Last week Apple announced 10 billion apps downloaded in addition to 10 billion songs downloaded so far which are almost mind-boggling numbers, and gives you a good sense of the magnitude of the app economy in the new mobile world order.
But it's still REALLY hard to discover new apps you might like.
Example – I was skiing over the weekend and somebody shows me Ski Tracks on the lift (screen shot below). I've used and really like Nike+ GPS and RunKeeper so I'm familiar with the category, but I'd never seen nor heard of a skier/boarder specific app like this. I downloaded it and after one run I was hooked -not only for the amazing amount of stats and the display and user interface, but it's also the first iOS app I've ever used that really gets iPod integration and controls right. Most apps that also play music have really limited choices and controls (like you can't choose to shuffle inside of a playlist, etc.) And for those that asked me on Twitter, it didn't kill the battery – on an iPhone 4 playing music it lasted all day and the battery still had 25% left.
So I start showing it to the other folks on the lift, and within an hour over 6 people had downloaded it themselves. That's one of the key reasons app stores win – instant gratification. But even physically showing someone an app and telling them to download it has its challenges. I told one guy to download "Ski Tracks" and he downloaded "SkiTrix" instead – maybe it's a great game but it wasn't what he wanted.
For me, there are three main ways I find out about new apps: someone physically demonstrating it (Bump and Shazam and FRC company Square are three of the best real live examples), the top 25 lists, and the best and most reliable – if there's a great new app people will talk about it on Twitter.
There are a number of other sources like Appolicious to OneForty to FRC company StumbleUpon, but they still seem somewhat out of the flow of the way most poeple think to discover apps. There needs to be a whole new level of app discovery, sharing, and recommendations – and I’m not sure if it will come from the platforms themselves like Apple or Google or Amazon, or if it will be up to individual developers to add it in, or something else. Companies like FRC portfolio company Flurry and others do a good job of promoting apps that developers want people to see, but it seems to me the next generation of these tools should include personal recommendations – not just my rating averaged into the masses on the platform, but directly sending a link and comments of why I like something to my friends and followers.
Maybe there could be some analytics of what apps people download and use the most and that can be shared. But to start, just like there's a "share/save/rate" button on most pieces of content on the web, there should be the same thing inside of apps. It applies equally to movies and music – you can follow the App Store on Twitter, but it still feels like "Staff Picks" at a physical store, and Ping is heading in the right direction, but there's a lot more to be done here.
If you're working on helping solve the problem, I'd love to talk to you about it.