Like Android Market, Apple’s App Store teems with knock-offs, third-rate me-too offerings and plain old garbage. But the folks in Cupertino have a tremendous chance to differentiate their storefront by employing a bigger filter and offering a lineup of top-notch mobile applications.

Apple has been repeatedly criticized for over-policing its App Store by arbitrarily enforcing a litany of rejection policies only slightly less decipherable than a David Lynch film. But as I discuss in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, in not weeding out the garbage and offering a library of only top-notch apps, Apple may be blowing a tremendous chance to differentiate itself and remain on top.

In the latest App Store snafu, a rogue developer managed to infiltrate Apple’s walled garden and push his suspicious-looking titles into 42 of the top 50 seller slots of the App Store’s e-books category. Thuat Nguyen and his offerings were publicly frog-marched out of the App Store after he reportedly hacked into users’ iTunes accounts to make fraudulent transactions for relatively pricey apps, boosting those titles onto the hit lists.

The incident is just one more piece of evidence that Apple isn’t effectively minding the App Store, which teems with knock-offs, third-rate me-too offerings and just plain junk. The success of a novelty fart simulator in late 2008, for instance, so inspired developers that Apple approved 14 me-too offerings in one day alone. Which doesn’t do much to stoke the confidence of consumers when they’re trying to browse a store that stocks a ridiculous 200,000 items on its shelves.

The odd thing is that the marketing message of protecting the consumer and delivering elite products are underpinnings of Steve Jobs’ empire. Jobs notoriously boasted that the iPad offers “freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash you battery. Freedom from porn.” And Apple has long made a point of contrasting the vast number of malware threats Microsoft Windows faces with the few attempts to threaten Mac OS. But as the Nguyen incident demonstrates, the Phone’s locked-down ecosystem isn’t keeping customers free from either garbage or fraudulent titles that may threaten their safety.

The folks in Cupertino have a well-earned reputation for producing top-notch offerings, but too many iPhone apps are anything but top-notch. Meanwhile, Android already has some real competitive advantages over Apple’s mobile operating system, especially in the U.S., where it isn’t tied to a single carrier. If Apple doesn’t differentiate itself with a vastly superior App Store, it may find itself on the wrong end of a two-horse race.

Read the full post here.

Image courtesy Flickr use RightIndex.

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  1. I’m beginning to wonder if Apple might be trying to do too much and spreading itself too thin.

  2. folks in Cupertino have a well-earned reputation for producing top-notch offerings? NOT. The iPhone App Store is mostly iFart apps.

    1. That’s one of the points I’m trying to make, Tim: Apple doesn’t produce apps distributed through its App Store, but it could differentiate itself if it held the store to the same high standards it employs for the stuff it churns out itself.

  3. Sorry but I consider this pretty sloppy journalism. The issue of having crappy apps in the store is entirely different from somebody stealing user id’s.

    “But as the Nguyen incident demonstrates, the Phone’s locked-down ecosystem isn’t keeping customers free from either garbage or fraudulent titles that may threaten their safety.”

    This is a junk statement.
    The is no evidence that any apps stole information or did anything out of the ordinary. They may have been worthless but they weren’t dangerous.

    The issue was that the vendor was able to log in to folks accounts and buy his own apps to pump up the numbers. Again no evidence that the iTune store was hacked. The UID’s were likely compromised by phishing or some other social engineering.

    Should Apple maybe be more aggressive on the security to help folks protect there information? Sure. But considering they have 150 MILLION accounts, a few hundred is an insignificant number.

    Apple not a perfect company by any means and deserves to be called out when they have issues but they also deserve to have the problems accurately reported.

  4. this knockoff/me-too criticism is out of place. what do you want apple to do? compare features of every application with existing applications and say one is a copy of the other? that would be the death of the appstore. i don’t want to spend months working on something and later Apple to say that it is a me-too app. There are several me-too businesses in the world, not all of them survive. for apple to police that would not only be practically impossible, but also detrimental to the growth of the app economy.

  5. David Chartier Saturday, July 10, 2010

    The Nguyen incident didn’t really have anything to do with apps or app quality. A developer compromised 400 iTunes Store accounts and bought his own apps with them—because those 400 users had really weak passwords. This could happen to any users on any platform or OS; if your password sucks or you’re too lazy to use tools to help you make strong passwords, you’re going to open yourself to security threats.

    It isn’t Apple’s job to police apps and make sure they’re offering unique features or not ripping each other off. That’s for the market to decide.

    1. You’re right that it’s not necessarily Apple’s “job” to police its App Store, David. But it would help consumers tremendously if it did a better job of it.

  6. Joseph A. Del Russo Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Take a look at “Pokemon Portable Edition Touch” produced by a developer called “Brain Dead Apps” As a father, and more importantly a prosecutor, I was totally offended by this sham application. It is dramatic evidence that the App Store Police are understaffed, underfunded, inept, or just plain indifferent. I bought this app for the relatively outrageous price of $12.99– without my typical scrutiny, in a Thanksgiving attempt to give my eight year old something to do during our hours long ride to relatives.

    The strong implication is that it is a Pokemon game of some sort. Its not. It a 1 page splash screen with some goofy “sounds”. This app has over 250 1 star reviews and 55 shill 5 star reviews.

    I reported them to Apple (it took quite a lot of pointing and clicking to even figure out who to report this to and how to get a refund— which I did get) and explained unambiguously that they are likely committing a crime, and most certainly a civil fraud. In New Jersey, this would arguably be the crime of “theft by deception”. .

    Unfortunately, I had to get back to with my own assortment of case here in NJ, so I forgot about my unpleasant holiday purchase. Colin, your blog post reminded me of the fact that I can never trust the Apple App Police and must always scrutinize any purchase, even from corporations that have such marketplace credibility like Apple Inc.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Joseph.

  7. Ah.. but, Apple still takes their 30% cut for an app that you buy and return within 90 DAYS (screwing the developers who have to pay the extra 30%). Where else can you return software that you’ve installed, ever? Thus it’s not in Apple’s financial interest to keep out the “me too” apps. To Apple, it’s just great if you buy one crappy app, then return it and buy a “me too” app… five times a day. I half-jokingly wonder if they have their own minions buying and returning apps, just to make money from the developers? Reputation for quality??? Hello???

  8. Since the article is short on concrete actions that Apple could possibly take over the issue, how about this:

    1) remove all apps that are “books” and not apps and put them in the iBook store instead.

    2) remove all apps that are really just websites (like those wallpaper apps that simply direct you to a site, or the bikini apps that just direct you to a site, etc., etc.)

    3) encourage developers who submit apps like those above (and anything else that fits similar categories) to instead make web-apps, and then have a section of the store that’s just for web-apps so they actually get promoted.

    Those are three easy steps that almost anyone would agree with. These alone would turn the 200,000 apps into something more like 60,000 apps and remove 80 or 90 percent of the real crud.

    Allowing us to filter the store would also work wonders, but that ain’t going to happen as long as capitalism reigns supreme.

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