Tuesday, August 05, 2008

iPhone App Store: Impressions

So, iPhone 2.0 has been out a while now. I thought I'd post some of my impressions and experiences so far. As I'm diligently hard at work on my own App Store product, a mobile version of MacGourmet, it's obviously in my best interest that it be the best possible experience for people. My experiences so far have been mixed.

First off, the concept and overall execution of the App Store is brilliant. It's so easy to use, and so easy to get applications on your iPhone and iPod touch. Buying is as simple as buying music or movies, which is great.

That said, already there have been many reported problems. Things like developers "gaming the system" by using spaces and other characters to influence the sorting of products. I can't tell you how annoying I found that to be while browsing until Apple (THANKFULLY) fixed it. The whole concept of doing that with your product name isn't something I'd ever do, and it strikes me as very sleazy, but whatever, you are no longer able to do that now.

One other thing that has been sort of surprising is the seeming lack of any editorial control by the App Store. This leads to a LOT of duplication, both in application name and function. Maybe part of the reason is the very limited number of characters available for an application name. I don't know, but there are a LOT of "to do" and shopping list applications that all seem to do the same basic thing. Duplication seems to be rampant. Maybe Apple will eventually remove things based on low sales? I don't know. Considering a lot of these duplicated apps aren't free, and there is no way to demo them, how do you even decide amongst them?

As many others have mentioned, the review system is leaving much to be desired. There are lots of low ratings submitted on things like price (it should be FREE!!!) by people who haven't even tried the application. As a developer, it's not great to see your application rated 2 out of 5 stars, by people who haven't even tried it. Apple could fix this by only allowing those who have downloaded or purchased the application to review and rate it.

Installation, I've found to be a breeze. I have, like a lot of others, had some real problems though. I've frequently had to reinstall applications. I've updated applications and had them crash, taking down my iPhone in the process. So far, the first iteration of iPhone 2.0 seems to be very unstable. I've also had one application crash and from that point on, not been able to launch any of my 3rd party applications, even after rebooting. I could only get things working by reinstalling most of my applications. Not an ideal situation if you are away from your Mac and/or a wifi connection.

As far as apps go, I've found them to be of mixed quality. The games I've purchased have been great. I purchased both Trism, and BubbleBash, and both are of high quality and stability. I've also downloaded the free Aurora Feint and been happy with that as well.

I've purchased MLB.com's At Bat, and find that right now, it's really not worth the money. All you get is a part of the schedule. You can't get standings, you can't get any information on your favorite team, and you can't set a favorite team. What they are selling for $5 I find to be of limited use to me. The fact that apparently it's only good for this season is also not a point in it's favor. If they plan on charging $9.95 for this each year, I'll definitely pass on future versions.

Some of the free apps I've downloaded do a much better job.

NewNewsWire works really well (even the version that Apple has made available to us so far, despite all of Brent's hard work).

The New York Times app is great. It works well and has a very usable design.

AIM from AOL I find to be very unstable, so I haven't really been using it. It also doesn't support push notification yet, so it's of limited use.

WeatherBug on the surface isn't bad, but I find it to be very limited. No radar in motion and no clear way to update the radar picture without quitting and restarting. The static picture is really of limited use. I also find the locations available for my zip code to be odd, compared to what I'd find on, say, weather.com.

Box Office is simple, and it works well.

Shazam I think is one of the cooler apps I've downloaded. It's deadly accurate in identifying songs, and the UI is really well done.

I can understand that building an iPhone app, even though much simpler than, say, a Mac app, isn't really easy. Design is so key to creating a great iPhone app I think, even moreso if you are trying to pare down a desktop app to an iPhone one, like I'm in the process of doing with MacGourmet. You want to strike a perfect balance between what's there and what's not, and that's not always easy. This is one of the things that is delaying my own work. Another is the lack of any easy way to get your desktop information from your Mac application to your iPhone application.

Those things aside though, development on my own application is progressing pretty well. The fact that MacGourmet isn't JUST a recipe application is extending development time. It's not enough for me to do just recipes, I also have to do wine notes, cooking notes and shopping lists. Each one takes a certain amount of dedicated time. People have been asking me when the iPhone version of MacGourmet will be done, but I don't have a date yet. I'm doing my best to make a quality app, and not just throw something out there to "catch the wave."


At August 10, 2008 11:28 AM, Blogger Vince said...

Michael - I agree with your assessment of iPhone Apps. With respect to the direction MG is going with an App I've been playing with "Shopper" on my iPhone as a carry along shopping list. It's helped me discover what I really want.
In no particular order here's what I'd like this type of app to do:
- be able to maintain a list of pantry items (i.e. canned tomatoes, toilet paper, potatoes, etc.) that I regularly replenish on my weekly shopping.
- Integrate the pantry list with all the other items that I need to purchase (a recipe ingredient, a sale item, etc.)
- allow me to order the items either by their category (meats, produce, paper goods, etc.) or by the aisle I encounter them in the supermarket(s) I shop in.
- allow me the option of displaying only the items I need to buy
- provide a field for "quantity"
- provide a field for "store name"
- provide a note field for each item
- allow me to selectively display the items I need from a particular store
- provide a checkoff when item is purchased

The above are by no means a complete list but would be a good start and, as far as I can tell, not is any current iPhone app.


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