The App Store in iOS 11- More Than a Fresh Coat of Paint

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I’ve been using iOS 11 on my iPad Pro since I got my new 12.9” model, but I held off installing it on my iPhone until last week. I absolutely rely on my phone when I am in the field at work, and couldn’t afford outages, crashes, or widespread app incompatibility. I waited until I was sure that none of those issues would drag me down, and I’m glad that I did. I’ve had a good experience with 11 on my phone, so far.

iOS 11 is a far bigger and more wide-reaching upgrade on the iPad than the iPhone, so not too much jumped out at me at first beyond the new Control Center. However, once I started using it, the App Store quickly became the most notable difference for me between iOS 10 and 11 on the small screen. While I had looked through the App Store a bit on my iPad and updated my apps, I really didn’t notice how big a difference the new design made until I started using it on the iPhone, with its single-column layout.

After browsing through the new iOS 11 App Store and using it a bit, I felt I should highlight what a big improvement it is, especially since I took numerous shots at Apple for not managing the App Store very well as it quickly grew over its first eight years in a recent series of articles about Apple and Nintendo (found here, here, and here). The fact is, Apple really didn’t do much at all to change the Store from 2009 until now. Other than a revamp in iOS 6 that was based on Apple buying the popular App Store search app, Chomp, there really haven’t been many other changes of real significance.

Shuffling the Decks

However, the new App Store is a complete overhaul that takes its design cues from another successful Apple revamp- Apple Music.

From the fonts and layout to the overall visual style, Apple’s new App Store is a dead ringer for Apple Music. This is a good thing, as Apple took what was a mess of a version 1.0 app, and made Apple Music not just easy to use, but also a pleasure to use. After the upgrade, the service’s strengths were placed right up front, and with all of the features easy to access and use. The App Store has benefitted in similar respects.

While the new divisions of the App Store are different than Apple Music, they serve the same purposes.

The Today tab serves up fresh content in a blog-like format. Then Games, easily the most popular category in the App Store, gets its own separate tab, where individual games are grouped and sub-categorized in a variety of ways.

Other Apps are then similarly treated to their own tab, which is grouped and laid out in similar fashion. Updates remains the most familiar piece of the App Store, as other then the larger fonts, it is largely set up the same. Last up is Search, which is laid out and works similar to Apple Music’s Search tab.

Growing Pains

The Apple Music update was more about a design change to suit an already full set of features. The iOS 11 App Store’s revamp is different. When Apple rolled out the App Store in 2009, one of the things that defined it was how wide open and transparent it was. It was completely egalitarian. If you paid the fee to become a developer and could use XCode to program in ObjectiveC, then any app you released could be listed right alongside those from big-time devs such as EA and Activision. There weren’t any major divisions beyond the app categories, which developers could choose themselves. If you made a Top Paid or Free App Chart, downloads would pour in. If Apple made mention of you, then it was really on.

The wide-open design of the early App Store is exactly what fed its Gold Rush-type growth. Every coder, from individuals to those in major companies saw the potential of the App Store and then saw the early download and profitability numbers. Everyone rushed in to stake their claim and pan for shiny rocks, and those instances where developers DID strike gold just fueled continued interest.

What really shifted the incredible growth of the App Store into overdrive was the buzz that developed around it. While Apple’s There’s An App For That commercials were popular and in constant rotation, it was the word of mouth recommendations between users and all of the outside coverage that kept the engine churning. Even as the App Store grew well beyond the scope of its original design, the continued release of new and innovative apps and the buzz that surrounded them kept it relevant and in the public eye for several years.

However, all good things come to an end. The egalitarian nature and utilitarian design of the original App Store that were strengths in its early days ultimately hamstrung its continued growth. As the store grew to literally millions of apps, it became virtually impossible to search. Even after the 2012 revamp, finding apps by internal search continued to be a struggle. Also, as the pace of innovation slowed and the outside buzz faded with it, the design of the App Store really worked against it. It was never designed to bring people back on a regular basis to keep looking for new apps, and without the benefit of buzz, the numbers the last couple of years show that it wasn’t.

More Than Just Window Dressing

While the App Store’s new look is certainly a big change visually, its also a big shift away from that early egalitarian philosophy. Rather than simply displaying apps, categories, and rankings in a flat, wide-open manner, the new design is all about surfacing individual apps or groups of apps in different ways and offering users different reasons to come back. The new Today section offers App and Game of the Day features alongside curated lists, and editorial reviews and content.

Again, the new App Store leverages a key feature of Apple Music- Apple’s in-house editorial staff and their knowledge of the content offered. Beyond the collections, there are also interviews with developers and special reviews and app spotlights.

The old App Store had Editor’s Choice selections, which came with brief reviews. However, these were land-locked to the apps themselves. If you didn’t search them out, you would never see these recommendations. Now they are front and center everyday. And that’s the big key here. Apple wants users to start coming back to the App Store everyday again, and utilizing their editorial staff to surface great apps rather than forcing users to hunt for them, and adding interesting additional content is a huge step in the right direction.

Moving Forward

I was very critical of Apple’s indecisiveness in regards to the App Store in the past in my aforementioned recent articles. There were tweaks here and there, but what the Store has needed is a bold re-imagining. In iOS 11, Apple has finally given it to us. While it may be too late to undo the bottomed-out pricing, or developer’ reliance on either in-app purchases or subscriptions, this upgrade is definitely an improvement that should improve the app downloads per user numbers.

What makes this App Store upgrade and the changes it should bring so vital is that it comes along with an event that can jumpstart App Store innovation like we haven’t seen in a few years- AR. With the release of ARKit in iOS 11, Apple has a new tool in the bag to energize and excite developers again. If it is as good as it looks, the new App Store should be the perfect delivery tool to put AR in the hands of the masses.

For those who are using the iOS 11 beta, what do think of the new App Store? I would love to hear about it? Let me know in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.

James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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