How Broken is Discovery on the App Store? This Broken.

Much has been made over the years about how the App Store could be improved for both developers and customers. Areas like interactive reviews, trial periods, an App Store VP and paid upgrades are all important. One of the key areas many agree is the biggest problem Apple has yet to correctly address is discovery. For small developers like myself, a potential customer’s ability to find your app on the App Store is critical. If customers can’t easily discover and download your software, your app (and indeed your business) has little chance of survival.

The App Store now has over 1.2 million apps available to consumers and with such a wide range of products, it’s more important than ever people are able to quickly find and what they are looking for. Developers have known for years that searching for something in particular doesn’t always yield the results you’d expect, but often it’s downright ridiculous.

Take Twitterrific, the 3rd party Twitter client that my company, The Iconfactory, created back in 2007 and released on the App Store in 2008. Twitterrific was there at the launch of the App Store and the latest iteration, version 5, is available even today, seven years later. Despite many 3rd party Twitter apps going the way of the dodo, Twitterrific, Tweetbot and a few other hearty Twitter clients have survived and sometimes even thrived. This despite Apple’s search results, which bear little resemblance to what a typical user might expect when searching for a simple, straightforward term like “Twitter” on the App Store.

The following list was generated by a manual App Store (iPhone) search on Nov 15th, 2014 for the term “Twitter”. To make the list easier to parse, I’ve called out all apps that allow a user to directly read AND post to Twitter in bold. Everything else is either a game, a utility, or some other social network enhancement. The official app from Twitter is naturally the first result, but the next actual Twitter client (Hootsuite) doesn’t appear on the list until #20 and the next one after that comes in at #62. Even the mega-popular Tweetbot isn’t returned in the results until position #81 and even then, the older v2 of Tweetbot (for iOS 6) comes first. Where’s Twitterrific? Although it contains the word “Twitter” in the app’s name, Twitterrific isn’t seen in the list until you scroll all the way down to #100.

1. Twitter
2. Instagram
3. Framatic
4. Tweegrow
5. Pick Jointer
6. Happy Park
7. Crop Pic
8. Wayze Social GPS
9. Flipboard
10. InstaCollage Pro
11. Symbol Keyboard
12. Find Unfollowers
13. Cool Fonts
14. Symbolizer
15. Big Emoji
16. Get Followers
17. Framatic Mess
18. Alarm Clock HD
19. Textgram
20. Hootsuite
21. Emoticon Art
22. Textizer Fonts
23. 4 For Follow
24. Pixable
25. Just Unfollow
26. Unfollow for Twitter
27. ColorEffects
28. Photobooth
29. G-Whizz
30. New Cool Text
31. Google+
32. Step
33. Tweetcaster for Twitter
34. Vine
35. Camera Awesome
36. InstaEffect Effects
37. Emoticons and Emoji
38. TwitBoost Pro
39. PickGram
40. Insta Scrapbook
41. SpaceEffect
42. Orbs
43. MB2:YouTube
44. Facetouch HD Light
45. Paper Toss Friends
46. Vodio
47. Frame UR Life
48. HayWire Text Free
49. Nimble Quest
50. InstaCollage Pro
51. TweetBoost Pro
52. Right Behind
53. Emoji>
54. Follow Tool for Twitter
55. Color Cap
56. Emoji for iOS 8
57. Camera+
58. Emoji Emoticons
59. Text2Pic
60. Emoji 2 Emoticons
61. Fonts-Cool Font Maker
62. Echofon Pro
63. LiPix Pro
64. Alarm Clock HD
65. Smilebox Moments
66. Everypost for Social Media
67. Google Apps Browser Plus
68. Clipchat
69. VPN Express
70. ÜberSocial for Twitter
71. You Doodle
72. TweetBot 2 (iOS 6)
73. Stocks Live
74. Stocks Live Essentials
75. GameFly
76. Trendyful
77. Oz Quake
78. Buffer for Social Media
79. Yahoo! News Digest
80. Wefollow for Twitter
81. TweetBot 3
82. Photo Notes HD
83. Emoji Art and Text
84. Find Unfollowers Pro
85. Followers for Twitter
86. Follower Boost for Twitter
87. Color Effects FX HD
88. Double Ball
89. TwitGrow for Twitter
90. Twittelator Pro (iOS 6)
91. Emoji Art
92. TwitBoost Pro for Twitter
93. Jedi Lightsaber
94. Get Followers for Instagram
95. Aqua Emoji Keyboard
96. Bloomberg
97. Emoji for Messaging
98. Facely HD for Facebook
99. Timehop
100. Twitterriffic 5
101. IFTTT
102. FollowBoost for Twitter
103. Hyperlapse for Instagram
104. Freebie
105. PhotoFrame
106. Text Pics Free
107. Funimate
108. Followers + for Twitter
109. Emoji Keypad
110. Follower Plus
111. TweetBoost
112. Wow Followers for Twitter
113. Table Top Racing
114. TwitBird Free for Twitter
115. Singing Texts
116. Dice World 6 Free
117. Cool Frames and Picture Effects
118. Bamboo Wallet
119. JustFollow for Instagram
120. Twitter Check
121. TurboBoost for Vine
122. PhillyD Official
123. Hybrid Fonts
124. Mixgram
125. Color Zen
126. Keyboard Pro
127. Symbol Keyboard
128. Tweetlogix for Twitter

