The Danger of Buying Apps and the 30 Second Rule

At last count, I’ve downloaded over 800 apps for iOS devices. Most of them are never used, but I’m hesitant to discard them. Some of the apps don’t exist anymore, and may not even work with iOS 4 (soon to be iOS 5). Some of those apps have been free promos from developers (I’d guess about 30), and at least half of the apps were/are free. That means that we’ve bought nearly 400 apps since we purchased our iPhone 3GS models in October 2008.

In the old days, if a website like TUAW posted a review of an app, and it was something I was interested in, I would buy the app. The app review process has changed, and developers (or PR firms) pay blogs to write reviews. This doesn’t mean that the blogs can’t be truthful, but it’s harder to be honest when you’re being paid to write something. Therefore, I don’t trust app recommendations from most of the blogs (there are exceptions). Most of the time, I find new apps when they are mentioned by non-major bloggers that I trust, or by looking at the “top lists” on the App Store.

I was recently asked to review a package that had a desktop/notebook/PC/OSX component and a iOS/iPad component. The desktop component had a free trial, the iPad component was free. The free trial limited the functionality of the application, basically taking away the one feature that I (and in my mind, most users) would be interested in. And that’s when I realized something:

In a demo version, or even an offered promo code, there’s a 30 second window in which I decide whether an application is going to enhance my life, or if I will never use it. If I’m given a promo code, I usually feel obliged to spend more time with the app, but if I’m honest, those first thirty seconds are the primary moments.

If I consider all the apps that I’ve come to use on a daily basis, nearly all of them hit that 30 second rule. The exception was UnrealBook, which, at the time, was being compared to forScore. The end result was a dialogue with the developer, who has continued to refine the app, making it into a 30-second app. (For the record, most of the apps that meet the 30 second rule also continue to improve the app).

The risk with the App Store is downloading a recommended app that is terrible–and it can be difficult to get your money back. The benefit of the app store is an abundance of low cost, quality apps.

What are some steps you can take to make sure you download a quality app?

1) Look at when it was last updated. No app is perfect, particularly as new versions of iOS are introduced. If the app hasn’t been updated for some time, be cautious about it.

2) Take App Store ratings into account, but not too seriously. Some developers have been known to organize “negative feedback” campaigns against competing apps. Furthermore, make sure to look at ALL feedback, not the feedback from the most recent version. If the app has been out for a while, there should be a longer history of feedback to read through.

3) Visit the developer’s website and look through their resources. If they have a Twitter feed, read through the interactions (a lot of users are using Twitter to ask support questions these days).

4) Find some blogs with authors that fit your interest and whose opinions you trust. Be cautious of app reviews by the “big” blogs, because those reviews can be “bought.” Be particularly aware of the difference between a blog that posts a press release (not a review, but can be falsely interpreted as a positive review and recommendation) and an actual app review.

5) The more the app costs, the more you need to do your research. For example, two of the apps I have the most interest in (outside of UnrealBook and forScore) are Symphony Pro and SeeScore. These apps are more expensive–so you’ll want to do additional Google searches on these apps.

Finally, considering how many iPads are “in the wild,” and how many musicians that must own iPads, I’m still amazed at the small number of blogs that actually cover iOS apps. If you have an iPad, and you have opinions, please, start a blog. Share your knowledge with others. Become a reliable source of information–we’ll all be better for it.


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