Explor: It’s Like Ping, For Apps

I've never been a loyal user of "app discovery" tools for iOS: I'm talking about those apps that help you find out about new apps and share the results with your friends. Sort of meta, I know, but apparently there's a huge market for these things now that the iOS App Store has crossed the mark of 300,000 apps available for the iPhone. In the sea of applications that's inundating our inboxes, it seems like there's plenty of room for alternatives to the default App Store app.

Explor, a free app by Hello,Chair released today, is the latest (and possibly greatest) addition to iOS software discovery panorama that comes with interesting features I haven't seen anywhere else.

The app is heavily touch-based in the way it lets you navigate between app recommendations and discover new gems you might fall in love with. Upon opening the app for the first time you'll be asked to create a free Explor account (takes seconds) and optionally log in with your Facebook and Twitter credentials to find friends that are already using Explor. These friends updates, likes and app collections will end up in the Activity tab, which is a great way to stay on top of app updates, reviews and developer news. That's right: besides letting you build your app collection and "like" apps from the App Store, Explor lets you follow Apple-related blogs that review apps and developers. Look for MacStories in Explor soon, but in the meantime you can already follow websites like TUAW or Macworld, or just hit the green Follow button on people like Silvio Rizzi and Tapbots. What's really awesome in my opinion is that some developers are also featured in the main page with rotating banners, plus they can "bid" in order to have their apps promoted and pushed to the activity stream. I guess that's a way for Explor to monetize the system, and I'm curious to see how this whole developers / publishers / friends integration will play out in the long term. Will you come back to Explor to see what's new and updated? Time will tell.

For now anyway, Explor looks really cool. You can tap on the huge Explor button (and look at that, looks like the Instagram button) to start browsing new apps you might like or already own, and as you tap around Explor will display a neat animation to "advance" in the stream and load new apps. Kind of like Time Machine, but on the iPhone and faster. As you move forward in the apps list, I've noticed recommendations get better and tailored to my tastes and actual software I have installed. I wonder what's the algorithm that powers Explor, because it seems to be working well.

You can "like" apps, share them on Twitter / Facebook / email and view the details in a dedicated App Store-like page. This page has a description, price, link to the App Store and screenshots. It's also got links to reviews and articles from blogs, and a tab to open the developers section and follow them.

I love how Explor puts the focus on apps, developers and blogs that made a living out of iOS coverage. Like I said we'll have to see how reception will be in the following months and whether or not people will be coming back to the app, but as it stands right now Explor is the best way to stay updated about iOS apps, and discover new tools for your iPhone or iPad. Go download it here.