by Tom Kaneshige

Five Fixes for Apple’s App Store

Oct 15, 2009
Consumer ElectronicsiPhoneOutsourcing

From the Google voice fiasco to this week's Pepsi pick-up line app, Apple's vaunted app store is showing its weaknesses.'s Tom Kaneshige suggests five steps Apple should take to make the store better for users and developers.

In a little more than a year, Apple’s App Store has already become one of the world’s great retail success stories—but this doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The App Store has taken its share of lumps from critics who, for the most part, think Apple is too draconian in its management.

The biggest firestorm came when Apple denied Google Voice, an app that assigns a single number to multiple phone destinations, a spot in the App Store. Critics condemned the move. Consumers felt slighted. AT&T claimed innocence. Google pointed the finger at Apple. And the Federal Communications Commission decided to investigate.

Apple also has a policy of prohibiting apps with “objectionable content,” which has led to the banning of apps such as South Park, Nine Inch Nails, and even Eucalyptus, an e-book reader that can access the Kama Sutra. Then there’s the odd list of apps that Apple has allowed on the App Store’s virtual shelves, such as the infamous “baby shaker” app.

This week, AP reported that PepsiCo is facing criticism for an iPhone app that promises to help men “score” with various stereotypes of women—such as “foreign exchange student,” “nerd,” and “cougar.” The free app gives users pickup lines and a scoreboard to keep track of their conquests. PepsiCo, which used the app to market its Amp energy drink, issued an apology.

(Social networking blog Mashable “scored” with this line: “Alienate your female customers? Pepsi has an app for that.”)

App Store follies have pointed to a need for more enlightened management. Here are five changes that Apple should consider to improve the App Store experience for developers and iPhone owners, alike.

1. Establish a transparent app approval process

Pity the iPhone app developers who submit their apps into the black hole that is Apple’s review process. Cerulean Studios, makers of the popular Trillian instant-messaging client, has been in the dark for going on two months about its submission of Trillian to the App Store, reports Macworld.

As rumor has it, a very small group of people at Apple gives the stamp of approval (or disapproval) on apps. The apparent subjectivity is alarming. There’s also a backlog of apps that Apple is trying to move through the process. App Shopper reported that more than 1,300 apps appeared on the App Store in one day last month.

When WhippleHill, which provides services to private high schools across the country, decided to build an iPhone app, CEO Travis Warren partnered with TerriblyClever, a developer started by Stanford University students (and later acquired by Blackboard for around $4 million). TerriblyClever built its iStanford iPhone app by working closely with Apple, where many Stanford grads end up.

Warren says TerriblyClever was able to speed his app through the Apple approval process thanks to TerriblyClever’s relationship with Apple.

2. Get off your high horse

The idea of Apple playing the role of morality cop would be laughable, if it wasn’t so serious.

Apple’s own sense of “objectionable content” is inconsistent. Apple, for instance, initially banned the app Pull My Finger until it realized that it had approved similar apps, including those making fart noises. Then there’s the obvious disconnect between apps and other content sold over iTunes. That is, Apple sells R-rated movies and MA-rated television shows.

Not everyone, however, agrees Apple should come down off its high horse. “I don’t think this is in line with Apple’s brand concerns,” says Gartner analyst Van Baker. “The company does not want to be seen as distributing offensive material, and that is their right to assert that control. Brand image is very valuable, and to ask Apple to risk that is not reasonable.”

3. Stand by your apps

Apple prides itself on simplicity. So what is the App Store’s simple refund policy? There really isn’t one, as the New York Times points out, except if you have problems with the electronic delivery of the app. If you buy an app on the App Store and it downloads correctly but doesn’t work, then you’re out of luck.

Just ask David Coursey of PC World who bought a $1.99 communication app that didn’t work. Coursey says the developer blames Apple for ignoring requests for help, promises a fix, and yet continues to sell the broken app and take people’s money.

In order to stand by the 80,000 apps in the App Store, Gartner’s Baker says Apple would have to renegotiate the terms of the agreement with developers. “Additionally, [a refund policy] assumes that the applications are Apple products, and this is not true,” he says. (Unlike, say, a hardware retailer who actually buys products from manufacturers and resells them.)

4. Provide a better way to search for apps

With 80,000 apps on the App Store’s virtual shelves, says Baker, “it’s hard to find an app if you are not sure exactly what you are looking for.”

The App Store showcases the top 25 apps, apps in various categories and featured apps, which are a drop in the bucket of the total apps available. Websites like Macworld and InfoWorld have created a list of top apps in various categories, and books reviewing apps have also come to market.

Nevertheless, finding apps has become a challenge. The App Store does have a search function, which works best only when you’re looking for a specific app name.

5. Prevent App Name Squatters

The App Store requires all apps to have unique names, but a developer doesn’t need to develop the app before registering the name. The App Store’s cavalier attitude towards the registration of app names has led to developers snapping up app names, reports Macworld.

Thus, a bunch of app names don’t have apps yet are off limits to developers. Another problem is that app names add to the confusion because apps on the App Store have similar (but not exact) names.

Macworld’s Ayush Arya writes: “The fix, to me, seems rather simple: Apple could have iTunes Connect (the backend of iTunes, which allows developers to interface with the App Store and submit their apps) only allow developers to register application names once they’ve submitted the binary for it.”

Got a different take? Send me an email at Or follow me on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline.