Some 150,000 apps line the Apple App Store's virtual shelves, yet there's not yet a good way to shop for them. The App Store's oft-criticized search offers little assistance unless you know exactly what you're seeking. Marketers have been accused of gaming the App Store's customer reviews, both in positive and negative ratings.
What's left is the App Store's main Top 25 list, as well as the Top 25 list in every category. The bottom line is that many iPhone owners lean on these lists to tell them what to buy. "The Top 25 list is the thing that drives distribution," says Krishna Subramanian, founder of Mobclix, which operates a mobile ad exchange marketplace. "Other apps just don't get the exposure."
For starters, getting on the Top 25 list isn't easy. An app needs to be promoted through mainstream media, marketing, word-of-mouth and social media to increase downloads and make the list. Big app developers know the score, too. Microsoft, for instance, poured marketing dollars to promote the Bing app on the iPhone in December to lift the app on the Top 25 list of its category.
But app popularity is also a moving target, and it's easy to see how some good apps often fail to make the list and thus fall under the radar.
Here are six cool apps that currently suffer this fate:
The Extraordinaires: The Do-Gooder App
What's cool about this app: This app connects volunteer-minded individuals with nonprofits, and lets volunteers do quick "missions" that actually do some good in the world. During the Haiti earthquake, for instance, you could fire up this app and help identify individuals within photos.
Why it flies under the radar: CNN, Time magazine, and the Washington Post have covered this app, yet it's never really cracked the top hundred within its category. What's the problem? "Maybe the people who are interested in social good don't necessarily own an iPhone," Subramanian says. "It also could be that the coverage is focused on the Web site and not the iPhone app."
Preschool Adventure: Education's Slow Learning Curve
What's cool about this app: Software developer 3DAL makes a lot of fun educational iPhone apps for kids; Preschool Adventure is one of its more popular ones. The app lets parents and their preschool kids play six simple games, such as matching animals to dot-to-dot numbers.
Why it flies under the radar: Education is one of the last markets to jump on a technology bandwagon, and this is true for the iPhone. Apps aimed at education, especially for very young children, are just now starting to come around.
The reason for the educational delay is two-fold. For starters, early app developers targeted broader markets. Meanwhile, iPhone owners weren't used to handing over their iPhones to youngsters so that they could play with apps. But the iPhone is growing up.