Everything… well perhaps not, as I’m still finding things. But it’s already past time to gather my thoughts on why the App Store in iOS 6 is a disaster, both for users and for developers.
No visibility for new apps
This is the big one. There’s no more “Sort by Release Date” option to be found anywhere. Here’s the before/after on how you browse a category.
The options now are: Paid, Free and Top Grossing.
Who the heck cares about Top Grossing? That’s just all the same stuff as in Paid and Free, but in a slightly different order.
Who cares about New Releases? Anyone who wants to see what’s recently been added in a particular category. For those of us interested in a particular niche, for example Word Games , we quite like to check the category regularly to see what’s new. There is now no way at all to do this.
For a small developer, this is terrible news. Although it’s only for a short period, the “new release” exposure is extremely valuable. It’s our opportunity to grab people’s attention, build the initial user base and gauge the public’s reaction without needing to spend a fortune on marketing.
The new system only gives exposure to titles that are already in the charts. How does a new app break through? There is absolutely no way of being discovered unless a user is linked to your app directly, or searches for the app by name.
Which leads me to…
Search results are painful
As developers, we’re encouraged to use table views for lists of data because that’s the way Apple designed it. They’re memory-efficient, quick to use when you have to navigate large amounts of data and, through their ubiquity, already familiar to users. Their own Human Interface Guidelines say:
The plain table style is well-suited to display a hierarchy of information. Each list item can lead to a different subset of information displayed in another list. Users follow a path through the hierarchy by selecting one item in each successive list. The disclosure indicator tells users that tapping anywhere in the row reveals the subset of information in a new list.
Which is exactly how they led by example in the old version of the App Store. Category listings and search results both used this format. It’s quick and easy to use, and moves with natural momentum and deceleration. With five items visible per page, you could whizz through 25 apps with just a flick and load in the next 25 with a single tap if you didn’t find what you were looking for.
Now, instead of the native app table view, we’re presented with just one app per screen. A full thumb swipe from right to left is required to move to the next item. You can’t just zing your finger to the left and cause a bunch of apps to whizz past either. There’s no physics here. One gesture moves precisely one page.
Again, this is a massive distortion of exposure towards the already-successful apps. Those that are top of the search results (we assume, although we don’t know, because they are popular) are placed full screen in a user’s face. To get further down the list requires effort. A lot of effort.
In the example above, Jigsaw Party (15th in search results for “jigsaw”) used to be just a couple of fluid gestures away from a user. Now it’s 14 awkward swipes.
Landscape apps are penalised
Just look at that screenshot compared to, say, any of our portrait apps. The landscape screenshot is sandwiched into a tiny box to fit the device width, whereas portrait screenshots take up nearly the entire screen.
Notably, there’s no landscape version of the App Store to compensate for this. Hold your device sideways and nothing happens.
The old App Store knew it didn’t auto-rotate, but assumed that users were clever enough to tip their device sideways to look at a screenshot. If you have landscape screenshots, they’re not shrunk to fit – they’re just shown in the wrong orientation.
So, when you do decide your thumb is up to the job of flipping between a few apps to see which one you like the look of, you only get to see half as much of the landscape apps as the portrait ones.
So I’m wondering how the App Review Team will react if I flip my landscape screenshots through 90 degrees and re-upload them, so things look just like they used to.
There’s not enough room to show an app’s name
It’s always been a fine art to getting your app’s name displayed in full – or at least enough of it to be shown – in all the different views of the App Store.
For example, we toyed with whether “Word Search Party” or “Wordsearch Party” was the name to use. We preferred the three-word version but would have compromised if it didn’t fit in the App Store results. We also gave our sudoku game the ridiculously long-winded official name “Sudoku Party (multiplayer/solo games)”, knowing that it would be truncated somewhere around “mult”, but hoping that it would be enough to intrigue a user into finding out exactly what the game was about.
Well, take a look at how that’s working out for us now.
There are dozens of Word Search games that now appear to have identical names. If you’re looking for ours and know the name but don’t know what icon you’re looking for, good luck.
I’ve always disliked the idea of having to put your app’s name on the icon itself. That’s not what an icon is. The name is always displayed below it once it’s installed and (until just now) it’s been displayed next to it in the App Store too. Extra text on the icon is basically unnecessary. It made sense for Word Search Party to have a text-based logo, but we made sure to avoid it with other games.
I’m still not sure it’s a good idea but the iOS 6 changes do mean that it’s important to have a very strong icon, rather than a strong icon/name pair. I’m certainly not against putting text on our icons with this in mind, as it’s the “party” element of our puzzle games that sets them apart. If that’s not seen, we’re just another word search, or jigsaw, or sudoku app.
The answer might lie in creating more hybrid screenshots. Word Search Party and Splat the Difference have these, where I’ve used device art to show the game in context, with more than one scene on a single “screenshot”. It means there’s room to add stuff around the edge. Now, rather than relying on the app name being visible before you see the screenshot, I’ll be making sure it includes the game’s name right there on the screenshot, like this:
Interestingly, Rovio already does this – sometimes. The screenshot on the left is pretty obviously from Angry Birds Space, but what about the one on the right? They’ve got the same name! How would you know what game it is?
Talking of bird puzzles…
Stupid search suggestions
This pissed me off no end. We’ve always enjoyed pretty good search results for “word puzzle”. Now look what happens:
Amazingly, I really meant “word puzzle”. Perhaps we’d have more success with Bird Search Party or Daily Bird Bingo?
Hey, I wonder what happens if you look for us by name:
Brilliant. Obviously I was looking for a completely different developer.
And (maybe) finally…
Direct links appear to have changed
When you go to lightwoodgames.com on an iPhone, it detects this and gives you a choice of trying to view the desktop-optimised web site on your phone, or jumping straight to our apps on the App Store.
The response from doing this on iOS 5 vs iOS 6 are below.
Pretty catastrophic, I’d say. I know there are plenty of places where we’ve used this link to go directly to the catalogue. Can I remember where all of them are to try to update them? No chance.
Developers – don’t just put up with this!
If you’ve found this page because you’re also a small developer who’s concerned about lack of visibility on the App Store (after all, that’s precisely why we don’t even try with Google Play) email any contact you have at Apple at let them know how terrible this is.
We shouldn’t expect Apple to do our marketing, but we do want a chance to be noticed. I believe the new App Store removes that chance completely.
Being lucky enough to have had real human contact with a real human being at Apple, I’ve already ranted at someone. Apparently this person works in “iOS Developer Relations”, so I explained just what it means for our relationship and I’m hoping that his remit is to actually care what developers think.
If you don’t have a direct contact, use this form: Apple Developer Program Support
If you’re an end user and feel strongly enough about how crappy this makes your App Store experience, here’s your link: http://www.apple.com/support/itunes/contact/
Nobody knows how severe the impact of these changes will be yet, but it really doesn’t look good. If you don’t already have a contingency plan, make one.
We had a Halloween-themed game planned for release on iOS next month. I’m now giving serious thought to axing (groan) that project and concentrating our efforts elsewhere. Maybe we could have four or five launch titles on Windows 8 instead of three. Perhaps now’s the time for us to start working with Windows Phone. Maybe we’ll even have to go back to writing other people’s games for a while. But I’m responding to this very quickly and very seriously. If you’re a developer, you should do the same.