Mobile Mavens

Five years of the App Store: The highs, the lows, and what Apple should do next

Our Mobile Gaming Mavens speak out

Five years of the App Store: The highs, the lows, and what Apple should do next

This week will see the App Store turn five. So, naturally, we turned to our Mavens for their thoughts on Apple's mighty marketplace.

What have been the high points? The low points? What are the games and features that will stand out, and what improvements can Apple make in the future?

To summarise, how would you sum up the last five years of the App Store, what do you think it has done for the mobile market, and what changes does Apple need to make to secure its position as top dog?


Andreas Vahsen CEO / CCO / Game Economist MachineWorks Northwest

I see nothing wrong with the App Store and Apple.

Apple tore down the walled gardens of carrier stores, delivered a top notch smartphone, gives every developer a great revenue share and saved us from coding in J2ME.

In short, the App Store and iPhone are the best things that ever happened to mobile.

Keith Andrew With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

But surely you can think of areas where Apple needs to improve, or changes its made or hasn't made that are wrong?

Andreas Vahsen CEO / CCO / Game Economist MachineWorks Northwest

The Xmas shutdown is bad for my blood pressure.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

I’m just not sure if Apple needs to drastically change the App Store. Why mess with success?

I think it is doing its best to try and manage the store in such a way that ensures the ecosystem remains balanced and - even though freemium owns the top grossing chart – that there are still opportunities for paid apps and even premium priced games like X-COM to find success.

One thing I would really like to see is way to make app discovery more personalised. In Spotify, I really love the way I can subscribe to playlists and see what my friends and various internet personalities are listening to.

I want to see Pocket Gamer’s top 50 apps of all time natively in the App Store. I want our fans to be able to see what games I am spending the most time with, or better yet, I want to create an apps list of my favorite runners, RPGs, and adventure games.

I think this would be a powerful way to expand discovery outside of the top lists.

The other thing I would like to see is a way to individually backup and restore apps in iCloud. I don't know about anyone else but I am constantly running out of room on my devices. I really have to fight to make room every Thursday for new releases. But while we’re wishing, might as well wish for everything.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Games Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

I think that, in five years, the influence of first Apple, then iOS and lastly Android has radically changed both the mobile and games industries.

That's as well as social networking, mapping and navigation, website design, online commerce, publishing, TV viewing - you name it.

Whether you are an Apple fan or not, the introduction of the iPhone and a shift to touchscreens and an app-based software library is potentially one of the biggest leaps forward in technology we will witness. At at least, it will be for another five years.

Yes, the App Store is less than perfect. But I can get brilliant content for very little money, it's curated pretty well, and the amount of innovation and choice is actually staggering. I think sometimes the guys that manage app stores don't get enough credit for the work they do.

I agree with Dave that Cloud saves are something which are missing, and I am surprised that they were not added with the new iOS launch. And discovery is still a challenge - but I don't have any great ideas to solve it without some messy attempt to fuse social into the gaming experience.

Although maybe Apple could take the same approach as its Genius function in iTunes to suggest apps based on your previous purchases whenever you log into the store.

Perhaps controversially, one of the things I don't like in the app-based economy has been the shift to (badly executed) freemium, prompted by the race down to 69p/99c apps.

For the amount of value and craft I really think the majority of apps are undervalued (especially compared to what we used to sell at Glu in the days of £5 java games) and in hindsight I think Apple should have had a higher minimum price of around £1.50/$1.99.

Best games? Too many to list here, but highlights for me include Drop7 (before Zynga added adverts to it - I still play the original version), Kingdom Rush, Galaxy on Fire 2, almost anything by Kairosoft, Bastion, Flick Kick Football, Percepto, The Walking Dead, Plague Inc., Infinity Blade, the Hector Detective series, and lots more I can't think of right now.

And Plants vs Zombies (before it became a nightmare of aggressive paymium hassle).

Biggest mistakes? Zynga buying OMGpop. Games that insist that I use a Facebook login to play (instant delete for me). Big publishers that treat their customers badly. Developers who still think that the App Stores are paved with gold - not unless you are actually selling something quality.

And, finally, Rovio making people call themselves gamers for playing Angry Birds on the way to work - it takes years of geekiness to be a proper gamer!

Mark Cochrane CEO Lightneer

Apple definitely needs a lot of praise for it achievements with the killer design of the iPhones/iPad hardware and OS, and the App Store eco-system it built that showed everyone the way to do it.

From a company that was on it's knees 10 years ago, it really came back from the dead

Changing the content supply rules from dominant carriers to handset vendor was also massive and Apple was relatively generous in terms of the revenue share it offered to developers compared to what carriers used to give.

Apple empowered developers again, which is a great thing and led to the gazillion apps we have being created today.

I still love the fact that anyone can build an app and have a chance at being successful – it's fundamentally right to enable that entrepreneurial spirit, however hard the reality may be in terms of realising success in the "primordial soup"

For me, with a publishing head on, the biggest problem is single price points across multiple markets and inability to price locally based on how an app is doing in different local markets.

Apple essentially took the easy route to simplify the management of the huge number of apps it has to deal with. I can easily understand why the company did that, however, and it is a small niggle compared to the other great things Apple has done.

Looking ahead, Apple may have an unsustainable market share based on its first mover advantage and early super success - we can't expect it to sustain that share against other manufacturers who can build ten times the range of devices sold at multiple price-points

I think, therefore, Apple will remain the aspirational brand and the brand that most early adopters or serious app users go to.

