24: Tallying up the App Stores

One thing missing from Apple's press event this week was a standard rundown of the numbers. Usually they're first up in any keynote, but instead we were treated to welcome, in-depth updates on Apple's environmental and personal health initiatives. But the numbers were interspersed, including figures on the contents of the App Stores.

In 2016, it seems pointless for Apple to cite the size of the iOS App Store — it's obviously huge, perhaps oversized. However, tvOS is a fledgling platform, and early numbers can tell the tale of platform growth. The App Store is the defining feature of tvOS over the prior generation Apple TV system software, and Tim Cook reiterated that.

Apps are the future of television, and this transition is well under way. … We have 5000 apps on the App Store.

Here's the problem with tvOS apps: there are lots of them already, and Sturgeon's Law applies. Several apps were trotted out as good tvOS citizens, including the March Madness app I made an initial review of last week. I thought I was pretty harsh on it after just a day's use, and that I might have to retract some of my comments. No, it's worse than I'd come to realize. First, the app is plain buggy — I've had to force quit it at least ten times. Second, its hallmark, tvOS exclusive feature of split screen live games is a failure. The feature didn't even properly surface until well after broadcasting began. Next, it turns out that many of the games (those on CBS on "real" TV) are banned from the tvOS app, even though they are available in iOS and can be AirPlayed. Finally, once two streams are playing, the inactive stream will often display a "commercial in progress" overlay even when that's not true, killing the entire split screen premise. If this is the peak of what tvOS offers, the transition is not well under way.

On the iPad side of things, sheer volume was brought out as a positive, as Phil Schiller attempted to launch a Switch to iPad campaign right there in Town Hall. (Hi, I'm an iPad. And I'm a PC.) He boasted:

There are now over 1 million apps in the App Store designed for iPad, and they work beautifully on iPad Pro.

This is supposed to be good news for users who are brand new to the Apple ecosystem. I can't see how it's not a barrier, at least without smarter app discovery. And existing iPad Pro users would beg to differ about those apps "working beautifully": many don't even look beautiful, with obviously scaled up interface elements, let alone supporting iOS 9's pro-oriented features.

App quality is a well-known problem to Apple observers. I hope these quotes are misplaced PR spin, and not a serious whitewashing of the fact that Apple has just released some great hardware…right into the steaming pit of their own App Stores.