Apple’s Vaunted App Stores Need Some Work

Apple continues to sell iOS devices at a record clip. Apparently over 100 million iOS device toting folks have also upgraded their older devices to iOS 6, along with those users who are receiving iOS 6 with an new iPhone 5. Apple also seems to be doing quite well in terms of selling Macs. The uptake on the recent OSX Mountain Lion roll out has also been strong. Nobody does it like Apple when it comes to getting large quantities of its users to move to its latest software. But there is a problem in these latest updates that I’m experiencing.

It can be argued that one of the reasons for Apple’s success is its App Store approach to distributing software, better known in the current vernacular as Apps.  Apple makes it easy for users to download a new App or update an existing App straight to a mobile device. Apple also makes it easy to do the same on its Macs. In my view though, Apple has misfired with its recent releases to the software that runs it App Stores to the point where it calls Apple’s attention to detail into question.

IMG_2186Both App Stores (Mac and iOS) now seem to have taken cues from Apple’s other online selling mechanism, iTunes. They are without question the slowest instances of software that I run on my devices. iTunes is slated for a much needed update next month and there are legions of Apple users (and Windows users) who are hoping that Apple finds a way to fix the bloat and streamline what iTunes offers. To be honest, I don’t hold out much hope for that.

Apple last week released iOS 6 and updates to both Mountain Lion (10.8.2). There was also an earlier update to iTunes prior to these releases. Maybe, and this is just speculation, Apple has so inextricably tied things together in its vaunted ecosystem that this triple whammy of updates has to occur this way. But, I’m beginning to think (again speculation) that this may be part of the problem. There are obviously a lot of moving pieces here.

What is not speculation is what I’ve experienced since these updates. First let me get this out of the way. Anyone who expects things to run efficiently during the first few days of an update cycle might has well be wishing for some sanity from the NFL over the lockout of union officials. Things are going to be slow for awhile as Apple’s servers get slammed with demand. But after a few days or so, things usually settle down. On both iOS devices and Mountain Lion devices I’ve seen such slowness and unresponsiveness that it looks like Apple wanted its App Stores to achieve some sort of customer frustration parity with iTunes.

Yesterday I restored and rebuilt two iOS devices back to factory conditions (iPod Touch 4th Gen and new iPad. I typically do this after an iOS update has come through, even though I do the OTA update initially. You know that age old maxim of computers, a freshly built device will solve a lot of issues. One of the areas I was hoping to see improve was with the App Store. Sad to say, I saw no improvement. Launching and using the App Store on either device shows the same slowness and unresponsiveness that I saw before the restore.

But a slow running App Store on iOS devices is only a portion of the issues. There are others on both iOS devices and OSX devices.

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  • On Mac OSX, the Mac App Store has been extremely slow on my Macs since its debut. (All are 2011 models with maxed out processor speed and memory.) Now that Apple has connected the Software Update from System Preferences to the Mac App Store it seems even slower.
  • On an iPhone 4S, the search feature in the iOS App Store returns a series of what can best be described as cards. These cards show an icon and a screen shot. Notice in the screenshot displayed in the gallery that for a search on Dropbox there are over 100 results. Is anyone really going to scroll through all 100 of those results? Theoretically, you wouldn’t need if you entered accurate an accurate search request for the App name. But let’s say you were searching for a Twitter client that you didn’t remember the name of and entered “Twitter.” Well that will yield 5,491 results, and as you can see from the picture they aren’t all Twitter Apps in the early results. Searching and discovering Apps in the App Store has never been an easy thing. It still isn’t.
  • When I choose to update Apps on an iOS device that process runs smoothly enough. Though after the update(s) completes, I have to close the App Store App in order to get that page to refresh. It’s not like I do this often. Perhaps once a day or so. But I updated Apps this way early last night on both a new iPad and the iPhone 4S, and this morning when I hit the update button I was still seeing the page(s) displaying the previous updatable Apps now showing that they were ready to open. Apple is touting the fact that once you choose to update Apps in iOS6, that you remain in the App store instead of popping out to see the App’s update progress. All well and good, but I think there is a finishing detail that was left out of this feature. And that is to show a completed update page that yields either a “no new updates” or any newer updates.
  • One of the things that Android gets criticized about is inconsistency in its UI. Well, Android isn’t alone on that anymore and it is surprising that one of Apple’s inconsistencies shows up in its App Store for iOS. This shows up when you compare the iPhone and iPad versions. On the iPhone (and iPod Touch) the Search button shows up at the bottom of the screen. On the iPad, it shows up in the upper right corner as a Search box. Intriguingly, this moves the Update All button to the top left on the iPad and it is not lined up with the column of update buttons for individual Apps. Perhaps this isn’t a big deal, but it is a detail that Apple usually doesn’t overlook in its UI design.
  • This may be an iTunes issue, but it affects things with App purchases on iOS. Far too frequently after updating or purchasing Apps via iTunes, those updates or purchases require multiple syncs to transfer over to the targeted iOS device. This happens whether I am syncing via WiFi or via a USB cable. The reason I say this may be an iTunes issue is that I noticed two days ago that some music I had purchased did not sync over on the next sync after purchase.
  • I have a balance in my iTunes account. In iTunes there is a way to check that balance that updates it, if it needs to be updated. In the iOS versions of the Apps store there doesn’t seem to be a way to update it. Why is this important? Well, on three different iOS devices (two of which were recently rebuilt) I’m showing 2 different balances, neither of which jives with iTunes. Given that there were reports of some hacking a few months ago that took advantage of users who had a balance in iTunes, this is an issue that should be addressed.

I’ll cut Apple a little slack here. These App stores are huge endeavors and stocked with tons of inventory. That has to be difficult to maintain on the back end. It also has to be difficult to design effective user facing front ends for these efforts. If I’m not mistaken Apple’s App Stores are tied into their respective OS. This means, that unlike an App, there needs to be an OS update to make changes. That is potentially problematic when it comes to addressing these kind of issues. For a company that thrives on moving physical inventory better than most, its online offerings need some serious attention in my view.

 

 

 

 

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