Apple should approve fewer but better iPhone apps

With IDC predicting 300,000 iPhone apps by the end of next year, maybe Apple should be more selective in what it approves

With IDC predicting the iPhone App Store could top 300,000 apps next year, perhaps the race for numbers should end.

Rather than looking for ways to approve more applications, Apple might want to start saying "yes" to a much smaller number. Quality over quantity, don't you know?

I am quite aware that this may seem to be at odds with my earlier comments about Apple's monopolies--the Apps and iTunes music stores--being bad for consumers.

However, they show no signs of going away and I am a realist: Apple should shift from trying to have the most applications to having the best ones.

Among other things, this will require the iPhone to consistently be the best applications platform, which it arguably isn't now, following release of Motorola's Droid and the latest version of Google's Android OS.

Maybe the next-generation iPhone, supposedly being tested in the wilds of San Francisco, will solve this problem by leapfrogging Android handsets.

(My colleague, Tony Bradley, almost suggests it will be impossible for Apple to approve enough apps to reach 300,000 in 2010, even though developer interest remains strong).

Besides hardware improvements--multitasking, faster networks, etc.-- there is much Apple can do to improve the iPhone apps experience:

  • Stop approving applications that aren't significant improvements on what already exists. Apple should offer a collection of only quality apps. If developers can't move their category forward, they don't need to be on the iPhone.
  • Allow customers to try applications, especially expensive ones, before they buy. There is a limit to what people are willing to risk when refunds are few and far between. iPhone apps should be sold on a "satisfaction guaranteed" basis. Not forever, but at least long enough to test them and make sure they meet the customer's need
  • If Apple makes approvals harder to come by, it needs to give developers some guidance as to their chance for approval before they are deeply and expensively committed to a project.
  • There are already too many "me, too" apps in the iPhone store, so some cuts might be a good idea. I would oppose dropping apps merely because of slow sales--goodbye niche apps--but if something is a slow seller in a popular category there may be a reason.

In short, Apple needs to make it more difficult to get into the App Store as well as more difficult for sub-par applications to stay. The iPhone has so far differentiated itself on quality of experience. One way to battle an open platform, such as Android, is to make exclusivity a feature that customers want.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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