AppAide Is an Interesting, Flawed App Discovery Service

By Nathaniel Mott , written on September 6, 2012

From The News Desk

Sales are a poor metric for judging a product. McDonald's probably sells more hamburgers in an hour than the diner a block away from my apartment sells in a year, but I don't think anyone (except maybe this guy) would say that McDonald's hamburgers are better than the diner's. The "higher sales equals better quality" argument crumbles even further when an item is free. Free means no barrier to entry, no consequences, and, most importantly, no buyer's remorse.

A better metric for quality is how much customers return to the thing that they bought. If someone buys both "Pulp Fiction" and "Snakes on a Plane", the "better" movie is probably the one that they watch more often. AppAide, a service that measures how often an app is used instead of how many times it's been downloaded, is betting that the same principle can be applied to software.

We'll start with the good: It's nice to see a service that recommends apps based on how often they're used. I have downloaded hundreds of apps in the two years that I've owned an iPhone, but have only around 50 on the device. Many of the apps that have been deleted were free – a pretty icon or clever name would catch my eye, I'd download the app, hate it, and delete it. Lather, rinse, repeat. With an unlimited data plan the only thing wasted in that process is time.

You can bet, then, that the apps I use most often are the ones that I like the most. But this isn't true in every case – Yammer's iPhone app is one example of a necessary evil that is tolerated, not enjoyed – but as a general rule it's fairly sound. The App Store can be accused of everything but a lack of variety, and if one app is used more than the fifteen others that perform similar functions, it's probably the better option. This rule could potentially apply to apps like Yammer's iPhone app as well – if there's a decent third-party solution that can give me access to the service without having to use the monstrous default app, someone will be using the hell out of that app.

Unfortunately, AppAide is a good idea with poor execution. The app, which desperately needs to be redesigned, is relatively limited in scope. Because it can't continuously monitor the apps being used, AppAide takes a usage "snapshot" every hour. Unless a user really likes a particular app or game, this limitation puts a pretty severe cap on AppAide's utility.

This problem is particularly troublesome given the service's monetization strategy. The company is hoping to become an analytics tool for developers, but these limitations and the relatively small sample size (which can't be held against the company, as it's still in its infancy) could put a damper on those plans. Developers will want to know exactly what's going on, and they aren't likely to pay until AppAide becomes more comprehensive.

Many already include methods for monitoring usage in their own apps – which is why a service like Flipboard knows how many "flips" users have browsed through – but having access to the usage stats of other apps could help developers figure out what they're doing wrong and identify their apps' main competitors.

If the AppAide team were to find a method that could genuinely monitor the apps being used at all times, without significantly impacting battery life, AppAide could be a hit. With over 650,000 apps in the App Store, being able to narrow the selection down based on usage, instead of the app du jour model, could help weed out some of the shittier apps that users download and then delete or abandon soon after.

There's definitely a market for something like AppAide. A variety of startups – Chomp, AppVue, Appsfire, etc. – have tried to solve the app discovery problem in different ways, but there's still room for something like AppAide to come out swinging. The company has the right idea, but it needs to work on its execution.