Apple’s huge App Store makeover arrives today in iOS 11

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Apple today is releasing its completely redesigned iOS App Store to the wider public as part of the launch of the new iOS 11 operating system. First previewed at its Worldwide Developer Conference in June, the new App Store has made a number of changes focused on the goal of improving app discovery across a storefront that now has more than 2 million applications, according to the most recent data from App Annie.

While many developers and beta testers have already been using the new interface for many months, today is the first day the revamped App Store will make its way to the wider public. That means it’s also the first day to see if Apple’s hypothesis holds true: that its changes — which include things like separating apps and games, its increased investment in editorial content and features that refresh daily, like “App of the Day” — will actually have an impact on app discovery and downloads.

While the iOS App Store’s new bells and whistles are a consumer-facing set of features, a larger goal is to aid the iOS developer community in getting their apps exposed to interested users. That directly impacts Apple’s bottom line, in addition to keeping its developer community active and engaged.

The changes come at a time when industry research has found that the majority of mobile users no longer download apps on a regular basis. In fact, a recent study from comScore found that 51 percent of people today still download, on average, zero apps per month. And that’s been a trend on comScore’s radar since 2014. Further, of those who do download at least one app per month, 13 percent download just one app, 11 percent download two apps and 8 percent download three apps.

The only demographic group that excessively drives interest in trying new applications are millennials. Seventy percent said they’re always looking for apps to try, and they’re willing to pay for apps, as well as subscribe to in-app purchases, the report found.

comScore’s data only looks at the U.S. audience, and, of course, the App Store is a worldwide marketplace — and it reaches markets where smartphone adoption at scale is still in its early years.

Because of this broad reach, the App Store attracts a huge number of visitors. At WWDC, Apple noted the store sees 500 million weekly visitors. Now the challenge is to convert those visitors to people who don’t just browse apps, but also install them.

To spark increased consumer interest in apps, one of the biggest changes in the new App Store is the “Today” section. This is the first thing people will see when loading the App Store on their phones (it’s no longer available in iTunes on the desktop, as of last week, forcing consumers to try the new experience).

“Today” reads much like a news site focused on apps and app culture. It offers a range of content written by an expanded editorial team at Apple, including deep dives on apps, tips and tricks, developer interviews, how to’s, topical lists, round-ups of editorial favorites and even an “App of the Day” and “Game of the Day.”

Apple for a long time has had editors who would write up their thoughts on new apps, organize curated selections into timely groups (e.g. “back to school” or “summer road trips” apps), as well as showcase an ever-rotating collection of the latest-and-greatest. Much like a news team, the editors gather in meetings and discuss which apps are deserving of being featured, organized into collections or otherwise highlighted.

But in the new App Store, the editorial voice now gets top billing, not the App Store charts and not even necessarily the new releases. The goal, seemingly, is to encourage a desire to try the apps written about in glowing terms, or to facilitate a connection between a developer and their potential users by telling their story of the app’s creation.

Apple is even soliciting those stories from the developer community through a new portal at appstore.com/promote. Here, app creators are offered for the first time a direct and simple way to request editorial consideration.

Beyond the “Today” tab, the rest of the App Store has changed, too. The top charts are now separated into those for games and those for non-game apps, for example. Too often, popular games would crowd out up-and-coming apps on the charts, while the charts themselves gave too much weight to the apps nearly everybody already has or at least knows about, like Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, YouTube, Snapchat and so on.

You’ll notice that these top rankings are no longer as prominently displayed when you pop over to the Apps or Games tabs, in fact. Instead, each section begins with more specialized content — stories about apps that have been updated with interesting new features, apps to try out, new games, recommendations and so on. Basically, it’s like the Today content, but in a different location.

Beneath this are lists of new games or apps that the editorial team likes, relevant lists (like apps for getting through the hurricane) and those that are focused on a topic (apps to help you “find your zen,” games with “gorgeous graphics,” for example). Only as you scroll down will you find the charts. And the top-grossing chart itself is gone entirely.

That latter decision was made because consumers don’t really care about the apps that make money — they’re looking for entertainment and inspiration, not which apps are excelling at their business models. (We understand that data will continue to be available to app store analytics firms and as an RSS feed, as before.)

There are a number of other tweaks to the App Store rolling out today, as well, that enhance the overall experience, including its use of previews, imagery and video to better showcase apps’ content; clearer details about an app’s in-app purchases; easier-to-read information about an app’s rank, star rating, age appropriateness and reviews.

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The App Store for iMessage has been improved, too, to be more accessible from your chat session along with your iMessage apps.

As a consumer of apps myself who has run the App Store beta since shortly after its launch following WWDC, it’s fair to say that Apple has made headway here in improving the discoverability of apps by nature of the new, more editorially driven App Store. It feels more friendly and less utilitarian in its design. And the App Store’s editorial voice is already fairly well-trusted, thanks to its work over the years in finding the new apps and games that people may like to try.

But the larger question remains: Were the old App Store’s problems with app discovery the reason why the majority of people haven’t been downloading apps all that often over the past few years, or were other factors coming into play in that decision? Perhaps people today are largely satisfied with the numerous and essential apps they already have?

Only after the new App Store has reached a majority of consumers through the iOS 11 update will these answers be known. And that begins today.