According to AppFigures, a company specializing in metrics and tracking the ranking of iPhone applications, the iTunes App Store is officially frozen – that is, there has been no change in rankings for any applications in the last 24 hours.

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The problem may be older then that however. Over the last week, many of our clients and various posts on message boards have pointed to strange app ranking issues including sudden unexplained jumps or drops in ratings, applications appearing out of nowhere, and other anomalies. Release dates seem to be one of the more effected aspects, with the release date option appearing and disappearing from the developer console.

Personally…. with it happening just after Halloween, we believe that iTunes has been possessed by the ghosts off rejected applications and the issues will continue until a full exorcism of Apple has occurred. That aside, we expect Apples engineers are frantically plugging away on the back end, trying to resolve the problem.

Please comment on any additional issues you notice, and we will continue to monitor and report if we hear of a change.

***RUMOR MILL UPDATE***

According to the founder of Cramzy, who claims to have inside information, one of the problems is because a major change is being made to the system. The gist of the change is this – updating your app will no longer place you at the top of the “Recently Released Apps” queue. If this is true, we believe this is an extremely poor decision by Apple. The marketing uplift given to an app by performing an update can be significant, and this feature as it currently is keeps developers involved in their apps, refreshing them with new content and bug fixes. Removing this will lead to more apps going stale, cluttering up the app store and making it harder for anyone to sell anything.

**RUMOR CONFIRMATION**

One of our clients, Memorize Words, Spanish Edition , had their app update approved today. Its app description only lists it as “Last Updated Nov 6th”, however it does not appear on the recently released apps section in its category. All apps in the recently released are listed as version 1.0’s. No official word from Apple, but all evidance points to this as a new major change in the app store.

I was going to wait until I had this blog site fully setup before I started posting blogs, but I finally had a chance to really sit down and play with iTunes 9 today and was shocked at some of the changes.

Lets start with the good. I love the Home Sharing music feature. There is probably over 5,000 downloaded songs in my household, while only about 500 of them are mine. The woman of the house is quite the music enthusiast and has a library that would make congress jealous.  Its nice to be able to tap into her songs and not worry about having to re-download them if I want to take some with me.

Okay, enough of the good. (Wait, thats it?). I am a mobile application marketing consultant. I teach classes in how to get your mobile application noticed, how to get it ranked well, and how to use the interface (iTunes) you’ve been given to succeed. I’m writing a book on the subject as well. One of the gold standards of marketing your mobile app in iTunes is to strive for a coveted top 100 spot in your category.  (Top 20 in your category is of course much better, but top 100 and you start getting noticed by soft browsers). With over 75,000 apps  in the app store, its extremely difficult to get into the top 100 overall (not category specific) without a brand name and big marketing budget behind you.

Getting ranked in your category however worked because many people browsing without a particular application in mind would first head into a category and then scroll through the top apps of that section. The higher you were ranked, the more likely someone would see you before they got tired of browsing pages. Its the same concept that drives companies to spend millions on SEO tactics to get higher up the natural search listings in Google.

Missing something? Oh right.... Navigation

Missing something? Oh right.... Navigation

There’s something missing in the iTunes 9 app store… quick category browsing. The bar on the left that listed each category for a quick link into that section? Gone. Replaced with? Well… nothing. In the small print at the bottom of the page there is a “Browse” feature that takes you to the most illogical browsing flow I’ve ever seen. Lets say I’m still intent on checking out what the top social networking apps are.  The browsing function lets me choose App Store -> Social Networking. Okay, so far it makes sense. Down below it populates with a list of 6000 apps in a text list (no icon, no images). The first app in my list……

“Big Red Button”

Category….. (wait for it)

Entertainment.

What?? Did I not just specify social networking?  Maybe I’m missing something. So I double click on the app name to see the description. Nothing. No app description page pops up. Nothing at all happens actually. Thinking maybe that I clicked on the wrong spot, I tried clicking on the artist, price, release date…. nothing.  The only thing that is clickable… “Get App”.  Okay, well its a free app, Ill take a risk and click “Get App” hoping that it will actually take me to a description of the app before actually downloading it.

Nope. Sorry. I am now the proud owner of a Big Red Button. What does it do? No idea. I’m a little scared to push it.

Maybe there was just a glitch in Social Networking. Lets try a more obscure category like Health & Fitness. A few clicks in the browsing later and ta-da! The top app in Health & Fitness is…. a Health & Fitness app! Were off to a good start. Unfortunately number two is a Medical app so were still not perfect. I have to assume this is because you are allowed to choose a secondary category for your app that they show up here. I can accept that… though I find it hard to believe this Big Red Button will help me socially network. (No, I still haven’t pushed it).

The browsing apps are ranked 1-6000, however I quickly can see that its not a popularity rank. Actually, its currently being sorted by date released, so my Big Red Button only really had the advantage that it was released on Friday and will sit there till Monday when new apps get added. Its possible to click on the features to change the sorts – by date, by cost, by genre (didn’t I already specify Health & Fitness? Ooh look. Here’s four weather apps that fall into Health & Fitness!). You cannot sort by two variables.. that is – if I want to look at which of the lovely weather-slash-health-and-fitness hybrids are free vs paid, I simply have to scroll through. Thank goodness there are only four of them. What there isnt… is a way to sort by actual rank / popularity.

Dammit.. I want to know what the best free Health & Fitness apps are!

Remember the page from the last version of iTunes? The category page that showed the top paid on the right and the top free on the left? Thankfully I still have an image from a class I am teaching of what it looks like…

Not gone.... just really really hard to find!

Not gone.... just really really hard to find!

Turns out this page isnt actually gone. I managed to find the top free Health & Fitness apps with these, well, 10 easy steps….

1. Open iTunes

2. Click on “App Store”

3. Look for a Health & Fitness app in the promotional categories on the front page

4. Dont find any. Click into the top paid apps section to see if there are any in there

5. Find “iFitness” in the top 100 paid list.

6. Click on iFitness

7. Admire clear use of icon, good description, read some comments…. oh wait. I had a purpose here…

8. Find the location path at the top of the page. The one that says “App Store -> Healthcare & Fitness -> iFitness

9. Scroll over Healthcare & Fitness and notice that its a clickable link

10. Click Healthcare & Fitness and marvel at finally finding what I was looking for.

(By the way… you use to be able to get to this in three clicks. )

I am a fan of Apple and how they have opened up mobile applications to the world and made it accessible to smaller developers. Looking at what is starting to happen here however is disappointing. It looks like what has replaced the category section is a new top list…. “Top Grossing” (ie – What apps are making the developers, and Apple, the most money). Apps that make this list which sits on the front page, will gain more attention, and thus keep driving more revenue…. and staying on top of this list.

iTunes 9 makes it harder for hard working app developers to make it without the direct assistance from Apple themselves to get featured on one of their front page categories. This doesn’t seem like the smartest move from Apple. Instead of the public finding the next best app and driving it to the top, more and more its apps that Apple chooses that make it… which means in a slew of new apps, the likelihood that the newest gem of an app will get missed and instead of gaining traction and driving sales for the developer and Apple…. get lost in a sea of app clutter.

Yup. There’s an app for that.