App Store’s Little Shop of User Interface Horrors

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App Store’s Little Shop of User Interface Horrors

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I am trying to find a specific kind of iOS application. I am using the App Store in iTunes, on a Macbook Pro with a 27″ external monitor, extended keyboard, and wireless mouse. But it doesn’t really matter. I could be on my ipad, and the experience would be just as frustrating. Apple says that they have 500,000 apps available for iOS. This is a big point of pride for Apple. Well let’s look at all the tools Apple gives iOS users to navigate 500,000 Apps to find what they want.

I would like to find a keyboard utility the can replace the iPad software keyboard with one that has arrow keys for editing and is more accurate. I don’t know if such a utility exists, however the keyboard and text editing capabilities of the iPad are a regular user complaint. I open iTunes and click on iTunes Store and then the app store. See the screen shot below. I am confronted with a giant rotating advertising banner that often features Apple products like ibooks 2 and iTunes U. Scanning the rest of the page I see headings New and Noteworthy, and Quicklinks, this section includes additional lists featuring Apps chosen by Apple.

Apple App Store Front

The Apple App Store Front

On the right there is a “Top Charts” list featuring more Apps that are the top of some metric, also controlled by Apple. Other Navigation headings include the enlightening “What’s Hot” section, featuring another Apple controlled list of Apps. Scrolling down the page are 7 more lists defined by Apple staff.

Futile Browsing
What if you know generally what kind of App you want? Well out of the whole first page of the App Store, there is only one small button that might take you to where you want to go. Under Quicklinks is a dropdown list with broad categories. How long do you think it would take for most users to find this single button with its hidden categories? Well, they probably wouldn’t. I did, because I am writing this article and went over the App Store’s front page very carefully. Clicking on the drop down I am confronted with a long list in very small font, of all the categories. After a couple tries I click on the category Utilities.


iPad Utilities Landing page. No further categories, more Apple controlled lists. Click image to see UI detail.

The Utilities page loads more Apple lists, with New and What’s Hot again listing Apps that Apple has chosen to feature. This is the end of the category navigation. Only after scrolling down do we find the All Utilities iPad Apps section. The section has 3960 applications, of which we can see the first 24 with listed with “most recently released” at the top.

App Store Ipad Utilities landing page screenshot

App Store Ipad Utilities page, 3960 Apps

To find a keyboard I re-order the list and click on “K-O” since I am looking for a keyboard utility. iTunes returns 180 applications from App iXML to LogVu. I find 2 Apps with the first word Keyboard. After viewing an App I click the Back button, however the list is different and I am disoriented. The 3960 Apps are reordered by release date again and I am back on the first page. After multiple tries I give up on browsing. However there are likely other keyboard utilities that use different names, so I will try another approach.

Searching for Something?
ITunes has a global search feature in the top right of the application. searching “keyboard” in this search utility returns results from movies, music and every other section of the iTunes store. Filtering by Apps, and then again by iPad Apps returns all iPad Apps for “keyboard” a whopping 581 entries, all conveniently sorted by well, actually I cannot determine how they are sorted, and I can’t change the sort. My search for a keyboard utility has returned Apps from almost every category, including Utilities. More specific search terms, such as “keyboard utility” or “keypad” or “arrow keys” returned more specific results, including everything from emoticon Apps to remote controls for PC and Mac applications. Apparently it is easier to turn the iPad into a keyboard for a PC application then it is to create a different keyboard for the iPad itself.

Searching returns long unordered lists with no descriptions

Power Search: Did you Miss it? I did.

In doing the search I stumbled upon the Power Search feature. Power Search allows you to select a more detailed search criteria. Where do you find it? Well that’s a good question as power search appears and disappears from the App Store UI, even while you use it. It also doesn’t seem work, missing some Apps, or returning Apps not in the category selected.

Too little information
As can been seen in the figure above, search results include a picture, the title of the application, the date it was updated and the price. There is literally no way to judge whether an App is worth your time unless you click on it and view the application’s page. Even on this page critical information about the App is hidden from view on the App’s own page, Users are forced to click again to read more than the first 2 lines of the App’s description.

Useful information is hidden from users on the App's own page

Your App is lost in the App Store
App developers should be very concerned about How Apple is controlling access to their applications. By not building in effective browsing and search features, Apple is preventing customers finding your application. This means all the time, effort, and money spent on your App is wasted, since unless the marketers running the App Store choose to promote your App in the Apple controlled lists, potential customers can’t find your product.

A lesson from Amazon and Musician’s Friend
Apple customers and iOS Developers both lose with Apple’s App Store User Interface. Navigating the App Store is painful, slow, and ineffective. It is clear that the App Store in iTunes was never designed to handle an inventory of 500,000 Apps. The App Store and the other storefronts in iTunes need a major investment to bring them up to the ecommerce standards of today. Instead of providing effective tools that allow users to find the Apps they need, Apple is pushing dozens of lists, in the hope that Apple taste makers know what Apps their customers want. This is bad for the App market, bad for App developers, and very bad for App Store customers. Apple needs to take a lesson from ecommerce sites such as Musician’s Friend and Amazon. Those sites handle as many or more products then the App Store and they provide the tools users need to find the products they want. App store users, whether on the PC, iPad or iPhone need to be able to browse and search effectively to find the Apps they need. Today the App Store is a little shop of horrors to use, devouring both customer’s and developer’s time and money. I still have not found that keyboard utility to replace Apple’s iPad keyboard, so I will continue to reach for the laptop and leave the emails for the Android powered Motorola Droid Pro World phone with its real keyboard.