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App store overload: How to cope with mobile application mania

Every kid dreams of getting lost in a candy store – but what if it had 35,000 different types of sweets? Anyone browsing one of the new mobile application stores knows that there just might be too much of a good thing.

Apple’s ever-burgeoning iPhone App Store now has more than 35,000 applications, while Nokia is planning to launch its Ovi Store this summer with 20,000 apps from day one. Choice is a good thing, but how do you find the good stuff amid all the clutter? How do you find the bonbons among the thousands of tastless penny chews?

Apple and Nokia already have some ideas. For iPhone, Apple uses a mixture of charts and editorial recommendations. You can browse lists of the most popular apps while also browsing by release date. Users rate on a five-star scale to help you nose out the higher quality apps, although you can’t actually search by rating just yet.

Meanwhile, the editorial recommendations on the App Store are more akin to the staff picks you see in Waterstone’s. A small team within Apple picks out interesting apps – sometimes around themes – and serves them up on the homepage. App developers can’t buy these slots – it’s entirely an editorial choice.

Although these staff picks vary from country to country, they’re the same for every user in a specific area. There’s no personalisation aspect, which is odd since Apple already has its Genius technology for iTunes to provide recommended tunes based on your iTunes library and previous purchases.

Here’s where Nokia’s Ovi Store may have the edge. The company is making a big noise about its ‘smart recommendation’ technology. It suggests apps based on your previous purchases, what your friends are buying and even your current location in the world. You might, for example, find recommendations for local travel guide apps when you turn your phone on in a new city.

Smart recommendations could be incredibly powerful – if it works. On the web, Amazon has shown the power of an efficient recommendations engine, but there are plenty of shonky suggestion services out there. Even so, it’s vital that Apple, Nokia and their rivals in the mobile world continue to develop tools to help users navigate through the application clutter.


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