iOS 7 wants: Better App Store search usability

iOS 6 gripes: App Store search is now less usable -- MOCK UP

With iOS 6, Apple has totally changed the way search results appear in the on-device App Store app. With the old App Store search, five results were immediately visible in a list view, and you could vertically scroll or flick quickly through large amounts more. With the new iOS 6 App Store search, only one result is visible at a time, and you whether you scroll or flick, you only ever get one result more at a time. And that's not good.

If you're searching for something specific, like "Tweetbot", it won't mean much because the first result will likely be the right one, so you only need that first result. If you're searching for something more general, like a game made by Electronic Arts, but you can't remember the name, the degradation is severe. You're presented with 1 possibility instead of 5. That's an 80% loss in information density. Ironically, the new 16:9 aspect ration of the iPhone 5 would have allowed for even more search results in the list view, 6 in total. Instead, with the new iOS 6 App Store search, we still get 1. Only longer. That's an 83.33% loss in information density.

Worse, both cards and the way they're implemented deliberately make the search interface slower. With the old App Store list view interface, you could touch and slowly scroll through results, or flick and rapidly scroll through them. So, if you didn't remember an app's name but did vaguely remember its icon, you could quickly skim for it. Or you could quickly skim until the icon, title, or anything caught your eye. With the iOS 6 App Store's card-based search, Apple has made the physics such that no matter how slowly or quickly you scroll or flick, you can only ever get to the next result. No more fast skimming. So now, even if you know the icon or some element of the title or data you're looking for, you're forced to go through one app at a time, every time, to get there. The interface has essentially gone from walk/run to forced walk.

The new card view interface does show an app screenshot in the results, but it's arguable whether or not that additional information increases identification and discoverability or just creates extra noise to visually parse. (That likely depends on the content and context of the screenshots, but until Apple allows them to be video, they'll always be of limited value.)

To get an idea of how badly the metaphor works for search in the App Store, all we have to do is extrapolate it to Google search. Imagine typing a search term into Google and instead of a page full of web results, you got a card showing one page. Currently, if the result you needed was #17, it's on the second page. With the card interface, it would be on the 17th page.

Apple could explore metaphors like this for the fast app switcher, where webOS has shown that the visualization of content makes sense. In App Store search, it just borders on the absurd.

So how could Apple fix it? An option to toggle between new-style card view and old-style list view could be a good compromise. To avoid an extra setting or button, Apple could also simply present the list view in portrait mode and the card view in landscape mode, where at least more than one app could be seen at a time. That would also match the behavior seen in the Music app with CoverFlow.

Taking it one step further, Apple could implement the portrait interface they use for app categories and present a few horizontal list views. The first could present search results filtered by keyword relevance, the second by rating, the third by how many "friends" have the app, the fourth by recency of release, etc. So, for example, a search for "Twitter" could result in the official Twitter for iPhone app showing up first for relevancy, Tweetbot first for friends who have the app, and Flurry for most recent.

While that could add complexity, it would at least be balanced by the options presented -- "I just want a Twitter app" vs. "What Twitter app are my friends using?" vs. "I want to try a different Twitter app, which are the newest?"

If Apple's going to use the mixed vertical and horizontally scrolling pages anyway, they might as well use it to enhance sorting.

The iOS 6 App Store did not come gently into this world. The betas were fraught with strange behavior, some of which did not get fixed prior to release. The combination of vertical and horizontal scrolling elements in the app can be quirky and off-putting to navigate. Purchased lists sometimes don't display and when they do, the scrolling and touch events are janky. Search algorithms, reportedly now using technology from Apple's Chomp acquisition, have changed repeatedly.

For an app so important to Apple, developers, and users, it's a pain, and it's something that needs some considered, usability-focused attention from Apple. And soon.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 58 comments. Add yours.

emjayess says:

Boy, if ever there was an example of why Apple should be reading talented bloggers who get design and know Photoshop, this would be it!

Nice job, Rene!

Hello, Apple: Implement the above ASAP!

francolasalsa#IM says:

is it me or is Apple starting to show missteps they would have never done under Steve Jobs. This is one example. Maps is another ( although I think the Hype is over blown). Take the new lightning connector as a perfect example. It's one thing to say we had to change connectors because we're moving forward sorry you have to pay another 30$ ( strike 1 but there';s been way worse things done by companies to their customers) but how the hell do you not have the converters not on sale for another month !!!!! A month of my car charger/fM tuner being useless, a month of my dock being useless, a month of my stereo speakers being useless ! Come on apple, you know better

9thWonder says:

agree for the most part.

