Why the App Store Is the Biggest Pain on My iPhone

I’m used to reviewing apps. I’ve reviewed quite a few over the past months, and I plan on reviewing many more. I purchase each application that I end up reviewing (as well as many others), so I spend a lot of time in the App Store.

Using the App Store has been more painful than I would first imagine. If you only use it every once in a blue moon I’m sure that it’s fine, but for someone like myself, Apple’s marketplace is sorely lacking. Today I want to look at what the App Store could improve upon in order to create a compelling, enjoyable experience.

Problem One: Fragmentation

The App Store is available across three different devices: the iPhone, iPad and Mac, via iTunes. The Store is different on each device, leading to confusion and a lack of unified experience.

Consider the differences between the iPhone and iPad. Some are to be expected, like laying apps out in tables instead of lists; the iPad is a larger device, and this change makes sense. Changing the navigation bar along the bottom, however, doesn’t. This area should be the same between the different versions of the App Store, but manages to be different.

Why, for example, is the Purchased section hidden under the Updates section on the iPhone, while it’s right there on the iPad’s main navigation bar? Why is there a default Search tab on the iPhone but not a dedicated search are on the iPad? I see no reason for these to be different across platforms and it can get confusing when I’m switching between devices.


Do I really need to tell you how awful iTunes can be?

Do I really need to tell you how awful iTunes can be?

With the Mac this is compounded with being managed through iTunes. Not only do you have to skip around other content with any search or launch of the app, but the App Store section is also painfully slow. Each selection takes a maddeningly long time to load, making me want to skip the App Store on my Mac altogether.

Problem Two: In and Out, In and Out

As I said before, I purchase a lot of applications. Often this will happen at the beginning of the month or the end of the week, when I’m looking for new apps or Apple’s Featured section switches out for some new entries.

This all gets old very, very quickly.

This all gets old very, very quickly.

Let’s say that I want to buy three apps. I tap Download for the first one and I’m prompted to enter my password, which is fine; I’d rather keep my iPhone secure, that way no thief can steal my iPhone and ring up tons of charges in app purchases. Apple also made it so this entry counts for fifteen minutes, meaning I won’t have to enter it for the other two apps.

I do, however, have to enter the App Store again, find the other application I wanted to buy, and then repeat for the last application. This is a lot of jumping in and out between views and could be avoided by allowing someone to create a queue of applications that they would like to purchase.

This could also make it easier to manage your money (which Apple doesn’t want) by showing you the total for all three (or however many) applications. You decide what applications you’d like to buy, add them to your queue and then enter your password once. Your downloads begin, you get charged once and everyone leaves happy.

Problem Three: Genius? Not So Much.

Genius sounds like a good feature. You like applications, Apple likes selling you applications and sometimes it can be hard to find some new good ones (apparently some people don’t read AppStorm — scandalous). Genius would use the applications that you already own and recommend some new ones, like that one friend who knows all of the bands in the history of music and can recommend some new stuff when you feel like branching out.

Unfortunately, Genius is less of a genius and more like that one guy that keeps telling you that Miley Cyrus is the future of music. While he listens intently while you tell him what you like, he doesn’t take the quality of his recommendation into consideration. Miley Cyrus is a group of lackluster applications in this extended metaphor, the type of thing that Genius insists on churning out despite one-star ratings across the board.

Genius also feels the need to look at applications that you have purchased but deleted in order to make recommendations. This would be fine if it means that Genius would rule something out based on your previous decisions, but it doesn’t. Instead, Genius says ‘Hey, you hated Evernote? You still downloaded it, didn’t you? Download Evernote Food.’ While Evernote Food is a good app, if you didn’t find a use for Evernote you probably wouldn’t use their food-centric application.

In short: Genius is less of a genius and more of that one person you always felt needed a helmet while they were walking around.

Problem Four: All or Nothing

There is no way to test an application for a short amount of time. This would be handy for people like myself that would like to test a bunch of different apps but don’t want to pay for something that I end up hating. I don’t necessarily know how this would work in the App Store, but the Windows Phone Marketplace gets this right: you can download a paid app for a trial period, no charge necessary.

So I can rent The Dark Knight but I can't... what was I writing?

So I can rent The Dark Knight but I can't ... what was I writing?

Not only would this make it easier for people to make an informed decision on whether or not they would like to purchase an application, but would also cut down on ratings with comments like “Not worth the price” or something similar.

If Apple can figure out a way for us to rent movies (which has been around for a while) they should be able to figure out a way for me to rent an application.


If this were a review I wouldn’t recommend the App Store. Sure, it works and gets the job done, but I feel like Apple really dropped the ball here. Instead of creating a unified, enjoyable process, Apple has created a disjointed and neglected experience for the central focus of the company’s most popular product.

