With the recent announcement of some App Store changes, and WWDC just days away, I figured I’d better write about an idea I had before it’s too late. I’ll keep this much shorter than the version that’s been floating around in my head.
I would suggest that Apple release their grip on the App Store, and start allowing other stores on iOS/tvOS which would, essentially create an App Mall. Open it up so that anyone can create a store. These will be distinct apps developed like any other third party app, clearly branded to avoid user confusion with Apple’s App Store. I envision stores created by brands you already know: TouchArcade, 148Apps, AppShopper, Google, Microsoft, Panic, OmniFocus, RelayFM (for sponsored apps) etc; as well as new ones that will appear.
These stores would be akin to radio stations. If a person likes Rock and Roll, they tune in to a Rock and Roll station. If they prefer Jazz, they listen to a Jazz station. Every once in a while you listen to something different. We’ll have stores that focus on pro apps, stores for games, a store for writers, developers, parents etc. Users will come to know and trust the curators of their favourite stores. This plan delegates some of the curation of apps out to the community where it can be handled much better (just because of sheer numbers). It doesn’t take away from Apple’s App Store curation, rather it enables a method to better group apps and aid with app discovery. Instead of trying to fit 2+ million apps into 25 categories, there will be another layer on top to help sort.
One huge side effect to this plan is that Apple would have more control over it’s own App Store. They will be able to delist a tonne of bad apps, and stop adding new bad apps by raising the criteria that allows apps to be listed in the official App Store. If an app is ugly as sin, riddled with spelling errors, etc, they can refuse to include it in their store, just as Saks Fifth Avenue can refuse to stock substandard products. Right now, Apple has a set of rules, and if your app follows those rules it should be allowed in the store. Ugly apps should never be featured anyway, but they still come up and clutter the search results, they still show up in the “Customers Also Bought” section. With my new plan, those apps won’t show up at all. It’s my belief that Apple has to generally accept any app that follows their rules, or else they’ll start to run afoul of anti-competition laws. Since there is no other way to sell apps to users with iOS/tvOS devices than through the Apple App Store, if they reject apps based on religious beliefs, politics, bad UI, etc, they are preventing other companies from operating, and could get into trouble.
It would sort of be like Panasonic selling a radio, and then saying no Justin Bieber songs can be played on them. How long would it be before Panasonic was dragged into court by the Department of Justice? So my point here is that because Apple would be allowing developers to list their apps in other stores, they’ll be free to be more selective in their own store.
None of this affects app review, signing, pricing or privacy BTW. All apps would still go through review (though it would be more for weeding out malware or buggy software). Apps would still be signed by the developers and installed from Apple’s servers. Just as the TestFlight app can install apps that aren’t in the App Store, third party stores would also be able to use an API to trigger app installs (securely of course, apps wouldn’t be able to install other apps without the user’s explicit permission). The price of an app would be the same, and the payment would still be handled by Apple. So privacy is preserved as Apple would still be the only one to know who the customer is. Apple could still take their 30% (or now 15% in some cases, hopefully more cases soon). The third party store developer would be compensated via the already existing affiliate program. Or depending on the store, they may charge the developer for a listing, just as grocery stores charge food producers for the valuable space on the end of the aisle.
The goal of this idea is to help with app discovery. By opening up the App Store in this way, it empowers the developers in our community to help solve this major problem that’s really hurting the platform, without compromising the security or privacy of the platform that users have come to expect.