Spectrum Agent says:

Agree that this in the main is worse than before and Apple need to think again but to suggest it has something to do with the death of Steve just saddens me.

On the new connector. Of course it would have made sense to have the adaptors available at launch and I'm sure Apple would have preferred to take peoples cash on launch day. But you buy the new phone and then complain after that you can't use certain accessories. Really? Nobody made you buy the phone - that was your choice.

jonathanmcgill says:

We have started an online petition for this. If many people sign up, we can make Apple change their mind and improve the App Store than destroying it like they did :/

You guys can join in and I think we can make a difference.

http://www.facebook.com/BringTheOldAppStoreBack

irgam says:

Nice and well written article. As refined as iOS is, these kinds of subtle inconveniences are bothersome. Wonder if its the post Steve Jobs iOS. Also a native app for the appstore would be great. The HTML5 app is slow and clunky.

csd says:

I guess I'm the only one who is getting super annoyed at Rene's nitpicks and grips posts lately. Just comes across as whining drivel about things that are so minor most users couldn't care less.

Gregz0r says:

What ARE you talking about? This issue impacts app developers and customers DIRECTLY.
It's a perfectly valid issue, that needs sorting.

nitishgera says:

You guess right. Do that more often.

USAFRetired says:

What annoys me is the constant non-admission by some people that Apple's miscues are no big deal--especially when the company brags about excellence in everything they do.

bbui4 says:

Why would constructive criticism be annoying? How would companies develop better software if no one brings up the flaws in its current offerings?

Rene made a criticism and followed up with a great suggestion on improving the user experience. I don't think many people would see that as annoying.

iMatt says:

Sdeetz - I think it might be just you. If there's an article headline I don't want to read (and there are some) you know what I do ? I don't read the article - but then I'm a very clever bloke and not everyone is blessed with that kind of thought power. Unlucky dude !

iMatt says:

Good article. I don't agree with all your nitpicks, but this one seems like a daft way to implement search.

Hopefully as you have gazillions of readers apple may keep an eye out for this stuff and maybe take on board. This app search does get on my nerves. Infact I preferred the old App Store view. IMHO

9thWonder says:

i totally second the sentiment of this article. The app store was broke but this made it worse. I'd disagree that it looks better but that's a tiny point. Regardless the changes are like coverflow with no other options and i never use coverflow. Why? Cause big long lists are actually really useful.

And you brought up "discoverability." This new app store is totally not better in that area. In fact I now almost never look for anything new because I simply don't have the time to scroll one by one though single random apps. And i'm sure that doesn't help developers. Even the redesign is cumbersome and illogical with all the horizontal and vertical scrolling, and banners. It's like a poorly designed webpage with buttons everywhere rather then all on top and on the left side. I now use the desktop itunes almost exclusively simply because it shows much more information.

Sophos says:

+1. I feel as if general search has been rendered completely useless with this change. As a consumer, it is frustrating not to be able to simply type "HTML editor" and flick through the results. I imagine as an a developer, trying to get your app noticed, the change would be infuriating. Hope they at least give us a "list view" option soon.

nitishgera says:

+1
I really do hope that someone at Apple reads these blogs.

More and more I am starting to believe that iOS 6 is the most flawed iOS released to date.

I hate to even think about it, but are these signs of "post-Jobs" Apple?

FiveTimer48 says:

Same people are working on it now as then...

temm says:

Add i thought it was just me that hated this new layout.

It totally sucks.

bkDJ says:

And on the iPad 3, the "Purchased" list scrolls really slowly when your finger is on the screen, but is fine once you flick and let go, the blue highlights update in weird blocks, and tapping an item gives you no way to read and write reviews, so a huge step backwards compared to iOS 5. Also, searching loads cards in batches of 25, which is stupid because in portrait, it displays results in 2 columns, and in landscape in 3... so why not load in batches of 24 which is divisible by both and doesn't look bad when you scroll too far? On the iPhone 5, why not use the extra card space for a snippet of description or another screenshot?

In all I agree. The new AppStore is an eyesore.

wdfly says:

I prefer the App Store from iOS 5 over 6.

9thWonder says:

that's saying something too. It's like complaining about a hard uncomfortable chair so they replace it with a chair that has a bunch of tacks and nails poking out to poke you.

Jindofox says:

I think that many of these gripes are felt more strongly by long-time iOS users who are accustomed to the old way. I think the Cards interface is more friendly to casual users and older people.

The only change I really really HATE is how the "update all" button is on the top LEFT corner of the iOS 6 App Store on iPad. It's has always been the top RIGHT in previous editions and on the iPhone. A tiny tiny change that bugs me every day for no good reason.

