Blog Post

Home Screen Analysis: Too Many Apps, Too Few Good Ones


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 (s aapl) 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.

21 Responses to “Home Screen Analysis: Too Many Apps, Too Few Good Ones”

  1. I don’t have any of App Store apps in my home screen.

    A good argument, but wrong analysis.

    Let’s assume I download something new, and it’s automatically located on the last page on the Springboard. It’s unlikely that I will took the time to drag it all the way to the first page, unless I’m so eager to do that.

  2. As may has said, the homescreen is where I keep my builtin phone apps and the ones I use most often, not the once I like the most necessarily. I organize my screens on category after that.
    Look at those homescreens at first and 20, Mandy brown has the fewest screens with 2, the rest have 3 or more. Sometimes quite a few more at that.

  3. This article is a fun read but is based on the incorrect presupposition that everyone’s favorite applications are on the home screen. Not so.

    Many of my most favorite apps are on later screens. I have screens for games, screens for utilities, screens for news, screens photography, etc. And on these many of my favorites exist, but I have time to scroll for these apps later.

    My initial home screen contains apps that I might use on the fly and not have time to scroll to another screen for. But this has little to do with being my “favorite” apps.

    I also disagree completely that the availability of more apps doesn’t benefit the quality of apps. I have many high quality apps BECAUSE there is such a healthy breeding ground for a great number of apps. Competition breeds greater creativity and functionality, and we have a ton of great apps to be thankful for.

    Fun math whose hat is hung on the wrong hook.

  4. I would only agree with the initial statement, that due to a vast number of apps in the store finding good ones becomes a challenge. As for the rest of the post, I guess it jumps to premature conclusions based on a very small and biased sample that can hardly represent the population.

    Furthermore, “First screen” seems a rather questionable measure to start of with. I, for example, keep quite a few very valuable apps on the second screen. Not because I don’t value them but just cause I like having apps organized by categories.

  5. aabdulmalik

    Another thoughts on the following section of the post:

    “Apple seems to be trying to address the problem of too many apps through in-app purchases…”

    I read in this site and many others about some solutions to improve the search experience in the app store. Many people were talking about the idea of a “premium app store” in which Apple only lists “serious” and “useful” apps. But to me, that is very subjective and will results in similar issues as the current “google voice” dispute. (why is an app a premium one, and why Apple moved a specific app from one store to the other)

    Thoughts on way to improve the search experience of the app store?

  6. The home screen has a lot of problems.

    Four (or jailbroken, five) apps aren’t enough as favorites. I’d want to have preferred apps appear on the home screen, and then apps organized by function (games, notetaking, etc). A couple problems come up:
    Apps have only one icon and can’t be aliased.
    You can’t put anything to the left of home because it’s dedicated to Universal Search, so screen #3 is two swipes away.

    And then I have to ask… why pages at all?

  7. Well, as a Mac user, I can tell you that having a huge number of applications isn’t that important. Windows has far more applications than Mac OS X, but in 20+ years as a Mac user, there is only one time that I ran across something I could do on Windows but not on the Mac (automobile tuning).

    What you end up missing, of course, are the “brand” applications. Nope, you can’t use AutoCAD on the Mac. But you can use ArchiCAD and Vectorworks. Can’t use QuickBooks (actually, you can) but you can use AccountEdge. You can’t use Microsoft Project, but you can use OmniPlan.

    Of course, this falls down when you talk about games because you’re buying the brand. Playing a “knock-off” game because the original isn’t on your platform is a bit like buying a “Somy” television.

    Honestly, I’m kind of with Steve Ballmer when he said that most of the Apps out there are designed to be a nice front end to the web. aabdulmalik, above, mentions OpenTable. Why not use the web for this? Why didn’t OpenTable make a web app? I have Yelp on my iPhone and I have the same complaints.

    I think that once you leave out the Lite/Real versions and the “glorified web pages”, you’ll find a few thousand apps that useful and/or interesting.

    • aabdulmalik

      Have to agree with you that many of the apps can be replaced by using the web (or web app), I guess it’s all comes down to convenience and ease of use. I personally find a Lite app much easier to use than a bookmark, especially in a mobile platform.

      Below is a link to an AP article, with this interesting quote from Ballmer,

      “Let’s face it, the Internet was designed for the PC. The Internet is not designed for the iPhone,” Ballmer said. “That’s why they’ve got 75,000 applications — they’re all trying to make the Internet look decent on the iPhone.”

      I guess calling these web interfaces an “Apps” is part of the issue, as many people associate the word “Apps” with Applications and Software offered on PCs and Macs. However, I can’t think of a better word to use that is easy to understand by the general public.

  8. aabdulmalik

    I wonder how many people actually change the order of the apps so they only have the apps used the most on the front page. I personally organize my apps based on categorizes (a page for games, a page for utilities, etc.)

    Also, there are many apps that I use infrequently and don’t think they deserve the first page real estate (nor second or third if you organize your apps based on importance). However, these rarely used apps are the main reason why I have a smart phone to begin with. I for example enjoy the convince of the “Opentable” app, despite the fact that I use it once a month or less at the most (by the reasoning/findings of this post, this one app might never make it to the app store if it was more selective with its offering)

    On another note, I really wonder how many games are there in the apps store… To me, game selection is the main area in which you would find a wider distribution.

    • I have to agree with you. I think it is more convenient to organize apps based on what they are for (page for games, etc). But, maybe there aren’t so many type A people out there.
      Isn’t the point of the iPhone interface to make it super easy to navigate to any app on the device? So that apps don’t have to be on the homepage?
      Although, I guess you can make argument that the homepage is analogous to the dock on the the computer, always there for launching a program quickly, so most people have their most used programs there.

    • HCWHunter

      Yes, I agree with you that many people probably don’t bother to reorganize their apps. I try to organize most apps by type also, but I would still assume that your first 3 pages would be the most important, or most used apps.

      With the new iTunes and ability to organize the pages on the computer, I am re-thinking my pages again.

  9. HCWHunter

    In addition to the sample being biased, what is so special about the home page? I have most of the built-in iPhone apps still on my home page for easy access with along with only 4 downloaded apps. A more meaningful list would include say, the first 3 pages. Then you will get a meaningful sample of downloaded, and often used, apps. I don’t have any of the list on my home page but have 5 of them in my first 3 pages.


  10. You jumped to a conclusion about the general iphone user population from the home screens of 28 people who are designers, developers, and tech writers. Have you wondered about whether these 28 are good proxies of the general population?

    By your analogy, is there a reason for itunes to have 11 million songs? After all, it will take it will take 62 years to go through them (assuming 3 minutes per son).


    • Alfredo Padilla


      You have a good point about this being a biased sample, but doesn’t it strike you that amongst 90,000+ iPhone apps only 77 made it to the home screens of even a biased sample? I imagine that if you expanded the sample to be more representative of the general iPhone population the number would increase, but I would still guess it would end up as a small sliver of the total number of applications available on the app store.

  11. Once upon a time, Mac fans argued that the extensive number of PC apps was immaterial since all the useful apps had Mac counterparts. Oh, how times have changed…