Recently I read about the First & 20 project, an effort to share the home screens of various technorati. When I heard about it I immediately shot off to the page to look through the home screens. I was most excited about the possibility of finding new applications. As we all know, one of the hardest things about the app store is app discovery. I thought a collection of applications selected by tech-savvy people like me would be a gold mine of good, new apps I could try out.
Imagine my surprise when I found not a single new app I wanted to try. Even more surprising was how the same third-party applications appeared over and over again on people’s home screens. And the vast majority of those were applications that I either used myself or had tried in the past. Just because I have all the time in the world I decided to have fun with some math.Of the total applications found on the home screens of the First & 20 site, 77 different third-party applications were listed. 46 of those were found only once, or just under 60 percent of the total, while 31 were found multiple times. That might seem innocuous, but when you look at the total number of application slots taken up by the two groups, the numbers flip dramatically.
In total, 162 slots were taken up by third-party applications. The 40 percent of applications that were found more than once took up over 71 percent of those slots on home screens. The reason, of course, is that the distribution of applications found more than once. As you can see below, Tweetie was mentioned 11 times, while Birdfeed was mentioned eight times, etc.
To expand the sample a bit more, I took a survey of home screens of TAB writers and added that to the First & 20 data. The result was almost identical in terms of percentages, as you can see below.
Yay numbers, but what does all this actually mean? What it indicates to me is just how meaningless Apple’s constant prattering about the total number of apps in the app store is. The reality is that only a small percentage of those applications are good enough to make it onto the home screens of the most discerning users. I mentioned above the problem that led me to eagerly check out the First & 20 site: the fact that finding good applications is so hard. The more useless apps continue to enter the app store, the greater this problem becomes.
It also seems to me that the barrier to compete successfully with the app store is significantly lower than some would imagine. The reality is you don’t have to have 90,000 applications to compete with the iPhone and iPod touch. You probably actually only need 1,000 very good applications on your platform. This was driven home for me when I recently saw that Android now has applications for Facebook, Remember the Milk, Pandora, Amazon and Open Table, all apps that I use on my iPhone and apps that make it easier for me to switch to Android.
Apple seems to be trying to address the problem of too many apps through in-app purchases, which holds the promise of finally killing those extraneous “lite” applications, as well as, hopefully, killing off the plethora of single book applications available on the store. But problems remain, like the fact that you don’t see app ratings while searching through the app store. In the meantime, my aimless search for quality iPhone apps continues.