Searching the App Store

The Apple App Store is notoriously difficult to search through.  I thought it was bad but after spending a couple of days searching for every cultural institution app I could find I discovered it was even worst than I thought.  And forget about trying to discover an individual contemporary artist app by browsing. If iTunes were a physical store like Wal-mart it would be as if the store had this compulsively organized CD section and then the rest of the store was completely hodgepodge. You’d have TV’s next to the lettuce next to men’s socks next to camping gear and this is just on one shelf. Even Goodwills are much better organized than this.  Once you dig beyond merely browsing the app store sloppiness becomes even more apparent.  Searching for “art museums” yields apps in the entertainment, travel, navigation, lifestyle and education categories.  There’s no way to immediately tell which ones are official cultural institution approved apps and which ones are not.  It would be helpful if there were even a “verified” checkmark which highlighted which ones were affiliated with a cultural institution.  For example searching for “Central Park” returns “Central Park-The Insider’s Guide” for $1.99,  (skipping over the South Park games), Discover Central Park HD for $4.99, Central Park Guide Lite a free app, Central Park – New York for $0.99, and ShowMe: Central Park naked another free app.  Okay, I don’t think the official app would include “naked” in it’s title but what about iParks NY for $2.99.  Experience will teach me that in this case Apple’s category of “Reference” is the bingo button. Could Apple take the organizing just a couple steps further such as Reference>City Parks>Official?

Naming Your App
Cultural Institutions don’t help themselves out either by having the name of the app be the vendor’s name such as this one by Guide by Cell and this one by Acoustiguide Smartour.  The Galleria degli Uffizi helps me out by clearly titling the app “Uffizi. The Official Guide” so that even though Apple categorizes the app as “Travel”, and I might be inclined to think of this as a travel guide along the lines of Lonely Planet, the Uffizi has made it easier to not only find this if I’m browsing before a trip to Italy, but also to discover when, in this case, I’m simply looking for new official museum apps to discover.

App Store Descriptions
The descriptions provided by cultural institutions (or their vendors) on the iTunes App Store range from the succinctly thorough such as the one for the American Museum of Natural History’s Explorer app to the simply succinct two sentences describing this app.  Yes, granted it’s “free” but this description doesn’t really sell me on investing the time involved to discover this app, particularly by comparison to the AMNH Explorer’s description.  Apps have the potential of expanding a cultural institutions audience (and possibly future supporters) and institutions which have invested the resources in creating an app should also invest the effort towards creating a compelling description.  Writing a good description of the app might even be the first step to designing the app.  Taking the time to speak to your intended audience helps to formulate the “why” of the app.  Why are you designing the app? Why should I download the app? Continuing to draft this description during the design process might be beneficial in keeping the app design focused on the user experience.

But who reads the description right?  Well in some cases you can tell that it’s probably not the representatives of the institution or their vendors.

Developer Provided Links on the App Store
When I click on one of the links provided for the Ford House I’m taken to this wonderful splash page which invites me to “Enter the Story”.  I love that initial invitation.  Everyone loves a good story and even though at present it seems unlikely that I’ll be in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan any time soon I’m intrigued enough to read more about this “epic visitor experience”.  Now epic might sound like hype but at 244 MB this app is one of the larger one’s I’ve come across and so I suspect The Ford House is backing this up and I can’t wait for the chance to enter this story.  I wish more institutions approached their apps as storytellers.  But back to the link that took me to this wonderful splash page.  I clicked on “Audissey Guides Web Site” and was taken to the Ford House.  If I click on the other link provided, “Edsel & Eleanor Ford House Support”, I’m taken to Audissey Guides Web Site.  At least in this case it’s a simple mix up in labeling or the links placed in the wrong place by Apple.  But it represents a lack of attention to detail that add friction to the user experience.  Like missing that “s” that should be in “adds friction”.  You can get where you’re going but little trip ups like that don’t add to the pleasure of the journey.

What About That FAQ?
Sometimes though the links provided in the app descriptions don’t quite get you where you intended to go.  The GuidebyCell app (which is really for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston but that’s in small type as if the ICA were the developer for GuidebyCell) has a link for GuidebyCell support which takes you to a “contact us” page which asks the reader, “Ready to be innovative?” and then provides a place to enter your question and contact information.  A FAQ page would seem to be the minimum that a user should get when clicking on a support link either on the iTunes App Store or within the app itself.  If a link is going to be provided and labeled “support” then it should take the user to a support page for this particular app and not some generic “contact us” page or worse the home page of the vendor who designed the app.  This only leaves the user on their own to navigate through to find the page supporting this app. If it exists. Most users seeking support are already frustrated but at least they are trying to get resolution because they like your app enough to want to get past a sticking point.  Why add to the frustration?  However, it does get worse.

Support Links
When I click on the link for “Love Art: National Gallery, London Support”  I’m taken to  Antenna Audio’s “Pentimento” site. But this web page does have an FAQ tab prominent and so I click on that.  Now the Pentimento FAQ is addressed to prospective institutions considering developing an app and not to customers who have downloaded the app and are seeking support.  You know, if I were an institution exploring vendors with which to partner in developing an app and I were clicking through the support link to see what kind of support the vendor was prepared to offer my users I would be concerned about this lack of attention to detail.  I’m sure Antenna Audio offers good support to consumers who download their apps.  I just can’t find it through the provided support link.  Incidentally, one has the same experience with the Antenna Audio developed app for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibit on Quilts 1700-2010 and the one they developed for the Van Gogh Museum.  So perhaps this is Antenna Audio’s support strategy.

A Good Example
By comparison check out the MoMA’s FAQ.

I didn’t intend to write a blog post about the details of culture apps before you download them from iTunes but that is where the user experience starts in most cases.  Maybe the Apple App Store isn’t the storefront for your institution like the home page of your website but this is certainly a door through which you are inviting the world to visit.  Shouldn’t the experience be less like going through the loading dock and more like the storefront?

What’s Your Friction?
Readers, what are some other examples of friction you have encountered in the App Store when searching for cultural institutions?

Thank you for taking time to read this post and I hope you found it beneficial.  As I develop this blog I most certainly welcome your feedback.  Now excuse me as I have to get back to that story at The Ford House.