I love using my iPhone. I love buying apps and supporting developers that have put their own time and money into building something great. If Apple were to remove the problems I’ve outlined above, I would have a significantly easier time finding and using quality applications. Let’s hope they do.

  • Chris

    I agree with all your points here. I’ve been frustrated more than once by the lack of uniformity between the app stores. I’d love the ability to add apps to my wish list while on my iPhone or iPad.

  • anotherusername

    I find it ironic that recently I was actually going to write a note to your blog about the game Scramble with friends and the growing awful trend that is token based pay as you play.
    and here you have Scramble as the screen shot for your very good article. couldn agree more on the store.

    I was recently scammed by Zynga since they fail to mention that even after you PAY 2.99 for the full ad free app, you still have to pay after tokens are used to continue playing the game. charging is like that is crazy but not mentioning it in the product description clearly is dishonest and shallow and basically false advertising. I was hoping you could write about this.

    • http://nathanielmott.net Nathaniel Mott

      I’ll take a look into that, thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Anon

    Problem 2: Use the appstore on itunes to purchase multiple apps at once, then sync to your device. stop being a picky little bitch.

    Problem 4: Its up to the devs to release trial versions, not the appstore.

    All in all – your article sucks and so do you.

    If you were capable of building a better app store, then you would be working at apple, and not writting a diary on a website.

    • Tom

      lol @ above. Trial Apps are rubbish, and you don’t have to work at Apple to know the App store is a terrible experience.

      Go and read someone else’s ‘diary’.

    • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

      Not to mention that a lot of apps these days *HIDE* the fact that they are trial versions until after you have downloaded the app only to find that in order to play the rest of the levels, you need to make an in-app purchase. The app title doesn’t have the word “TRIAL” in it and the description is also “TRIAL” free.

    • Dilbert Asended

      Wow. What a loser.

  • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

    Sorry for the length, but I wanted to comment on the full article, and didn’t want to make this a weblog post itself.

    OK, first off, the purchased section in the iPhone version of the App Store isn’t “hidden”, it’s clearly labeled at the top of the list. Where else would you have Apple put it? It doesn’t belong anywhere else given the 5 toolbar choices. Apple rarely uses the “More” choice in it’s toolbars, so there really are not many other options for the “Purchased” button.

    The Search complaint is again, a UI thing. The iPad has a Title bar that has plenty of room for a dedicated Search field. This is not true for the iPhone. I suppose they could have put it above the items listed on the separate pages, but that would lead to a complaint about it being hidden like the “Purchased” button.

    Now, as far as iTunes on either the Mac or Windows… Man does iTunes need a *HUGE* overhaul! I would rather see a dedicated application for the iOS App Store and keep songs and video out. Basically, leave songs and videos in the “iTunes” Store and have a dedicated App Store that covered iOS and Mac OS. (By the way, the Mac App Store application is a joke and it’s source codes needs to be destroyed and a new application needs to be written from scratch. I truly can’t believe just how awful the Mac App Store application is!)

    Problem Two: Interesting that you mention this problem. There was a time, however brief, that I could purchase multiple applications from within the iOS versions of the App Store and I wasn’t taken out to the Home screen. It worked just like the iTunes store app where a purchase animated to a download toolbar item. (in the case of the iPhone, I believe they appeared in the update screen, but I can’t remember for sure.) I really couldn’t believe what was happening at first. I tested this several times with free apps and was easily able to select multiple apps for download without having to go back to the App Store apps. Sadly, this disappeared after only a few hours of joy to go back to the “normal” way of purchasing apps.

    I’m not sure if Apple was testing this new way of purchasing apps and it got out to the public, or they actually threw the switch, then thought better of it. No matter, I got a taste of bliss and I want it back!

    I do like your idea of a “Shopping Cart” for app purchases. It would make the purchase experience a lot easier in the iOS versions of the App Store.

    Problem Three: Your problem with “deleted” apps has me thinking. What exactly do you mean by “deleted” apps? Deleted from the iPad/iPhone? Deleted from iTunes’ list of purchased apps? Is the app truly deleted? No. Even an app deleted from iTunes App list can be re-downloaded these days. As far as Apple sees it, a purchased app is an app that has been purchased no matter what you do with it locally. Only if Apple removes the app from the App Store is the app truly deleted.

    Problem Four: The Windows Phone Marketplace and Android’s Marketplace both have the ability to “return” an in a brief window of opportunity. I think it is a couple of days or 48 hours. I’m not positive since I don’t own either. The ability to “return” an app if it doesn’t perform as advertised before “X amount of time as expired” would make purchasing apps a whole lot safer. Especially for parents who let their kids play with their iOS devices. (Sure, you have to enter a password to approve a purchase, but after the first purchase, there is a 15 minute window of opportunity for a kid to continue purchasing apps without the parents knowledge. This goes for in-app purchases too. Of course, the parent could leave the app, then return forcing the in-app purchase system to request a password again.) A parent could “return” the app purchased by a kid given a notification of some sort (email maybe?).

