Friday, November 23, 2012

How To Improve the iOS 6 App Store

There are several good things and several bad things about the new store from both a user and a developer perspective. A quick rundown includes more focus on featured apps, removal of new release list, Chomp search changes, and probably the biggest, cards with screens instead of scrolling icons.

From a user perspective, frankly most of these changes are fine, some even good. Apple always wants great apps to show up, and weighting the store towards already popular apps makes that happen. It really hurts discovery of new apps though, and that's a problem for developers. Over the short term it isn't a problem for Apple or its users, but over the long term if it convinces developers like myself to move to other platforms, it is definitely a problem.

I've talked at length about the App Store search changes so I won't rehash all of it. I will say I think some of the changes are fine, and others are rough. The change to very heavily weighting downloads has a couple of consequences. When they are relevant, it is probably a good change for users. They good popular apps with a lean towards popular free apps.

However, it also ends up showing these popular apps for searches where they are less relevant. Specifically, searching the exact name of many of my apps doesn't show them first or in some cases even close to first. That is a problem for devs, and it is a problem for users. Case in point, my app "Hacker News Reader!" is 4th currently for the search "Hacker News Reader!". (Note the 2nd app also has all 3 of those words in it's longer name, the other 2 don't.)

I haven't gotten to my improvement yet, and that probably why you came so let me get to it. The side scrolling cards are having the effect of many less apps being seen in searches. I personally like the new view, but I really hate the scrolling as a user, but especially as a dev. Having a 1 app scroll instead of a 5 app scroll means it is much harder to be seen, and much harder to browse.

That being said, I think showing the screenshot is awesome. It rewards well designed apps, which is something that is good in my opinion. The simple fix to all this?


Why do we need this view to page and force users to scroll for each app? Make this a fluid scroll where users can quickly browse through the apps to find one that catches their eye. This would stop the frustration when you are looking for a specific app that somehow got to 16 in the search for its exact name, and it would get more apps a little visibility.

This is a roughly one line of code change that I think would really improve the user experience and the dev experience on the App Store. It doesn't fix everything, but I don't think it breaks anything. Let me know what you think in the comments.

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my newsletter. It's periodic emails (no more than 1-2 a month) on mobile app sales and the different markets.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Getting Hacker News Reader Approved, 5 Months of Rejection

At the end of May I was looking for a good Hacker News app for my iPad. I hate using Safari. I don't even just go to the site on my computer, I have a plugin that puts the front page in a list on the left in a frame, and the comments and story on the right (Hacker News OnePage). I wanted something similar and I noticed an app on the front page that day so I went ahead and got it.

Sadly, the comments weren't threaded, and there was no way to comment at all. As the discussion is a big part of HN for me I ended up wasting a few bucks. I ended up trying several others and none of them satisfied me. All I wanted was a few tabs with the comments in one and the article in the other, with the ability to do everything you could want on HN, like comment and vote.

This is really a pretty simple app to make, so I decided to sit down and write it. Just make a parser for the RSS feed (I used the bigrss link because I hate the expiring more button. 10 pages of stories instead of 1). Throw the stories in a table on the left and then setup a tab on the right side with a webview. If they click on comments they go to that, article they go to that website. Switch back and forth effortlessly.

I was done. This is the app I wanted, and I used it everyday. I went ahead and submitted it, not expecting much, but I figured I might as well. I have a few friends that wanted it, and surely a few people will pick it up. Might as well make a few bucks for my efforts. Rejected.

Too similar to Safari. Apparently my reviewer doesn't read Hacker News. Click article. Read Article. Go Back. Can't find it, not in the same place, or even on the same page. Find it. Click comments. Read comments. Want to refer back to article. Back, can't find it, got it, new tab this time.

Or with my app. Click on article. Click tab for comments. Click tab for article. Oh well. They don't see it I guess. (This is of course, even though there are other apps with this functionality, they just fail at allowing me to comment which is what drove me to make my own.) Remember, it doesn't matter what's on the store, it may have been approved under different rules. They weren't, just at a time when we wanted more apps on the store so we could say our store had "REALLY BIG NUMBER" of apps.

Oh well, I'll add some small features that Safari doesn't have. I tried Instapaper on vacation this summer when I didn't have much internet access and loved it. It was great, so I decided to add support for that. Click a button, login, save article. Perfect. Rejected again. Seriously? When did Apple add Instapaper support.

This time, in addition to being too much like Safari, they said the app was crap. I.E. not pretty enough. It's a table and a webview. Those are built in, but I guess I can improve the look of the table cells.

I decided that the Safari problem might not be so bad if I made a great looking table cell. So I redid that. Added a comment button so you can go straight to the comments from the table, added word wrap, and dynamically sized the cells so everything was uniform. Rejected.

At this point I gave up. This was about 2 months in, with me spending a few hours to a day on each rejection. I just kept using it on my iPad, and gave test copies to my friends. Oh well. Fast forward a few months and the app I used on my iPhone suddenly stopped working. So annoying. No idea what happened. So now I have to find a new one, or make my own. Well, after trying almost every other one, I decided to make my app universal. And this time, I know how to get approved.

I decided I'd bite the bullet, and make a new page for the comments, parsing them out and making my own page. I put them in a table with an indentation to keep the threading. Clicking on the top of the comment takes you to the website, and I added 1 cell at the very top to take you to the whole comment page website. Now it's, IMO, actively worse than just showing the website, but I have the button at the top so it just adds 1 click to get what I really want to see.

While I was at it, I decided to add sharing with Twitter and email just to satisfy a very small desire of mine to do that once in awhile.

Approved. Finally, after 5 months, it's on the store. You can check it out here, Hacker News Reader! I'm not sure if it's better or worse than it was 5 months ago, but it's out there and I enjoy using it everyday.

P.S. There's a slight bug in the iPhone version I found after submitting that will get fixed in the next version. Something is going wrong in my sizing function and a few long comments end up having the last line cut off. I mostly just go the website, and it only happens on a few comments, so I didn't notice it right away. Hopefully I'll get that update in soon.

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my newsletter. It's periodic emails (no more than 1-2 a month) on mobile app sales and the different markets.