Rethinking App Stores: Closed, Open, or Something in Between?

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App stores are all the rage right now. App stores, app stores, app stores! They’re on our phones, they’re on the web, they’re coming to Macs, they’re coming to PCs—they’re here to stay.

While most app stores function similarly to one another on the surface, what goes on behind the scenes of a particular app store varies from one platform to the next. We have “closed” app stores like those from Apple, BlackBerry, and Microsoft, and “open” app stores from the likes of Google and Mozilla.

Open Versus Closed

If you’re a programmer looking to sell your apps in a closed environment, you generally pay an upfront or recurring fee for access to platform-specific programming software, and sometimes you pay a fee every time you submit your app for approval by whomever owns the app store.

In an open environment, often times the platform-specific programming software is free or low-cost, there’s little or no fee for submitting your apps to the app store, and there may be no approval process.

In both environments, whoever owns the app store generally takes a percentage every time someone buys your app—usually around 30 percent.

There are pros and cons to both models. The argument for closed app stores is that putting up an initial financial barrier, then sometimes another financial barrier in the form of a submission fee, then an approval process by whomever owns the app store weeds out poorly-programmed apps and apps with little or no real value to people who’d buy them.

The argument for open app stores is that customers should ultimately decide what they want to buy. Let people program and submit apps for next to nothing and if the apps are good, people will buy them and the app store will make money off of the percentage splits.

The problem with the closed model is that you still find dumb, worthless apps inside every app store and even worse, sometimes good apps are kept out. Conversely, open app stores can be overrun with dumb, worthless apps to the point that it’s hard to find the good ones. And in extreme cases, the open stores contain malicious apps that don’t get deleted by the overseers right away. Yes, even the open stores need some sort of oversight.

Wherein I Propose an Alternative

The one thing that most app stores have in common, aside from the percentage split with the owners, is that the people who actually use the apps get to vote and comment on them using a five-star rating system.

Here’s what I propose:

An open app store where any app gets in, but then has one month to prove itself. Apps that have a two star or lower rating after a month’s time get removed. Seemingly malicious apps can be flagged for an audit by the overseers of the app store and, if found to be malicious, deleted sooner.

Apps that make it a month aren’t out of the woods, either. If an app drops back down to a two star or lower rating due to crashes or not being updated on a timely basis, for instance, it’ll have a month to get its rating back up.

Apps could only be rated while they’re installed on a user’s device or at the time of uninstallation, which would prevent gaming the system. Apps that get removed from the store could be resubmitted but—and this is my favorite part—the developer would have to pay a resubmission fee.

No fees to develop, no fees to submit, but fees to resubmit apps that have been ceremoniously axed by The People.

So you’d have the “any app gets in” mentality of the open stores with the “only the good apps make it” mentality of the closed ones. You wouldn’t have Apple blocking Google Voice for no good reason, and you wouldn’t have 10,000 Android fart apps. You’d have a store full of apps with a C average or above. Is that too much to ask of app developers? No D’s or F’s?

More on Techland:

What You Need to Know About the Mac App Store

TaintDroid Tattles on Misbehaving Android Apps

Ten Apps That Break Apple’s App Store Guidelines