Pay to play: why paid placements in the App Store must not spread further than search

Given that Apple doesn’t comment on rumours, take Bloomberg’s story Apple Pursues New Search Features for a Crowded App Store with a pinch of salt. The claim is that Apple has

constructed a secret team to explore changes to the App Store, including a new strategy for charging developers to have their apps more prominently displayed

For me, the key paragraph in the story is this:

If Apple goes through with the idea, “it’s going to be huge,” said Krishna Subramanian, the co-founder of Captiv8, which helps brands market using social media. “Anything that you can do to help drive more awareness to your app, to get organic downloads, is critical.”

Subramanian is right in one sense: if Apple does this, it will be huge. It’ll be huge in eradicating any sense that the App Store is a meritocracy when it comes to app visibility.

Right now, search remains a mess, in part due to its lack of granularity regarding fields to search within. It has improved — a search for ‘Twitter’ now first returns a selection of Twitter clients rather than random apps with teams who were very good at App Store SEO — but it could be better.

My bigger concern, though, is paid placement permeating throughout the store, such as on to the entry pages a great many people use to find new apps and games. There, Apple’s ‘curation’ is uneven. I’ve been told by various American friends that ‘Editor’s Choice’ in the US is closer in meaning to ‘this is interesting’ than ‘this is amazing’, but even so, that slot is often filled with garbage, albeit garbage released by companies important to Apple from a revenue standpoint.

However, it would be hyperbole to suggest this is ubiquitous. In both apps and games, prominent positions in the App Store are very regularly given to top-notch products, many of which are by indies; Apple’s selections are on the whole pretty good. A case in point: today’s App Store highlights for games include Warbits, PKTBALL, and Chameleon Run, all of which are very much worth playing. And the first couple of entries in the smaller ‘What We’re Playing’ zone are Looty Dungeon and Shadow Bug — both of which I’d also recommend.

So should Apple veer down a paid route for search, I hope it won’t spread further. Things are hard enough for developers now, without them worrying that they’ll need the deepest of pockets, in order to even have a shot of visibility on the App Store.

April 15, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Apps, Gaming, Opinions

1 Comment

Ratings screens in children’s apps need to die — and they’re not the only thing

Mini-G has been faffing about with an iPod touch and — whenever possible — her parents’ iPhones for some months now. If ever you need a reminder about your generation’s looming obsolescence, stick a toddler in front of a high-tech device and see them master it before they’ve even figured out how to talk. Anyway, since we’re at the point where mini-G can use apps alone (albeit supervised), I’ve made some observations.

First, I’m broadly positive about the whole screens thing. I don’t believe a kid should be glued to any kind of screen for long periods of the day, but mini-G learned how to attempt to say ‘mouth’ from Metamorphabet, and has apps that have boosted aspects of empathy and dexterity. After a session has gone on for perhaps 20 minutes, an iPhone is — typically without prompting — turned to sleep mode and returned to the relevant parent. (Elsewhere, books are read, Lego is played with, puzzles are completed, telly is watched, and wheeled walkers are driven around the kitchen as if it’s the Indy 500. So: balance.)

Secondly, however, it’s clear some developers of apps for children either haven’t tested them all that much on actual children using them on their own, or fundamentally don’t care about the user experience as it relates to said children. Here are some things developers should avoid when making apps for kids:


Ratings screens.
These aren’t exactly loved in apps for adults, but it’s reasonable to include them — reviews and ratings can be important for an app’s success. But throwing up a screen along these lines on an app being used by a 20-month-old child? At best, a parent will be there and grumpily turn off the app. If not, the child will get frustrated and bounce out to the App Store. (And developers who reason very young kids do not remember their favourite apps — as in, apps that don’t annoy them — let me tell you: you are wrong.)


Long launch animations.
 Yes, we know you’re probably very proud of that lengthy animation you had commissioned, your company logo bouncing around like a cartoon character hopped up on sugar. But here’s the thing: no kid cares a jot. In fact, mini-G exits apps with remarkable speed if they don’t ‘do’ anything interactive. You’ve probably got two or three seconds. By all means include your intro, but make it immediately skippable with a single tap. Otherwise, you’re just this tech generation’s DVD producer.


Visible IAP.
 I’m not against IAP in general, not even in apps for children. Developers just need to ensure apps aren’t exploitative. However, in apps designed for children, the IAP needs to be hidden behind some kind of settings screen. I’ve seen too many apps now where you get the first bit for free, and then a kid taps on something that flings up an IAP window. Sure, they’re not going to purchase anything at that moment (well, unless they’re very tech savvy and you are asleep); but the child will get frustrated at not being able to easily exit that screen and get back to the fun parts, or when they inevitably end up back on that screen on a fairly regular basis.


Fiddly navigation.
 It takes time for the dexterity of young children to improve, and yet children’s apps are full of fiddly navigation elements. So make interfaces chunky. Ensure that if a kid accidentally exits to the main screen, they can continue by tapping a suitably massive button (it turns out a big Play symbol is a good one to use). If you don’t, you may find kids simply exit the app and don’t go back.

April 7, 2016. Read more in: Apps, Design, Opinions, Technology

Comments Off on Ratings screens in children’s apps need to die — and they’re not the only thing

newer posts »