9thWonder says:

i'd disagree in that i'm new to ios, but i have observed the discussion about searching the apps store and problems with developers not being able to get their apps scene, how the same apps are always at the top, etc. So i don't think long time ios users were all that enamored with the old way.

Unforgiven41 says:

I seem to be in the minority here. I like the new AppStore. I also like the new search.

Searching for a app in iOS 5 meant that as a developer I was reliant on having a pretty app icon and a catchy name. As a customer all I was able to see was a list of icons and while its easy to touch a app to see more I feel that my searches and time are much more efficient with iOS 6. I'm able to see a screenshot and know right away if I would be interested. I'll give you an example. Searching for a ToDo app, there's a ton; but but being able to scroll through them in iOS 6 allows me to keep moving past the ones I care nothing for rather than picking one that has a nice icon and being disappointed one I went in further.

I can see where developers are a little concerened about being ble to get there app out there now but in truth this may just lead to better apps for all of us. I really don't think that people are going to stop searching and discovering apps because if this change. What I do think is going to happen is that you'll be able to weed out the BS apps quickly and keep scrolling till you find one that suits what your looking for. Then you'll go into the app to find out more and purchase.

Well written article Rene but I repectfully disagree with most of its points.

areyes163 says:

I completely agree. I did complain about the new layout until I read your post and realized just how much time I spent on the old system opening each app to see a description an screen shot. The new way is much easier. Guess I should stop complaining now.

davidbowser says:

Catchy names and icons still are good, but now the best UI screenshot wins, or rather the app that games the app store search engine best wins. If the app is at or near the top of the search results, it will win. I would wager that the new search results layout would actually make it *worse* in that very few people would read 80 different app descriptions.

lungho says:

The redesign is aesthetically pleasing but a pain to use. Being an iOS user since 2.0, I prefer the old design.

PilotPhil81 says:

Ever since I upgraded to IOS6, I have been using the App Store less. I agree with Rene, the new AppStore is terrible. It is also so frustrating how SLOW the store loads icons, and the scrolling fells like I am using an android peac of crap.

allure08 says:

This article is on point! Everything me and my friends have been discussing we don't like!

AGeleff says:

Do you want to know how to fix this?

Scroll.

9thWonder says:

illogical. Clearly you don't understand the issue.

CORYK333 says:

Sometimes you make insightful posts, but most of the time you come off as a pretentious douche....you would probably get on with Rene quite well. Wouldn't usually say that, but you are EVERYWHERE on this site. Thats all, sorry dude.

9thWonder says:

I don't know who you are and don't care what you "sometimes" do. But now, you just come off like a bitch. Not sorry "dude." It's a website. I post where I please. Deal or leave. Either way it makes no difference to me.

lungho says:

The fact of the matter is, every blog/forum has at lease one resident douche bag. 9thWonder is ours. The fact that he has his head shoved so far up his rear means you will never be able to argue logically with him. 9thWonder is a legend in his own mind. Simply let this lonely, small minded, 30-something, know-it-all-wannabe, speak his mind, and don't give him the time of day.

You know what they say? Don't argue with an idiot; people watching may not be able to tell the difference.

lauram714 says:

Great article, I completely agree with all your points.
Also, I have a 4th generation iPod Touch and the App store takes FOREVER to load and whenever i try to search something it crashes. I don't know if its just me but the App Store crashes so much I just don't even bother trying to find new apps anymore.

cmacjr says:

This article is right on point. I hate scrolling one card at a time. The old search was better .

FiveTimer48 says:

I like the changes. I think people are just complaining over everything. If you don't like it move to Samsung...

FiveTimer48 says:

And supposedly, Steve Jobs was working on iPhone 5, not 4S, but iPhone 5... maybe they had planned the change for a while. No way they created it in just one year.

Gdickens79 says:

I hate that I cannot view new apps by release date. I think this new layout will decrease the sales of apps over all. I know for me, I will buy a lot less since I there is not a easy way to see what the new apps are by release date. Said for developers, good for my wallet. Hopefully this will change

Mazon says:

I am totally sick of this version, to many problems, to many apps that don't work,
Apple really rushed this to market incomplete and I hate it.

Going back to 5.1.1, everything worked on that version

dloveprod says:

They could at least let you choose to either see them as a list, the old way, or cards, the new way.

