Making the App Store a Nicer Place

Ben

With Apple’s recent mandate that all app submissions and updates support both Retina resolution and the iPhone 5 screen size starting May 1st, there a has been some talk about culling the app store of the large number of abandoned apps.

David Smith writes:

I do, however, wish that Apple would go farther with this and rather than just preventing further updates to old apps actually remove them from sale. On May 1st, when this policy goes into effect, it will have been 222 days since the iPhone 5 was introduced. Any app that hasn’t yet been updated to support its form factor starts to enter into the territory of abandonment. Indeed after that date they will be in a state of policy enforced abandonment.

This seems unnecessarily harsh, and makes the job of small developers, maintaining multiple apps, even more difficult. Many indie developers rely on residual income from established apps, to support new development. Switching back and forth between new development and updating old code for new devices can be jarring, causing slow downs on both sides of the switch. I say this while at the same time grumbling every time I download an app that doesn’t yet support iPhone 5 resolution.

Manton Reece responds with another possible solution:

Instead of being removed from sale, abandoned apps could switch to an archived state. They would no longer show up in top lists or even search, but could still be found with a direct link.

This is solves some of the issues with automatic culling and addresses the glaring problem of lost history which the internet suffers from without any help from Apple-enforced policy. Unfortunately, archived apps that are only accessible via a link, in practicality, could still be lost all too easily.

So I’d like to expand upon Manton’s suggestion with a few ideas that have been rattling around my head lately:

  1. Once an app has become out-of-date with the current hardware support requirements, it should be labeled as abandoned until updated. Taking a hard line with verbiage is a great way that Apple can simply set the tone without actually doing much.
  2. Abandoned apps could be automatically removed from lists and search results if they start to receive negative ratings. From then on they would only be accessible via a permalink (or company page) as Manton suggests.
  3. Search results could be weighted by the device you are using quite heavily. Just like how on iPhone you don’t see iPad-only apps when searching the app store; on iPhone 5 you should be very unlikely to see apps that only support 3.5-inch screens.

By adopting a strategy like the one above, the App Store could strongly encourage developers to move to supporting the newest technology. The policy would also weed out abandoned apps in the store, improving consumer experience, while preserving Apple’s precious “X hundred thousand apps in the store” tally. All this could be had without actually losing the art and history of software in the App Store until the App Store itself goes away.

Ben: Seriously, does anyone out there think about the kids that are growing up with the App Store software distribution model? When I want to wax nostalgic, I just go find an emulator and a game from the ‘80s or early ‘90s. What will adults do in 20 or 30 years when they want to reconnect with their childhood memories of playing Farmville or Sweatshop HD?