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Hey, Apple: The App Store Is Broken.

Last night Cody published his thoughts on iTunes and wireless syncing to devices, a matter we’ve been discussing here at MacStories for a long time. I agree with him (though I’m really not into podcasts as he is), but I want to follow-up by focusing on a secondary point: the App Store navigation.

Google is copying Apple, but the App Store is broken. I can’t believe that after 2 years of existence Apple still hasn’t fixed many of the issues that affected the App Store back in 2008. In fact, they added even more.

I have an iPhone 4 and an iPad. Two devices to manage, two different stores to browse. Then, there are “universal apps”, those built to work on multiple devices with a single download. Furthermore, the iPhone 4 has a different display resolution than the iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch. Last, apps can be free / paid or present in-app purchases, and you can (theoretically) access the history of your purchases through the “Account” menu in the iTunes Store.

It’s a total mess.

As many of you have probably noticed, you can’t browse the App Store searching for apps specifically designed for the iPhone 4. At the contrary, the App Store’s description pages tell you that an app is “Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad” even when, actually, that app is already available as a standalone for the iPad and includes graphics for the Retina Display. The whole system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Here’s an example. This is the iTunes link to Articles by Sophiestication: the app has been updated to support the Retina Display, but the App Store doesn’t tell you that. It’s just “compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad”. Oh, and the whole compatibility thing is listed under “Requirements”, below the app’s icon on the left. The problem is, there is an iPad version of Articles (Articles for iPad) but the “More Apps by Sophiestication Software” box only displays iPhone apps. To get an overview of all the apps sold by Sophiestication, you have to click on the developer’s name at the top and you get another page with iPhone and iPad apps. But this is a relatively minor problem: I knew that Sophia updated her apps for the Retina Display. What if I didn’t? Or what if the developer just didn’t update the app for the iPhone 4? There’s no way I can be informed with the App Store description page. There’s no box on the left with iPhone 4-specific details. So many times I purchased iPhone apps and found out later that they hadn’t been updated for the Retina Display.

Something many developers do is to include additional information in the description. Indeed, Sophia wrote about the iOS 4 and iPhone 4 support in there. Oh yeah, the iOS 4 compatibility is another issue to be considered: Apple launched a section in the App Store to showcase apps updated for iOS 4 but it’s…a showcase. They don’t tell you which apps don’t work on iOS 4, there’s no box for iOS 4 compatibility.

For now, let’s not mention the problems with the review / rating system - not exactly related to my navigation issues.

I think there’s a very thin line between developers’ faults and Apple’s broken and clunky structure. Sure, some developers don’t care about making their apps compatible and, in the worst cases, don’t care about updating their apps at all once they’re on sale. But I’m certain that there are many, many developers out there who daily struggle with the App Store archaic navigation and purchase system.

Apple started this: in 2008 by putting the App Store in iTunes and in 2010 by introducing the iPhone 4 with Retina Display. Multiple and different devices require a flexible and powerful Store structure, and Apple better provide it soon. September might be the ideal time to unveil a revamped iTunes 10 and a new App Store. The dream of a standalone product to browse and install apps is what it is - a dream.

What really bothers me, though, is how 3rd party websites to browse the App Store are actually better designed than Apple’s own system. AppShopper is a website I use every day to stay updated on new apps releases, updates and price drops - something Apple doesn’t provide. AppShopper allows you to easily (and by easily I mean 1 click) switch between iPhone, iPad and Universal apps, check the most popular in charts or just the new ones - all organized by Paid and Free software. You can create your own Wish List (which looks and works better than Apple’s) and get a full, detailed and good looking summary of the apps you own. Because you know, there’s no way to get a detailed history of the apps you purchased in iTunes. This is a comparison shot of AppShopper’s Wish List and the one in iTunes. Also take a look at the description page with app’s activity over time and a chart as seen in AppShopper and the App Store.

I don’t want to praise AppShopper and tell everyone “Hey folks, let’s use this from now on!”. I do, for instance, but that’s not the point. Not at all. I’m saying that the App Store is a crowded place, and just like every crowded place it needs serious organization. Could you imagine going to Best Buy to find everything messed up on the shelves - or a Best Buy no shelves at all? Could you imagine Amazon without advanced search functions and proper account management options? Sure, go ahead and tell me I can’t compare the App Store to a Best Buy. You’re wrong: in every marketplace of any kind organization is needed. Better organization leads to more sales, more sales make both the customer and seller happier.

Now just think of a better App Store for a second. Take away the iTunes bloat, the time-out sessions and the missing screenshots. Think of an App Store with proper categories, search functions, device details and app activity information. Think of overhauled developer pages with history information, better user reviews and no scam apps.

For God’s sake, think of store.apple.com for applications.

Isn’t it great?

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