 star review (which frankly giving something 100% approval is ridiculous, How can you say there is nothing to improve about an app or service.)

The Guiding Hand Of Apple?

Everyone is in agreement that some of the actions developers are taking that are at best unpleasant for users of that app, in the middle are add to the general malaise of the app, and at worse artificially inflate their own ratings and drag down the whole apple ecosystem. The real question is if apple should act.

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I’ve heard people compare it to national economics but that usually pushes people towards their own political stance. A better perspective would be a mall. In this case the owner of a Mall has the right to set standards over the shops that operate there and the shops impact others within their space. They can also encourage certain types of shows or services for their own benefit by either setting standards or finical intensives. If the owners create a good environment then it will lead to the mall as a whole doing better

How Should Apple Act?

This is where the conversation really starts to break down among different sides. Sometimes tiny, insignificant changes can lead to dramatic impact. Imagine if there were no categories, introducing different categories would instantly create niche apps and promote development within certain sectors. Imagine if there was another sector, the free with in app section, how might that change the picture? Or what about offering free trials for premium apps?

Perhaps Apple only needs to offer a small change to improve the app store exponentially, but on the other hand maybe we need dramatic changes, a fresh reboot with new standards.

Personally, I’m in favor of a series of small refined changes and I also think developers need to learn to adapt to the new evolving ecosystem. And find alternative paths. Personally none of the blackmailing overly frequent request for app reviews persuade me mainly due to their timing. They either come when I load the app to start using it for a purpose, interrupting me, or during my task (interrupting me) or as I close the app and start a new task (interrupting me). The ideal moment would be when I’m processing my email and as many services have these details for an account sign up I feel this would be a great and more successful course of action.

Free trials would be a great move from apple and would help provide an example of the experience whilst making it clear that the app is a premium service.

I don’t mind paid upgrade for significant updates in the app. If it’s a minor cosmetic fix or bug fix then I’m out but if there is a huge redesign or complete new way to use the app then I want to help the developer put in the time to make that update and make it worthwhile.

I also want clear guides as to how much an app actually costs, it’s all well and good to have a drop down list of in app purchases but you have to click on them. What about setting up a separate way to show apps that require subscriptions t make it clear if you need to pay continually? How about simply showing the range in prices that these purchases cost. from $0.99 – $9.99 would certainly inform the user and help promote apps with clearer and simpler pricing schemes.

What changes would you like to see in the App store?

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[Photo Credit: unneva and five2b4u via Compfight cc]

About Chris Wilson

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