Apple has provided plenty of ways for users to discover new applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but on the sharing side the company has come up a bit short. Third-party blogs and social networks have done well to seize this opportunity, creating tools that help filter and sort apps old and new in ways Apple itself has not implemented.
One of those tools is Chorus, which is going live on the App Store early Tuesday. It's basically its own App Store meets social network, where users can share apps they've purchased with others, keep track of what their friends are buying, and discover new apps to buy either through the people they've befriended or from Chorus' hand-picked editors.
Chorus does one big thing the App Store doesn't, which is to allow each user to share their purchase history. Unlike the faceless reviews you see overflowing Apple's marketplace, reviews within Chorus' network are all attached to users you can befriend and follow to see what they've recently rated, reviewed, installed, or uninstalled.
As a new user, you can very quickly populate the service with all this information using a tool the company calls the Gobbler, an Adobe AIR-based application that scans your iTunes library and finds app purchases. You can then go through to check which apps you want to make public with your friends and the service's recommendation engine (note: by default, the Gobbler and Chorus apps are both smart enough to know that you probably don't want to share something that's rated 17 or over).
Once you've shared your application history with Chorus, it helps fuel what the service recommends to you--just like Apple does with its own Genius service. This is where the app goes one step further though; it lets you see which of those apps your friends have used, if they've rated it, and whether they ended up removing it from their device. It also weights its recommendations higher if your friends have it installed.
To befriend other users you can cull your Facebook or Twitter contact list to find those who may already be using the service, or search by whatever username they've using on Chorus. The app also comes installed with a handful of subscriptions to the service's "AppMavens" who are bloggers that seed the network with their picks and reviews. Frankly, I found these the AppMaven's reviews less useful than the App Store's user review section, which--major faults aside, can shed light on things a single review can't, like how well it works on various devices, if there are any bugs, and what version the app was reviewed on.
The saving grace with the Chorus reviews system is that like other third-party app directories, all purchases still go through in the App Store app itself, which means you can still scope out those user reviews before making a purchase. On the downside, when it comes time to buy, you get kicked out of the Chorus app and sent into the App Store. This can be jarring but is made slightly less irritating by the fact that the app is smart enough to remember what you were doing the last time you were using it and bringing you back upon a relaunch.
All in all Chorus is a useful tool for discovering apps that should become increasingly useful if more people seed it with recommendations. Though there are a few things I'd like to see in future versions, the first of which is a way to manage purchases and do app discovery from the Web and not just on the device--something the company says will be coming at a later date. Another is a way to queue up apps you want to purchase, then e-mail yourself that list in the form of iTunes links. This would let you continue to use the tool without interruption, and facilitate batch purchasing.
I'd also like to see recommendations of people to follow based on my download and/or usage history since that would help me whittle down who I'd actually spend time paying attention to. This, or some sort of visual relevancy indicator about how much of a match any given app is to my buying habits would go a long way towards making me, and likely others feel better about clicking through to see more about that app.