App Store old app maintenance

David Smith on cleaning up the App Store:

“The App Store currently has around 800k active apps listed. I suspect a significant number of these haven’t been updated in more than 12 months. An app that is listed for sale but is no longer under active development creates the possibility for bad user experience. It is like a grocery store that leaves expired produce on its shelves.”

He makes a good argument for removing old apps from the store, but I’d probably hesitate going all the way to actively take them out. There is certainly too much clutter in the App Store — too many apps that aren’t providing much value, some with little chance of an update. But I also dislike the already fragile state of App Store inventory. iOS apps require much more active maintenance than traditional, direct download Mac apps, which can be hosted anywhere and stay available without constant attention from the developer.

At one point on episode 14 of The New Disruptors podcast, Glenn Fleishman talked with John Gruber about apps as a unique art form unlike paintings or novels or even film because apps are never done. John Gruber from that show, talking about software:

“To me it is an art form. But it is the one thing that is continuously diddled with. You write a novel and it’s done, it’s out there. Once it’s published, it’s published. You make a movie, it’s done. George Lucas gets a lot of flak because he keeps revisiting his old Star Wars movies and making a change here and there, but it’s not like every year he comes out with a new version of Star Wars. […] But software — an app that has a vibrant and still-growing user base — it’s the same thing, constantly being iterated. It’s the only art form that is like that.”

There are always bugs, always missing features, and always (as is David’s point above) new hardware to adapt to. It’s an art form that won’t stay still, so maybe there is an inherent impermanence to it.

But if apps are an art form, an important part of our culture, then it shouldn’t require so much work to make sure they don’t disappear forever, so quickly. This happened to me just this week, actually. I forgot to renew my iOS developer program account and my apps were automatically removed from sale for a few hours while I scrambled to pay my $99 again.

Maybe there’s a compromise solution in here somewhere. Instead of being removed from sale, abandoned apps could switch to an archived state. They would no longer show up in top lists or even search, but could still be found with a direct link. With the right kind of fallback like that, Apple could be even more aggressive about gearing the App Store user experience around new apps and modern devices, without sacrificing what is good about the long tail of old apps.