Why developers should be worried about the App Store on iOS 6

October 8, 2012
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When we reviewed iOS 6 recently, most of the ‘200 new features’ were minor improvements to certain apps or general usability, but what was more striking was that the update saw the biggest revamp of the App Store since it launched in July 2008.

As we detailed at the time, the App Store looks like an improvement to everyday users; there’s new sections for ‘Starter Apps’ and a high profile section for business applications, while selected apps are displayed in a ‘card’ layout that gives you a visual snapshot of the app's features.

All of this is great for customers wanting to download well-regarded apps, but it got me thinking how it might represent a worry to developers, and specifically those with smaller budgets.

For having spent the best part of two years boasting about figures like there being 700,000 apps on iTunes and 25 billion app downloads, Apple now appears to be shifting focus when it comes to the App Store. Quantity is being moved aside and quality is taking a higher precedence.

As such, the apps now most visible on the App Store are household favorites: The 'Apps Starter Kit' points to apps like Flipboard, Twitter and Evernote, while Keynote, Quickoffice and Box feature prominently the '@Work' section.

The Chart areas pick out the most successful free and premium apps, and even those ‘New & Noteworthy’ and ‘What’s Hot’ sections now house less than 20 new apps from the last week, a far cry from the thousands of new apps that previously featured under their respective sections on the iOS 5 App Store.

This last point is a particular concern for developers, who will have noted the disappearance of the ‘New apps’ section in each category. With iOS 5, you could ‘sort by release date’ or by name, and you’d often get 25,000 results over the last couple of days.

Admittedly, the vast majority of these apps were poor quality but as Chris Newman, head of mobile development at Lightwood Games, explained last week, these sections were still vital to smaller developers.

“For a small developer, this is terrible news," wrote Newman on the company’s blog, when hearing of the new App Store. "Although it's only for a short period, the 'new release' exposure is extremely valuable. It's our opportunity to grab people's attention, build the initial user base and gauge the public's reaction without needing to spend a fortune on marketing."

The removal  of these sections, coupled with the fact that (due to the new card system) fewer results are displayed in the news apps sections, means some developers are going to be left out in the cold desperately seeking Apple’s approval.

I saw a few comments last week which really brought home why developers should be concerned about this:

“The removal of the 'sort by release date' option has prompted worries that those who search for new apps each day will instead be drawn to featured apps and already popular chart-toppers,” said Oli Christie, CEO of games developer Neon Play, when writing in The Guardian this week.

“In other words, developers can’t count on the release of an app to give them a quick hit of exposure – working on keywords, descriptions, marketing, social promotion and other means will take on increased importance”, said Sarah Perez of TechCrunch.

Apple has long since been urged to focus on quality rather than quality and in that effect this move is to be congratulated.

Bill Burgar, developer at Meeting Gold, was more positive on the news and said that the ‘best apps will eventually rise’ to the surface, a move which Burgar said will be 'good for everyone'.

The trouble is however, if discovering new apps comes to be a bind, what hope do developers have of catching everyday consumers?

And an ultimately bigger question is if unsuccessful or just unlucky developers continue to struggle to get visibility on iOS 6, how long before they look elsewhere? Judging by last week’s Apps World, an event dominated by calls for developers to make apps for enterprise, Android, BB10 and Windows 8, that could be a more reasonable question than we think.


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