Way back in 2008 the App Store launched for the iPhone and iPod Touch (I’m not even sure it was called ‘iOS’ yet). Around spring 2009 I had taken two intro CS courses, and was intrigued by this new mobile app thing.
So I spent $600 of the $1000 I had left in my bank account on a used Macbook and an iPod touch. I opened a Wells Fargo bank account because I needed a routing number so Apple could pay me. And then I bought a book on iPhone programming.
I struggled through the book (thank god I didn’t know how to use source control yet, I can only imagine the horrors) and released my first app about a month after acquiring all the gear I needed. Much to my astonishment, I made a few dollars. Not a lot, but enough to buy myself a clunker car the following year and start saving some money. Customers emailed me, good reviews rolled in that made me feel great, and bad reviews left me feeling a little more sad than they probably should have. The point is, I had tasted software entrepreneurship for the first time and found it intoxicating.
At that time, Apple had a list that aligned perfectly with developer incentives, called ‘What’s New’. Every time I updated my app, I would get into the top of that list for one to three hours and pick up a new cohort of users to try out the latest features. For someone without any marketing experience, it was like a quick shot of drugs. I would make a new feature, upload it to the App Store, and then get immediate feedback from new people using it. By making the ‘New’ category a viable marketing channel, my time was freed up to keep doing the thing I wanted to be doing most: coding.
And then…. Well, it got shitty.
In today’s world, the iOS App Store has 4 tabs for discovery. A ‘Featured’ section that requires you to know someone on the inside to be placed there (or be incredibly lucky). An ‘Explore’ tab that is a weird geo-located recommendation engine, coupled with arbitrary subcategories. A ‘Search’ tab where the real money is at if you can solve the black magic jigsaw puzzle of app store optimization. Finally, there is a ‘Top Charts’ section that shows you the top apps in the ‘Paid’, ‘Free’, and ‘Top Grossing’ lists, which you can break down by category.
Who even cares about ‘Top Grossing’ anyways? Yes… please give me a list of the apps that gamify the most people with in-app purchases, because I would like to lose all my money as well (said no one ever).
tvOS and watchOS are even worse
I was excited enough by watchOS to build an app I thought would be useful for it, in the form of a dictionary. Utilizing the dictation feature of watchOS you could speak into your watch and get a definition for a word. Sure, it wasn’t ground breaking, but I think it has more utility than a lot of watchOS apps out there.
Unfortunately, when the watchOS App Store was revealed I lost almost all motivation. There aren’t even category lists on watchOS! Discovery is incredibly difficult except for those same well connected apps who get featured again and again. For a small time developer like me, being discovered in the watchOS App Store is impossible. I won’t be publishing another watchOS app under my personal account, unless drastic discovery changes are made.
The recent launch of tvOS showcases similar things in terms of discovery. There’s a featured section for the well connected companies and almost nowhere else to be discovered. A pretty bleak landscape.
For the love of developers – bring back the ‘New’ section
The ‘New’ list was the reason I continued to develop for iOS after I first released my app. It was as close to programming nirvana as I’ve ever gotten.. just my app, some guaranteed users on launch day, and a feedback loop that encouraged me to make my app better. It was good for the iOS App Store, good for developers, and way more interesting than ‘Top Grossing’.
For the love of developers, can we get it back?