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The mobile app discovery problem

There's no question mobile applications have taken off. But how do you figure out what you want? It's harder than it sounds, says Google's Tim Bray.

One of the biggest problems in the evolving mobile applications market is context: how do you know what you want, and why?

Google's Tim Bray
Google's Tim Bray Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Google's Tim Bray tackled those topics in a post to his personal blog Wednesday, unfortunately unable to solve the issues in under 1,000 words but making some good points in exploring them. Bray works for Google's Android development team but said in his post that the Android Market development is handled by a separate group.

In short, when it comes to both Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market, "just as with the Internet itself, Sturgeon's Law applies: almost everything is crap," Bray wrote. There is no real good way to search for the right applications because there is no cultural commitment to determining the value of an application, he wrote.

By contrast, take Amazon: there is a unbelievable amount of stuff on Amazon, from books and music to consumer goods. But we can keep things in context because we look to passionate communities devoted to judging the value of art and rely on our own experience with big brands. That simply doesn't exist in the mobile world, Bray wrote, although I might direct his attention to our own in the future.

But his basic point is valid, that as the mobile application continues to be the premier way in which we utilize our mobile devices, both consumers and application retailers need to figure out a better way to surface the best content and weed out the useless stuff. Even with Apple's insistence on reviewing every application submitted to the App Store, application discovery has been one of the biggest gripes among iPhone developers for years.

Good food for thought from Bray, and undoubtedly something both Google and Apple are working on. Google, after all, is a search company, and Apple bought mobile search company Siri in April. That expertise could and should be transferred to application discovery, not just Web search.