Yes, Apple’s AppStore has been a phenomenal success with over 2 million apps for iOS and $50 Billion payouts made till June ’16. It has certainly democratized software buying, simplified distribution and improved update rates. Anyone who has ever written a desktop app will remember these to be huge problems that existed forever.

Around 1997 when I started writing shareware (what’s called freemium today) for a living, I was spending more time in doing the software distribution, collecting payment, generating product keys and troubleshooting installation than I was in writing the actual application. Thanks to Apple’s App Store, Google’s Play and Microsoft’s Windows Store software developers today can focus on doing their most creative work and not reinvent the wheel yet again. To be fair, Software Packing managers had existed in Linux from 1990s and Microsoft XBOX 360 had an online marketplace in 2005 before Apple.

Returning to the present, in a recent report by adjust they have reported that over 90% of apps in the app store are zombies that can be reached only through search or through direct links. These apps are not present in any listing or promotional pages for users to discover them organically.

The other challenge is the rise of outdated and dead apps. These are apps whose parent(s) have stopped loving them. These apps don’t work on the latest OS versions or have stopped being useful.

Why should we care about these dead and undead (zombie) apps?

If the dead and undead are not cleaned in App Stores we risk users stop frequenting them. Users will shun from them as a result of social scientists James Q.Wilson and George L.Kelling’s “broken windows theory” playing out in action.

It has taken Software Industry more than a decade to get consumers to try out new apps and pay for quality apps they like. If the App Stores loose their shine it will be a dead-blow for innovative app startups from being born. Such a barren land will favor the software biggies, entrenching their hold and harming the consumers at large.

Just like fixing a crime ridden urban metropolis will be a complex and multi-year activity, solving this will require all the stakeholders to come together. Apple and Google being the market leaders have a huge role to play here. They can start with improving the design and usability of their App Stores, do more of personalized recommendations based on individual user preferences and make technology breakthroughs that make it safer & easier to try out a new app without the need of installing them. Also App Store owners need to educate the developers on the need for constant improvement of their apps and to provide developers with a monetization model that rewards their efforts for doing it.

It’s not that Apple is not doing anything on this, Phil Schiller in WWDC announced some improvements — like the reduction of commission from 30% to 15% or the subscription model are in the right direction but not enough. Similar efforts by Google like Android Instant Apps and Google Play Early Access are welcome attempts but they need to start working on changing the whole model involved.

Till then we need to walk through the graveyard to reach the main street.

Have a safe and fun shopping!

1. The zombie uprising by Adjust: the undead App Store in 2016
2. Story of app developer Pixite in “The life and death in the App Store” by Casey Newton of The Verge

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