Taking a Chomp out of the app store search problem

Chances are that at some point you’ve searched for an app in one of the app stores. If you knew what you were looking for by name, you probably found it pretty quickly. If you simply knew the category, you have my sympathies.

Let’s face it, app store search is broken. Well, maybe not broken so much as it never worked well in the first place. But now that every week seems to see another 1,000+ apps hit the market, the chances of finding the best option for you are witheringly small.

It’s something that the app store vendors are certainly aware of. Apple’s acquisition of app search specialist, Chomp can only be seen as a step in the right direction. Although, while the Apple experience is pretty bad, ironically it’s Google’s marketplace that delivers probably the worst experience. You’d think that a business built on the foundation of search might just have discovered how to crack it. Apparently not.

It will be interesting to see if yesterdays Google Play announcement will eventually improve the App search problem.

But does this matter? Well, if you’re a developer of one of those 1,000+ apps, it sure as hell does. Unless you make it to the hallowed ranks of the new and notable or staff pick sections, you’ll probably have to rely on non-app store activity to drive sales.

The problem of course is that native apps don’t come with a handy set of meta tags to help the search engine work out what they are. Instead, app stores rely on the tags given to them by developers when they uploaded them. In this regard it’s similar to how web search worked 20 years ago.

This limits the amount of depth and granularity search can deliver. Plus, of course, it’s wide open to attempts at gaming the system. You’d think that everyone would have learnt this by now.

Of course, for native apps, Chomp might be the answer (at least for Apple) – certainly it appears to come up with the goods when I popped in some sample terms. But what about HTML5 web apps?

Well, HTML5 certainly has an advantage. The code is not quite so black box as in the binaries within a native app. This means it is more open to being interrogated by a search engine (except where it’s simply a shell that pulls its data and functionality from elsewhere). While this is certainly not perfect, it might open up possibilities for better search in the long term.

What do you think? If you’re an app developer, how do you hope to get your product in front of customers? Are app stores the way forward or are you going to build a fan base on Facebook or some other site?

Published by thebeebs

Martin works for Oracle as a Developer Evangelist. He’s been a developer since the late 90s and loves figuring out problems and experimenting with code. Read more