PreApps Guest Blog by: Artyom Diogtev, Head of Social Media at Combo App
Since its inception in 2008, the iTunes App Store has had two ways for consumers to discover new apps: Top Charts and Search. The built-in search tool has gone through multiple iterations, but even the latest version in iOS7 is still far from perfect. Let’s dig into the details and take a closer look at what is broken and what needs to be improved.
Multiple Words Search Query
Just like Google, the iOS App Store search relies on you knowing what specific apps you are looking for. This is called navigational search, and if you do know what app you’re looking for, it works perfectly. For example: Go to iTunes and type “FlipBoard” and you are returned the app you’re looking for in the top search results.
The problem comes when you are looking for a type of app and do not know exactly which app you’re searching for. Again, let’s go to iTunes and, this time, type in “Rome, complete guide” and you get zero apps returned (or if you’re in iTunes on an actual computer, you might get one app returned.) This is because while iOS App Store search is navigational, it is not topical – which means you cannot discover apps based on topic by search. Which, in our opinion, is really unfortunate and an oversight on Apple’s part.
Some may argue that consumers have become accustomed to simple one-or-two word searches in the iOS App Store. But, realistically, how many apps can you discover this way? The number of apps currently is right around 1 million and while it’s been proven that Apple’s app store still has the highest quality of apps available (in comparison with Google Play and Amazon’s App Store), many apps go undiscovered because of the limitations of multiple word, topical search within the UI. This impacts the bottom line profit of many developers who rely on downloads, ratings and reviews of their app to drive in-app advertising prospects.
“Related Searches” to Narrow Down Search
When you search anything on Google, at the bottom of your page you get a list of “searches related to your search query.” This means that if your first query wasn’t really accurate and didn’t return a result you’re happy with, you can pick one of Google’s suggested queries and either narrow down or set a different direction for your search.
The iOS App Store has no such feature: While you can apply several filters (iPad/iPhone only, Paid/Free/Any Price, Category and sort by Relevance/Popularity/Rating/Release Date) with a 1 million apps available, those filters don’t really make your life easier when it comes to finding a specific app you are having a hard time finding the right keyword to search for.
Search Results Layout
The iPad App Store UI gives consumers a much better picture (pun intended!), as opposed to the UI of the iPhone App Store. On an iPad you can scroll through rows of apps and pick a specific app you find interesting, open its profile with a single tap without leaving your search results.
On an iPhone it’s all about flipping through app cards. How many can you flip through before your thumb starts to hurt? It’s nice that the app cards aren’t cluttered and it’s one thing if you’re getting an app in the search result that has a really self-explained first screenshot… But as we’re aware – many apps do not feature a great preview image.
The nice thing about the existing search issues in the iOS App Store, is that a lot of these very issues were addressed in terms of web search by Google and Bing. So solutions are available. We do wonder if at some point Apple will cooperate with Microsoft on search? Currently Siri is powered by Bing, as Google isn’t ready to provide Apple the level of access to its Search Engine data as Microsoft has been willing to provide.
Back in April of 2012 Apple acquired Chomp, a search engine developed by Ben Keighran and Cathy Edwards. (The company was funded partly by ex-Google angels.) From 2009 to its’ acquisition by Apple in 2012, Chomp managed to build a really popular and useful app search tool that allowed consumers to search for apps in a way that the iOS App Store couldn’t handle in it’s own UI. Obviously, the move behind the acquisition in 2012 was to improve search in the iOS App Store. However, it’s been a year and a half since Apple acquired the company and only slim improvements have been made to improve how search functions in the iOS App Store.
There are undoubtedly many reasons why Chomp hasn’t been fully integrated into the iOS UI, most likely it is the size and complexity of the App Store which has prevented Chomp’s rollout. A year and a half isn’t a very long period of time to troubleshoot all the bugs which certainly have popped up in integrating the two search platforms. Even for a talented team, like that from Chomp, they likely need more time to resolve all these issues. The problem is, though, that the iOS App Store grows daily, with thousands-upon-thousands of apps being uploaded to the UI — and, the longer Apple waits to deploy Chomp into the iOS App Store, the more cumbersome the problem will become to resolve the discoverability issues they currently have.
What can be Improved?