circa 2011

Why the App Store beats the Web

Written in response to Fred Wilson’s post “OccupyAppStore”

Fred, you realize that discovery on the web, though decentralized, is no easier than on the app store? The top 1% of sites get 99% of the traffic and the top 10 sites get 75% of the traffic! I remember those figures from the time I spent working for the Google DoubleClick AdX in NYC — the most premium properties dominate the web, and the long tail is almost insignificant in comparison, even though it occupies hundreds of millions of pages…

The WEB NEEDS AN APP STORE. Think about it. You open up your browser. It drops you onto Google — with a big fat search bar waiting to take you anywhere you want to go. That’s great, but most people don’t know where they want to go! Let’s say I discover a cool new web app, like MetaLab’s productivity app Flow (getflowapp.com) — I have to make a BOOKMARK in order to have easy and quick access. And bookmarks are such a pain — they require organization, and until iCloud’s recent release, they didn’t sync. It’s a not scalable solution. Do you think less savvy users — my mom or grandma — are going to be active bookmarkers? Not a chance…

As a result of this dynamic, most people feel overwhelmed by the web. When you tell them about some new web app, they hold their head in their hands and they say — “I can’t take it anymore! Not another web app! There’s too many for me to use or keep track of!”

But you seldom get that response with iOS. Why? Because the iPhone and iPad have this beautiful deck experience, where apps have these beautiful tiny square icons, and each one sits on its own little slot on a page, and you swipe till you find the one you want. And for power-users they even have folders! It’s impossible to be disorganized. I’ve noticed that users develop almost an emotional relationship with their app icons, because they know that each one is designed to serve a distinct purpose in their life — the movie apps help them with movies, the food apps help them with food, the travel apps help them w/ travel, etc. In other words, the deck experience has created WHITE SPACE and MENTAL SPACE for users; it has opened up the mental carrying capacity of the average user from 5–10 websites (the limit of most web users) to 15–30 apps (the average of most iOS users) — and that is progress!

I would argue that precisely this aspect of the “deck experience” on iOS makes the operating system powering apple devices an even more significant innovation than the devices themselves…

Imagine if browsers could duplicate the same experience? Google has utterly failed with the Chrome App store because, well, they didn’t do it right. But if Apple did it with Safari, kind of like they’ve done with the Mac Store, but with a slightly different business model, it would be revolutionary.

Can the app store do a better job of enabling discovery? Yes.
Is it better than any other alternative? Yes. 
Should we be hating on it? No.

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