Basshead27 says:

Since updating to ios6, can't access purchased apps anymore on both the iPhone & new iPad. App crashes after about a minute, think it could that I have about 1200 apps, given the problem about 2 weeks to apple genius dude, still waiting to hear, anyone have this problem.

pietbotha says:

Since upgrading to iOS6 on my iPhone 4 my Settings app has crashed multiple times. Also, when I go into General > Restrictions, the display is sometimes distorted and unresponsive and I have to go out and go back in. Many apps stopped working (even after iOS6 updates) and had to be deleted and re-installed.
Really hope they bring out an update soon.

kbrooke7 says:

i have an iphone and ipad2 that were working just fine until i upgraded to ios 6. now i cant get the itune or the app store to load. after 2 days and about 7 hours up backing up reloading and a complete factory restart i still have the same issues on both. i am so frustrated and sorry i ever upgraded. apple sent me a survey to do. i let them have it but good. i wonder if they have the guts to contact me and respond to my concerns.

Zodbuster says:

New Apple
New Moto
WDGAF!

Ouriel Ohayon says:

Renee,

this is Ouriel from Appsfire.
We ve just finished a brand new search engine for apps (in addition to our app discovery solutions). It is in private beta. Please shoot me an email, i d like to give you a preview. I am nearly convinced it will surprise you

Ouriel@appsfire.com

unodostres123 says:

There is even one more serious defect of the new App Store search on device. After you go beyond the first 25, some results were repeated more than once. And I double checked they were the same apps. Totally insane.

MickeyBlue-Eyes says:

I LOVE the new app store search!! I'm SOO glad Rene doesn't work for Apple!

IT_PRO says:

The new App Store Sucks...
Apple’s new 25 app return limit when doing a search is a joke! I did a search using the word "Mail" and this returned 1,655 search results but I can only view the first 25! This does not mean I can view 25 then click next to view the next 25 and so on.. noooo This means that I can only view the first 25 apps no more no less! Here's another problem with the search results.. Some of the apps returned are not even "Mail" apps! This tells me that if someone includes “Mail" as a Meta keyword it will return that App in your search result even if it has nothing to do with being a Mail App!
Here's another problem.. I own an IPAD2 and IPhone5.. If I download an app on my IPAD it automatically loads the same app on my IPhone. I haven't checked to see if this feature can be turned off but in my opinion it should've never been turned on by default!
One more thing... Why would you put the headphone jack in the same location where you dock? This means that the docking station will need to add a headphone jack input if you want to listen to your music privately while at work and your phone is charging.
Who was the brain child on this new IOS? Is this what Apple users have to look forward to?
I’m not a bitter apple user but I am puzzled about what’s going on with this once great product.
IT goes to show how valuable Steve Job was, is and will always be.

Sschat says:

Apples iOs serie:
3 < 4 < 5 > 6

Sschat says:

Let say you have a 100 search result.
You just wanne check the first 15 or so.
That is 15! swipes already...
Then you come to the conclusion: neh, i liked the first or second search result.
And there you go, swiping back again
About 30 swipes to just browse and select your choice.
Come on, which UI apple-expert has approved that???
And what is up with the un-real sliding effect, one swipe, and no scrolling, but just a slow response of the gui of one record to the left.
Is the genuine apple UI department on holiday leave and some 15year old wiZkid took over?

5 > 6

Munale says:

so maybe this will be one of the post forstall improvments. I cant tell you how much less time i spend browsing the app store because of this

Ouriel Ohayon says:

Renee, please take a look at the newest version of Appsfire. We have introduced a new breakthrough search experience into our app. Appsfire has a consistent 5 stars rating and we'd love you to try it. Many reviews say it is clearly the best app search out there

http://getap.ps/appsfire

vampyren says:

Great post! i thought i was doing something wrong and there would be a option to go back to the list view. Sadly this is how it looks like and its crap crap crap! i cant believe Apple released something as bad as this. I'm seriously ashemed. As you say its a pain to go page by page, it takes ages and i personally loose interest. I notice how much LESS i visit the appstore and buy stuff now.
Before i visited almost each night and sometimes bought a good deal now i just dont bother, the new design is killing the experience and is a pain.

Lala R says:

I'd also like to be able to sort results, such as by rating or price. I don't want to have to flip through 157 results, trying to figure out which ones seem the best to try (my current problem). Looking through iTunes on the computer is even worse, since I'd have to click on each one to see its ratings. So what does Apple want me to do, just pick the one with the prettiest icon?? This is so not functional.

ILinks App says:

The iTunes Store needs to be more user friendly. After all Apple has been so secessful because of this principle. I have created an app called iLinks for the iOS platform which search the iTunes Store based on your profile, which you create after downloading it. If anyone downloads iLinks I would like feed back from users. It's my goal to make iLinks the best way to search through the iTunes Store. You can email feedback to ilinksapp@yahoo.com and like us on Facebook and twitter. Thank you Michael.