There is a tiny, hidden Easter egg on the new iOS 11 App Store screen. It’s so subtle that most probably missed it, but it’s an important one, a gossamer thread that leads all the way back to Apple’s core, and to what the App Store means to Apple.
You can be forgiven for not noticing the new Games icon at the base of the iOS 11 App Store app is based on a familiar shape. Take a close look at that tiny rocket. Remind you of anything? It’s based on the Apple logo leaf. In fact, it is the leaf, with some obvious embellishments.
Apple did it because of the importance of games in the App Store ecosystem.
Dedicating a tab to Games (the only category with its own tab) makes obvious sense.
Just doing that, though, was obviously not enough. So, Apple made the rocket out of a piece of its own iconic logo. It’s simply another way of connecting the new App Store to its storied past
People forget how revolutionary the App Store was for mobile applications and their developers: One ever-present app on every single iPhone that would serve as the central vetting and distribution platform for software.
At the launch in 2008, Apple founder Steve Jobs outlined every developer’s dream:
“You’re a developer and you’ve just spent 2 weeks, maybe a little bit longer, writing this amazing app and what is your dream? Your dream is to get it in front of every iPhone user and hopefully they love it and buy it.”
Some developers, said Jobs, could handle the distribution chores, but many could not.
“Even the big iPhone developers would have a hard time getting their app in front of every iPhone user. Well we’re gonna solve that problem for every developer, big-to-small.”
The App Store was Apple’s great equalizer.
There were just 500 apps in the App Store at launch. Now there are over 2 million, making search and discovery nearly impossible, and, yet, prior to iOS 11, there’s never been a major redesign.
The menu options that Jobs launched the App Store with in 2008 — Featured, Categories, Top Charts, Search, and Updates — remained the same for almost a decade.
Along with the Games tab, iOS 11 introduces the Apps tab, which is like the old Featured tab, shifts Search to the far left, and moves Updates over one to the right. The first tab is the brand-new Today section, and it represents the broadest and most fundamental App Store change of all: a heavy lean into managed, editorial content.
Writing on apps
Human curation of apps is not new. It was there from the very start. When Jobs described the App Store in 2008, he promised apps with screenshots and a little write-up. Most of that, however, was provided by the developers, while Apple’s scattered editorial team pulled together app lists that had just a smattering of supporting text.
If you’ve updated to iOS 11 and taken a good look at the App Store, you’ve noticed that Today is almost like a digital magazine for apps.
For the first time, Apple can offer some insight into why they’ve chosen to highlight certain apps.
Behind the scenes is a global editorial operation run by Smokey D. Fontaine, Apple’s editor-in-chief.
Their goal is not to show off with their app expertise, but to give app users the kind of perspective and insight they usually find outside the App Store.
App Store stories now feature lengthy interviews, behind-the-scenes stories, and high-quality photos of the developers (not just the apps). One recent “Meet the Developer” piece featured an interview with “The Witness” director Jonathan Blow of studio Thekla. The lengthy Q&A ends with a link to download the iOS Witness game app (full disclosure, I bought the game and it’s quite good).
The ubiquity of apps means that they are now part of our culture. These stories are an opportunity for developers to go on record with that culture.
I wondered, though, if so much editorial curation might run counter to Steve Job’s original goal of giving all app developers, even the little guys, a chance to be seen and downloaded
Most experts I spoke to though, expressed little concern.
“These upgrades give app marketers more opportunities to stand out from the crowd and optimize app ranking. To do so, marketers will have to create more editorial content, adapt their story telling, and master the latest App Store Optimization marketing tips, the same way they learned to optimize SEO over the past few years,” said Thomas Husson, a vice president and principal analyst of marketing and strategy for the research firm Forrester.
Husson does, however, think that some of the other changes, like promotional app videos that can auto play in the App Store, will put more pressure on developers to tell their stories in an authentic way.
‘I don’t think it will have a large effect, positive or negative, on the vast majority of developers out there.’
“I think it makes sense for marketers and developers to do a better job at explaining what consumers will get from the app … The less it feels as an ad or a promotion and the more it is about what the app truly delivers, the more likely they will download the app,” said Husson.
Programmer, app developer, and podcaster Marco Arment thinks these changes may add more value for app consumers and some value to developers “lucky enough to catch Apple’s eye.”
“But I don’t think it will have a large effect, positive or negative, on the vast majority of developers out there. Most of us live or die by the App Store’s search rankings for relevant keywords, which are all over the map, as usual,” said Arment.
Search, though, is undergoing a change, as well, with editorial content flowing into search results. I have yet to see this in my apps searches, but Apple may still be ramping up that indexing change.
Like any other editorial operation, the App Store edit team will write timely and topical stories. The App Store recently featured the lead programmers for EA and the popular Madden NFL Football at the start of the football season.
And like other media operations outside those that live inside iOS, Fontaine’s edit team is doing lists like “Ten Surprisingly Gross Games.” They’ll also fill the App Store with tips and tricks.
Games will get a lot of focus. The App Store is now the place where you might find out how to go from Level 2 in a game to Level 22.
The Apps editorial team is producing six stories a day and giving iOS 11 users access to a seven-day archive and, naturally, every story is shareable on social media.
Distributing and selling you iPhone apps is still the App Store’s primary aim, which means the editorial teams can’t be entirely unbiased. I mean, I don’t think you’ll find a negative app story or write-up in the App Store, unless it’s an app user review.