    Conclusion: I too “do not” recommend the iOS based App Store apps. There is a great app that lets you know what apps you currently own, lets you know when apps you are interested in are on sale, allows you to rate them separate from Apple’s ratings. It’s called AppShopper and is available as a Universal app. There is a website that the app is tied to like Google’s Reader webapp and all the iOS apps that tie into it. AppShopper.com is a great resource for keeping track of what is going on in Apple’s App Store’s (iOS and Mac). Best of all, it’s free! :)

    • http://nathanielmott.net Nathaniel Mott

      > Problem Three: Your problem with “deleted” apps has me thinking. What exactly do you mean by “deleted” apps? Deleted from the iPad/iPhone? Deleted from iTunes’ list of purchased apps? Is the app truly deleted? No. Even an app deleted from iTunes App list can be re-downloaded these days. As far as Apple sees it, a purchased app is an app that has been purchased no matter what you do with it locally. Only if Apple removes the app from the App Store is the app truly deleted.

      My issue with search has less to do with the iPhone and more to do with the iPad. I prefer the iPhone’s method; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tapped something along the bottom nav bar on the iPad’s App Store because I’m convinced that a Search field should be there.

      That might be part of a larger issue. I’m not sure what the solution might be, but it seems that Apple might be able to take the fact that I removed an application from my iPad or iPhone into account. It’s not like they don’t know you’ve deleted something; look at the pop-up that you get when you remove a Game Center enabled app. Apple knows that you removed an app, and it would be nice if they could use that knowledge in Genius results.

      • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

        See, this whole delete thing is a big deal. To be fair, I am an unusual case, but I have well over 4,600 apps in iTunes. Clearly, I don’t have all of them on my iPad. So, I had to have deleted them from my iPad. It’s not that I don’t like the apps. In fact, there are quite a few 5 star apps that I have removed. I remove them because I only have 32GB’s of storage on my iPad and it’s a pretty good practice to leave about 5GB’s free so that apps can allocate memory and not crash to Springboard.

        My weird case aside, there are other folks that uninstall apps because they have finished them. A game where they have “beat” it. Why keep the app in the device after finishing it.

        Those are just a couple of cases where deleting an app doesn’t mean I don’t like the app. I’m sure I could rustle up a couple of more if asked.

  • http://nathanielmott.net Nathaniel Mott

    That makes sense (sorry this isn’t showing as a reply, the button disappeared) and presents an unusual issue. I’ll admit that I’ve done the same thing, I just failed to consider that when I was thinking about how Genius could be fixed.

    Do you have any ideas on how Genius may be improved?

    • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

      Well, looking at the purchasing patterns of a specific app. Ex: People who bought Twitter also bought Twitteriffic and Facebook. Only showing the most frequent matches, otherwise you might see apps like Camera+ in with apps that should be more like Twitter or social networking apps.

      The ‘People who bought x also bought y’ type suggestions are usually pretty good if you have a large enough sample, and Apple should have a huge sample base by now. Plus, it is a tried & true way to present customers with alternative choices.

      The only other way I know of to present suggestions is basing it on the users ratings of apps they have purchased. Netflix does this, and to be honest, it doesn’t work all that well for me. I tend to forget to rate something I’ve just watched. (Not really on my mind at the moment)

      With apps, reviews are supposed to be how well the app is developed and presented, not how each individual user feels about it, if they liked it or not. I’m not trying to say that this is not what’s happening with the ratings now, it’s just what Apple intended the ratings to be. This is why I use AppShopper.com. They maintain my list of apps and I have rated each one based on if I definitely want to play it again, It’s pretty good, it’s ok, it’s not really all that great, and it sucks. (from 5* to 1* respectively)

      I can sort the list of ratings to see which apps I haven’t rated yet by sorting the list from lowest to highest. All the apps that haven’t been rated yet are at the top with 0*’s. I can later look at the list from 5*’s down and look for a game or other apps that are up at the top of the list.

      When looking for new apps, I always check both AppShopper.com’s ratings and Apple’s. I look at Apple’s rating comments and look through other sites like this one for reviews.

      Can’t think of any other way to work the Genius system. To be fair, Apple’s isn’t all that bad. If you start feeding it info by removing apps on the iPhone version and doing the equivalent for the iPad version, you will be telling Apple’s servers that you don’t like certain app suggestions. It would be nice to be able to “Go back to the Root app” and remove that one as well if it’s an app that you found you didn’t like, but other than that, Apple’s might not be all that bad if you give it a chance.