800,000. This is the estimated number of total apps for Android, as of March 2013, in the Google Play store (according to PureOxygen). Android is currently ahead of Apple regarding the number of apps for download. To top it off, Google Play is estimated to reach 1,000,000 apps by the end of June 2013.
How is one expected to navigate such a huge number of resources to get at a targeted list that’s specific and manageable for their purposes?
This piece is not intended to be a comparison between operating systems or platforms, it’s simply my take on the current state of the Google Play store for discovering and curating Android apps. Second to a powerful algorithm and search box functionality, an app store must contain intuitive categories of apps. Grouping apps together makes it easy for users to peruse a list of apps that may possibly be pertinent to their needs, instead of the alternative, which is viewing all general fee and no fee apps out of a list of 800,000!
Google Play does a good job of retrieving relevant apps when searching for a field/concept/topic using the search box. For instance, searching for the word medical brings up a list of over 1,000 apps. The first two being Medscape and Epocrates. Sifting through the pages reveals that the majority of resources on the list are medical-based.
However, there is no clear way of knowing how the list is compiled. Is it sorted by rating? Number of downloads? Comments? Free and pay-for? One excellent feature of the search function is the ability to view only apps that are compatible with your device(s). Since Google Play is (obviously) a Google product, users are able to login with their Google credentials and limit their search to view only apps that can be downloaded to the device(s) associated with their account. This is a major advantage of Google Play over other marketplaces.
Creating lists of similar apps is a function that, I believe, Google Play excels at. Its categories section is replete in regards to what one would expect to find when browsing a list of topics to discover apps in. The categories are broken down into two larger concepts: Games and Applications. Like so many others out there, I do not like to see games crop up in an app search when I’m looking for medical or productivity resources, so I thoroughly support the separation between games and other applications. The headings are understandable and users can expect to find appropriate apps under whichever category they choose. Once a category is chosen, users then have the option to toggle between the Top Paid apps and the Top Free apps. This is another useful feature that Google Play offers in an effort to help users search with higher precision.
For the most part, Google Play has improved the Android market environment by enhancing the search features and creating a more structured hierarchy of apps to browse, whether by topic, top charts, highest grossing, etc. There are a couple of facets of Google Play that could be improved or that are lacking. For example, the ever-overbearing game apps issue and the missing advanced search option.
Games vs. any-other-type-of-app:
Games are everywhere. On the home screen banner, most popular, top paid, top free, trending… simply put, they take over Google Play’s Android app section. This is not only an Android problem, it appears in other marketplace environments as well. I suppose there is no way around this since the majority of smartphone and tablet users are downloading games and other “fun” apps for their recreation. Perhaps Google Play could do a better job at featuring some other apps in its banner, even if they are not as popular or highly downloaded as some of the games. This would attempt to even the playing field for those of us not immediately looking for games when we visit Google Play for apps (I know, it’s hard to believe that there are folks that don’t care much for the gaming apps).
The most successful way to navigate the Android apps in Google Play is to search by title. If the title, or portion of the title, is known, then one should use the search box to try and find it. The only thing lacking about the search functionality is an advanced search feature. Advanced search has become so second-nature to some of us, especially those of us who perform searches across several databases a day. It’s difficult to accept (and almost blasphemous to comprehend) that an advanced searching options does not exist in Google Play. User must rely on the categories, simple search, and other predefined lists of apps to find what they are looking for while hoping for the best. Sometimes stumbling upon a useful app or two will get you by–but other times–you just need a more detailed search to retrieve more precise results to bring you closer to that golden app you’ve been searching for.
The Google Play store is sufficient enough for discovering apps that may be relevant to your desired needs. However, it will need to do some serious backend re-designing soon in order to accommodate the expanding number of Android apps to come.
It could benefit from some more advanced search capabilities as well as a more even dispersal of app-types on the homepage and other lists. It does a fine job of categorizing apps into understandable groups and retrieving pertinent-enough apps in a basic keyword search. As the 800,000 approaches 1,000,000+ apps, one can’t help but wonder what the Android app environment will look like in the coming years and even months.