A Needle in a Haystack – Searching 1 Million Apps

We’ve got these great touch screen devices and we’ve been told that a million apps have been created in recent years. Frankly I’m a little curious about what’s been thought up that I might not know about. Is there an amazing game I haven’t heard about? Is there a better way to read the news, find out what my friends are doing, or find new music? Regardless of the question, the answer is probably yes, there is a better way. The problem is figuring out which of the million apps fits me. How  do I move away from generic recommendations? It is a significant problem. Apple has actually been trying to solve it but their first attempt failed and the second attempt, called “Near Me”, will launch with iOS7 and I think will also fail.

So how can I find that amazing app that’s evaded me to date? So far, the answer has been top charts. The app marketplace says here are the top ten apps overall, here are the top ten financial apps, here are the top ten games, etc. But even if I’m shown 50 different top ten charts, I’m still only being shown 500 apps. That is less than 1% of the apps out there. It is actually less than 1/10 of 1% of all apps. To be really precise, it is 1/20 of 1% or 1/2000 of all the apps out there. So are we just going to ignore the other 99.95%!?!?

Well Apple has tried two methods to keep 999,500 from disappearing into an abyss. Apple started by trying app genius:


That didn’t work though. Apparently their genius’s were lacking the adequate genius and no one was discovering any amazing new apps. So now they’ve got rid of app genius and moved onto recommendations based on your location:


“Near Me” will come with the roll out of iOS7 this fall. I don’t think it will  bring on a gold rush of apps though. It might uncover some apps that are temporarily helpful to navigate a museum or airpot, but nothing amazing. It won’t get to the heart of what makes an amazing app. Amazing apps are about simplifying the things you don’t like doing and giving you more of the things you do like.

So here’s how you take an aimless app store visitor and find them an app that will add something to their life. You create a function that’s called something like “Dart board” and it would work like this:

  1. It asks you a question and you answer it
  2. Depending on your answer to the first question, it will follow up with one or several more questions
  3. Then, based on your answers, it gives you a recommendation
  4. You read that about the app it recommends and either download it or decline it

So lets try it:

What is your favorite pass time:

A) Playing games B) Reading C) Watching Sports D) TV and Movies E) Exercise

For this question, if you answer:

Playing games: It asks what type of games. Then it gives examples of games in that category and asks you to specify which you’ve played and liked. If you played lots of magical games, it will recommend popular games with magic in them. If you played lots of army games with good multiplayer, it will recommend a popular army game with a popular multiplayer.

Reading: It asks if you primarily read digital, traditional, or audio books. It then asks you know which books you are going to read next. If you know, it recommends services to buy that book cheaply in a format that fit your previous answer. If you don’t know what book you’d like to read next, it will recommend an app that will help you find a great next book. It might be a book club app. Or maybe it will recommend an app like Cabin Porn because people who read also love looking at cozy cabins. Or maybe there’s an app that’s for people who love cabins, and it’s actually for booking those quiet get-aways.

You get the point by now. It’s not rocket science. Despite the idea’s simplicity, it is important. Great apps are important. The more great apps a person uses on iOS or Android, the more loyal they become to Apple or Google. Yet not having a service like this is keeping us from exploring  99.95% of the existing apps.

The reason this idea works is because it actually addresses the problem. Apple’s attempts, so far, don’t address the problem. The problem we’re solving for is:

  • If you need a better way to trade stocks, you’d just use the search function and search for “stocks” or “portfolio tracking”
  • If you’re at the Boston Art  Museum and want to know if they have an app, you’ll just search for that too
  • If you just wanted to know what the top apps are right now, you’d go to the “What’s hot” section of the app store.
  • The only time a person needs an app recommendation tool is when they’re curious if there’s an app that they aren’t hearing about which they may love.

It is okay to ask the user a bunch of questions, because if they are looking for something but they don’t even know what, then they obviously aren’t in a hurry. They are probably just hanging out. Maybe they are in waiting room or it is a lazy Sunday morning, but they aren’t in a hurry. What matters to them isn’t that you recommend something immediately, what matters is that you recommend something good.


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