148. Echofon for Twitter

167. TweetList (iOS 6)

Every app in bold on this list should precede every other app (save the official client) in the results. This is especially true of apps that are not optimized for iOS 8, yet some apps built for iOS 6 (not iOS 7, 6!) come first. Why? Why games appear on this list at all is a mystery, they are by far the least relevant and don’t even get me started on #18 “Alarm Clock HD” and #93 “Jedi Lightsaber” (really?). Twitter’s own Vine app doesn’t appear here until #34 and some would argue it should be result #2, and rightfully so. It’s obvious that Apple’s search algorithm needs adjusting so it’s weighted not towards downloads or popularity, but relevance.

Finding apps for a small niche category like Twitter clients is relatively easy. Imagine how hard it must be to find a particular game in the vast wilderness that is the App Store if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Until Apple decides to take definitive steps to improve search results, either via human curation, or by lowering dependencies on popularity, easy discovery in the store will continue to be a major problem. Unfortunately for small developers who need paying customers to survive, time is quickly running out.

***

PS – One thing I learned while compiling this post is that there are a lot of apps that purport to help you boost your follower count on Twitter. Like tons. That and emoji apps. Who doesn’t like emoji though? :-)

PPS – One of the ways developers let Apple know that something is broken is by filing Radar reports for a given bug or improvement. Lots of developers have filed radars for the App Store’s irrelevant search results including Radar #18265234 from Simon Booth. In his report, Simon describes just how badly a search related to his music app Smilophone returns results. If you’re an Apple dev, dupe his radar, hopefully it will do some good.

Why ‘Gotham’ Is Awesome


MINOR SPOILER WARNING: This post talks about general character direction, minor plot points, settings, etc. for Fox’s Gotham. If you know Batman lore, then you’re probably safe to read on, otherwise head back to the Batcave.

I consider myself a superhero fan, but not a super-fan. That is to say my love of the genre comes more from movies and TV than it does from knowing every little detail about a particular character’s origin, backstory and development. I haven’t read Batman comics since I was a kid and I don’t play the Batman video games. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why I’m enjoying Fox’s new show – Gotham so much. The show takes place in its name-sake city, just after the brutal murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and plays out like a gritty crime drama in the biggest, grittiest metropolis of them all, Gotham City.

Like Smallville that tracked the formative years of Clark Kent on his road to becoming Superman, Gotham gives us a sneak peek inside the young mind of Master Bruce Wayne, his guardian Alfred, Detective Jim Gordon and host of future super-villains that will one day make life a living hell for the denizens of Gotham. The comparison to Smallville ends there however. As is true so often, Batman’s story is far more interesting than Superman’s ever hoped to be. I’m a HUGE Superman fan but for some reason I could never could get into Smallville. On the other hand, Gotham has me firmly in its grasp. There are a bunch of reasons for this and I just wanted to outline a few of them here for people who are thinking about watching but who are rightly skeptical. The show just had its mid-season finale which, if you’ve not watched so far, is a great time to dive in and catch up.

Young Bruce Wayne & Alfred

Without Bruce Wayne, there’s no Batman and even though Gotham certainly plays out like a crime drama, full of colorful criminals, crooked cops and political corruption, at its heart the story is about how Bruce eventually becomes the Dark Knight. Perhaps more than any other entry thus far, Gotham gives us a unique insight into the mind of the recently-orphaned Wayne and what makes him tick. From the comics (and countless portrayals in movies & TV) we know Bruce’s parents are killed in front of him in cold blood, but from there we typically jump years ahead, learn how he discovers the Batcave, travels the world training in martial arts and eventually returns to Gotham to don the familiar cape and cowl… and that’s it.

