iPhone Life magazine

The App Store -- One Year Later

The App Store’s phenomenal growth makes it difficult for developers to get their apps noticed

When Apple launched the App Store a little over one year ago, there were only 500 apps available. Now, just over a year later, there are over 50,000. In July, Apple announced that the App Store had surpassed 1.5 billion downloads. And back in March, Apple announced that over 40 million iPhone and iPod touches had been sold. In short, anything related to the iPhone is growing by leaps and bounds.

Unfortunately, you can’t grow this fast without experiencing some growing pains, and the biggest pain associated with the App Store is wading through thousands of titles to find the one you need. This isn’t just a problem for iPhone and iPod touch owners; it affects app developers as well. They’ve learned quickly that if they’re not listed in one of the featured lists in the App Store, their app isn’t getting any attention from consumers.

The App Store can be accessed from the iTunes desktop application or via the iPhone or iPod touch. The App Store currently offers the following ways to discover apps on the iPhone: Featured apps (New, What’s Hot), Categories, Top 25 (Paid and Free apps; each can expand to show the top 50 apps), and Search. The desktop version of the App Store displays New and Noteworthy apps, What’s Hot, Staff Favorites, Top Paid Apps, and Top Free Apps. It also lists apps by category and provides a Power Search feature.

These are all logical ways to sift through the mix. But as the store grows, discovering apps will become less effective, and very time consuming. There’s got to be a better way.

How I discovered my apps

I currently have 70 third-party apps installed on my iPhone. Here’s a breakdown of how I found out about these apps:

Note that only 15% of my purchases were selected from the Top 25 list.

For example, one of my favorite games is Flight Control ($0.99). I saw it at the top of the Top Paid Apps list for weeks, but it wasn’t until one of my associates told me how much time he spent playing it that I actually took the 99 cent plunge. Recommendations, either from a friend or a trusted source, have proven to be a better way for me to discover apps.

Getting noticed in the App Store

When Apple launched the App Store last July, they told developers that the 70/30 revenue split was favorable to developers because Apple would be incurring the distribution and marketing costs. Apple does promote the App Store in display ads and television commercials, but it doesn’t focus much on individual apps—a very few are featured in these ads.

Apple’s primary means of promoting individual apps are the various sections in the App Store. But again, relatively few apps get the spotlight. For example, here is a list of the number of apps listed in the various special sections of the desktop version of the App Store when this article was finalized in mid-August:

According to these figures, about .6% of the titles get any special mention in the App Store. Once there are a million titles in the App Store, the odds of getting featured are just about as good as getting struck by lightning. And though apps from small, independent developers make up more than 90% of the App Store titles, the majority of the featured apps are from larger, well-known developers.

So all a developer has to do is create a great app to get featured in one of the App Store lists, right? Well, not quite. If you look at the Top Paid Apps list, you’ll notice that there are quite a few 99 cent apps listed there. One of my favorite apps is SAT Vocab Challenge ($4.99), but it will never make the Top Paid Apps list unless the developer drops the price and makes a major marketing push. If not, the app will never get the attention I think it deserves.

Again, the problem is that if an app isn’t in one of these lists, it isn’t getting noticed or downloaded. What can developers do about this? Not much in terms of placement in the App Store—it’s already crowded and will only get more so in the future. It does help to get reviews published on blogs and app review sites, but that won’t take you very far. Developers will have to learn to market their apps in order to get their apps noticed—and downloaded!