Out of date apps litter the App Store: why isn't Apple doing more?

When were your apps last updated?
A search for cooking apps in the App Store gives mixed results

Remember the days when every few months would come another proud announcement from Apple about the number of apps in the iOS App Store? First it was 10,000, then 50,000, then 100,000... and then Apple stopped making too much of a fuss, and started talking about the number of apps downloaded instead.

And wisely too, because the game of "How many apps have ya got?" is one that ends up with nobody winning, certainly not customers.

We've gone well beyond the stage of "There's an app for that" and into the era of "There's a dozen apps for that. I don't know which ones are any good, or even if some of them actually work any more."

There's a lot of great stuff on the App Store, but it has become a place cluttered with abandonware, apps that were made a few years ago and haven't been updated for years. Thanks largely to their age, these apps litter search results, making it hard to find anything decent once you go beyond the curated selections on the home and category pages.

Confused search

Search for 'cooking', for example, and you'll get a fairly decent example of what I mean. There are some new apps, some quality ones, and a whole load of little apps that haven't been updated for years - one, in fact, was last updated over two years ago. What's the chances that app will work properly with iOS 6? That is something you'll only really find out once you've bought it.

This is a problem that will only get worse as time goes on. Unfortunately, it will also start to make the iOS App Store look like its Android equivalent, where the good stuff is drowned out by cheap, semi-functioning crud and it gets harder and harder to actually find things you might want.

Imagine if Apple decided that, in its physical stores, it wasn't going to get rid of old stock - instead, it was just going to leave it festering in the corners of the store, where customers could trip over it while trying to find what they really wanted. The App Store mess is a virtual equivalent.

Sort it out, Apple

Given that the App Store is supposed to be a well policed environment, the onus is on Apple to sort things out, and there are a few steps it could take to make things better.

The first is simply to start down-ranking apps in search results if they haven't been updated for a long time. No matter how good an app is, if a new version hasn't been added for two years it's likely to have compatibility problems with new iPhone hardware and versions of iOS.

The second and more radical solution would be to decree that after each major iOS upgrade, developers build and upload a new version of their apps. If this isn't done within, say, six months of a public release, then their app should be placed in a kind of limbo: still on the App Store and available for download, but no longer appearing in search results unless the search matched the exact title of the app. If an app is then updated, it will be moved back into the proper search system.

These steps would weed out apps that were one-off creations, and also encourage developers to update apps on a regular basis. Undoubtedly, some would complain, but for those who still had an interest in maintaining (and selling) their apps, it wouldn't be any extra work.

It might also reinforce the idea that creating an app is a long-term commitment, and that if you want yours to be a success you have to be in for the long haul.