With a weekly TV series like Gotham, writers have a unique opportunity to explore Bruce’s character like never before and show us why he changes from that frightened kid in the alley to the powerful, dark vigilante he’s destined to be. Bruce becomes obsessed with finding the person who not only killed his parents, but also learning about the crime network that made it possible in the first place. He quickly realizes he has the resources to keep tabs on just about everyone, laying the foundation for becoming a master detective in the process. He also begins to test himself, holding his breath in the family pool for as long as possible, balancing precariously on railings and more so he can become stronger both mentally and physically.

Perhaps most importantly, his legal guardian, the loyal Alfred, is there every step of the way to protect him and try and help him make sense of the tragedy that surrounds him. In subtle ways, Alfred unknowingly guides Bruce to become his future Bat-self. When Bruce is bullied at school, Alfred not only teaches him how to physically defend himself, but also makes it directly possible for Bruce to confront his attacker. All of these scenes give depth and meaning to the familiar struggles Alfred endures as Bruce fights for his life as an adult. In the universe of Gotham, Alfred has become the ultimate enabler and in my opinion, it’s the single best reason to watch the show.

The Rogue’s Gallery

Another awesome aspect of Gotham is the entire ensemble cast of characters and getting to explore the intricate web of relationships they have with each other, and ultimately Batman. The show’s primary focus on the fresh, young Detective, Jim Gordon is appropriate and Ben McKenzie does a fine turn as does Donal Logue as Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock. Gordon is the one good cop in a bad city which makes the monumental task of cleaning up Gotham seem even more impossible. There are crime bosses like the delightfully villainous Fish Mooney played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and of course Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot played wonderfully by Robin Lord Taylor who steals more scenes than a pickpocket steals wallets.

There’s a corrupt mayor, police commissioner, hired mercenaries and an odd assortment of crazies that Gotham just seems to breed like some twisted, evil puppy mill. It’s easy to see why the city needs a protector but until Bruce comes of age, Gordon must fill the role for the time being. Sometimes Gotham hits us over the head one too many times with the name of a character just to make sure we “get” who they are, but it’s a concession I’m willing to grant them at this early stage in the game.

Overall, the interplay of the large cast of characters is interesting and contains enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, which I like. I’m also looking forward to Morena Baccarin joining the cast as Dr. Leslie Thompkins after the mid-season break. Dr. Thompkins is an important figure in Gotham lore and should provide some much-needed matriarchal balance in Bruce’s tumultuous life. If there’s one criticism of the cast of characters, it’s that the producers rely a bit too much on the comics. I like meeting characters I’m not familiar with that have been created specifically for the TV show like Fish Mooney. Not every bad (or good) guy has to come from the comics.

Production Design

From the cavernous Gotham PD interior, to the on-location shooting in and around New York City, to the thoughtful costume design and especially the amazing CGI long-shots of the city’s waterfront, the visual design behind the Gotham is inspired. Perhaps more than any other TV show I’ve watched in recent memory, Gotham seems like an actual place. The city feels epic in scope and situated just perfectly between retro and modern styling (there are no smartphones, flat-panel monitors, etc) for today’s television audiences.

Each week, Gotham looks and feels more like a film than a TV show. It also manages to strike a great balance between shots designed specifically for television but inspired by the comics. The city itself feels huge and sprawling and a character in its own right, which was one of the things I loved most about Twin Peaks, and that’s a good thing. I especially love the long, sideways tracking shots that give us glimpses down between the city’s towering buildings. The CGI and lighting in these shots is masterful and totally realistic. Gotham’s top-notch production design sets it far above other superhero TV entries like Lois & Clark, Smallville, and Arrow and makes the stories that much more convincing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s universe feels as fully realized as Gotham’s.

Conclusion

There are lots of great reasons to watch Gotham, but perhaps the best one is that the show manages to make perfect sense of the fantastical world of Batman. Watching the stories unfold and seeing how the characters evolve from week to week brings info focus the incredible mythos that is the Dark Knight. Bob Kane created a wonderful character in Batman 75 years ago, but in all that time we’ve really only learned a little about what motivates Bruce Wayne to do what he does as well as those who surround him. Fox’s Gotham shines a bright light in that dark corner of the comic book world and the results are fun, unexpected and visually stunning. I only hope the show lasts long enough to watch Bruce grow up into the hero he’s destined to be.