One thing is for sure: if you own an iOS device and get into it, it is very hard to move away and so, whilst competitors come in with tempting alternatives, the UX on iOS is generally superior and people will tend to want to go back to that even if they experiment with alternative devices.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

I still find it hard to get my head around the idea that Apple originally launched without an App Store, despite this being synonymous to its success.

The App Store arrived with the arrival of the 3G iPhone. I refused to get a 2G one (not a surprise to many who know my 3G history) so I don't remember what it was like to get an app onto the device before that.

The prices of charged apps ranged from $0.99 to $69.99 with around 7 percent at $9.99 and 25 percent of apps free; but because Apple didn't take any control over pricing, this quickly became a chase to the bottom and triggered the rise of the freemium market.

I still am unsure if this was a smart move or dumb luck; but either way it was a disruptive force for change.

Judging the AppStore without either total cynicism or rose-tinted glasses is hard, but harder still is to consider how different to market would be with even subtle changes to the model; no wonder Google Play still tries (too hard in my view) to emulate what the App Store does, rather than forging its own unique path.

It's particularly hard as a lot of Apple's biggest mistakes are the very source for its biggest success. Lets take some examples:

No editorial barriers - As long as you comply with Apple's guidelines, Apple makes no judgement about the quality of your app or its value to the market within a couple of weeks. This is an an incredible feat.

I seem to remember it took six weeks of testing (which we paid for) to go through 3UK's platform and perhaps longer for other operators who passed the cost back to the developers.

Okay, Apple has been seen to make some odd decisions over certain apps, particularly where there is a perceived conflict of interest with the Apple business model. However, you don't have to convince a middleman that your basic idea is worthwhile.

That's led to amazing innovation, but at the same time there is no custodian to quality so we also have a huge amount of awful content.

Top ranking - Not new to the App Store, but the use of ranking charts has been critical to the discovery process and we can identify those games most downloaded as well as highest grossing.

This concentration of the discovery process reinforces successful content. It makes it possible for advertising campaigns to be highly successful as if you can get a reasonable ranking spike, this can carry you on for weeks with the tide of awareness it builds.

However, there are still games in the top 100 which were there five years ago and this inhibits access to new content. I don't say this lightly.

Whilst I was on holiday during my time at 3UK, one of the managers convinced the team to put in a top 10 list into the game service I was running. I came back to find a massive drop in sales in the 3rd week that was only righted by removing the top 10 list.

A top 10 list mostly contains games regular users have already downloaded or rejected and it prevents new content from being promoted.

By all means have a top list, but make it new content which that player has not yet seen. We actually found that the more personal and more often you change the list of promoted content the more often players return to the App Store.

In-app billing - This was a marvelous decision by Apple. The ability to make micro-transactions within a game is incredibly powerful.

I may have been the first operator to offer multiple billing options, but it never occurred to me in 2003 to support the unlock of micro-purchases. The flexibility of Apple's system is still a little limited however - we have a minimum spend of 99c, which does restrict some transaction choices.

What makes this work so well is that every user already has an account and (usually) a credit card already set up. Making a payment uses a known and trusted mechanism across all games on the platform and it just works.

If you have a problem, Apple will refund you and the provider will find themselves paying the price. However, this mechanism doesn't translate outside the credit card 1st world economy.

Germany, in particular, doesn't use credit cards and integration with other billing systems is quite limited, which reduces the potential market value to some extent.

Affiliate program - Apple's control of the market means that it takes 30 percent revenue share of everyone, and many would argue that this is too much – which I know that's cheeky for me too say given that during my time at 3UK we took 60 percent revenue share.

However, Apple made an incredibly smart move with the Affiliate Program allowing developers and third parties to use trackable links to gain a couple of extra percentage through a referral fee.

This is something Google Play should learn from. It supports online media channels as well as rewarding great marketing. I believe that Google's lack of Affiliate Program is holding back OEM's as well the new unconsoles, forcing them to build their own app stores rather than being able to integrate with the Google Play service.

Ironically, Apple has the least to gain as it has such a closed ecosystem.

Editor's Choice and Genius
- It seems to me that the ultimate goal or developers is to get a spot on Editor's Choice.

This is an acceptable face of the editors voice and is usually a great sign that the game is not only of high quality but also does something for that is valued by the platform.

It seems to require some dark arts and knowing the right people to get such a prized slot, but I for one am glad that the value of editorial is being considered as important. That being said, it is taking up a lot of real estate and relies on a subjective selection method rather than the views of the consumers themselves, let alone consumers in my network.

Genius had promised to fill that void. Presenting to us the content which we might not have otherwise found which people 'like us' had chosen.

However, rather like Amazon Recommendation Engine, it offers me lots of alternative variations of what I have already bought. Instead I wanted it to tell me things I didn't know I wanted.

Perhaps one day we will get something which shows the content that other people who have the same purchasing profile have also chosen.

The App Store is amazingly successful, but it lacks internal competition and I believe the time will come where this will damage Apple's ability to address the market successfully.

Moves against TapJoy and AppGratis are both understandable and confusing. They seem to me to be defensive rather than innovative. More than that, they seem to be avoiding the opportunity to fill the gaps that these services had identified.

The result in my mind is that Apple is leaving a lot of revenue untapped. I have said this many times, but I believe there is a potential for a ten-fold increase in revenue from the App Store with a few relatively simple changes (some of which I've talked about).

However, I don't think this is on Apple's agenda as its focus remains on the hardware profits which continue to out-scale that of content.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

I would love to see a different pricing scenario for in-app purchases. It would be great to have room from 10c and up. I feel that it might entice a larger audience to make snap decisions while in apps.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.