I’ve Got An ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Theory


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’ve not watched up through S2, ep 6, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

This season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has really been firing on all cylinders. After a slow and rocky start, the show started to really come into it’s own after the universe shaking events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier debuted in theaters. Since the fateful emergence of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s nemesis, Hydra and the subsequent dissolution of the agency, the drama has really been amped up for Coulson and his now, tiny, rag-tag team.

One of the best story lines we were introduced to at the start of S2 was Agent Jemma Simmons’ infiltration of Hydra in order to gain critical intelligence on their base of operations. Simmons (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Henstridge) worked as a scientist in one of Hydra’s top labs, flying under the radar of the big bads who, as we learned, have a penchant for brainwashing talented and gifted people to turn them into weapons against S.H.I.E.L.D. Jemma managed to feed intelligence reports to Coulson until she was discovered and rooted out in ep 5 – A Hen in the Wolf House. Thankfully she escaped unharmed and un-brainwashed – or DID she?

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Here’s my theory – Before she escaped with the help of Mockinbird “Bobbi” Morse, I think Jemma was indeed seized and put through Hydra’s brainwashing program and turned into an eventual mole against Colson, May, Skye and even the now-damanged Fitz. There are a bunch of breadcrumb clues that will make this seem obvious later on. Firstly, Ward tells Skye in the brig that Hydra’s brainwashing is only done in special cases, they have to have a certain type of personality for it to take. Jemma has always tried to be a good agent, following orders and making her superiors proud of her, in other worse she’s perfectly suited to obey programmed commands.

Second, when Morse returns Simmons to the team, Simmons thanks Coulson personally for getting her out before she was made to “Happily comply with all their commands”. Unless I missed something, there’s no way Simmons would know about Hydra’s brainwashing program, let alone the key trigger phrase “You will comply”, unless she had actually been through it herself. Trust me, she’s been turned into a sleeper agent behind our backs, and it’s going to be awesome.

The writers of S.H.I.E.L.D. have demonstrated their willingness to pull the rug out from under us as they did with the fantastic realization that Ward was a secret agent of Hydra in season 1. I think they have something similar planned with Simmons in S2. I’m not saying she’ll re-join the ranks of Hydra permanently, but I do think her story line and that of her close friend, Fitz will intersect in a most dramatic way. At some point, Fitz is going to return to his fully-functioning self and wouldn’t it be the biggest kicker if just as that happened, he and the rest of the team was betrayed by the re-programmed Jemma? Fitz would go literally off the deep end, plunging even further than he did in that box at the end of season 1. The kind of dramatic climax that represents would be off the charts and one that would make for some seriously awesome TV. Or perhaps Fitz will realize Jemma has been brainwashed and his need to protect and cure her will finally coax his brain back into working order.

Any way you cut it, this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up in fantastic fashion, with tons of action, hidden secrets and wonderful character development. I’ve enjoyed the addition of the new agents, Kyle MacLachian’s turn as Skye’s creepy father and Ward staying a bad guy and not being turned back to the side of right. I can’t wait to see what happens next, but in the meantime, I’ll be keeping one eye squarely focused on Simmons in the weeks ahead and so should you.

You Just Lost A Customer

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News today that some businesses have begun disabling the NFC readers in their retail locations so as block customers from using Apple Pay. When I read this, I have to say it filled me with rage. I don't yet own an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, but I will soon … [Continue reading]

You’ve Come a Long Way, Ollie!

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While preparing for the onslaught of technical support that accompanies new releases of our most popular app - Twitterrific, I was curious about just how many updates we've actually released over the years. I looked back through the app's version … [Continue reading]

Troubleshooting Broken App Store Downloads

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For the past several weeks I was unable to download any app, paid or free, from the iOS App Store. Every time I tried, once I tapped the button to buy an app and input my iTunes password, the App Store would display the progress indicator as if it … [Continue reading]

Space:1999 + LEGO = WIN!

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Builder Joe Klang recently posted images from his LEGO construction book Build Your Own Galaxy in which he features a few builds based on the cult 70's science fiction TV series Space: 1999 and if you're a fan of the show like I am, the results will … [Continue reading]