Bringing better discovery to iPhone's App Store

Start-ups stepping in as Apple stays enigmatic

Bringing better discovery to iPhone's App Store

Stop us if we sound like a broken record, but our main remaining moan about the App Store is the discovery process. How you pick out great games from the 13,000-plus titles that are available.

Of course, Pocket Gamer and our peers try to pick out the gems with news stories and reviews, but there are other methods emerging. Not from Apple – although we'd be surprised if the company doesn't bring some form of its Genius music recommendation technology to the App Store sooner or later.

No, from start-ups. Companies working on new ways to find out what apps are hot, either according to the world at large, your friends, or people playing the same games as you.

For example? Well, there's AppStoreHQ, which is getting some buzz this week after scooping an award at the MobileBeat conference in the US.

It monitors what the top tech blogs are saying about iPhone apps, and compiles the data into a Hottest Apps list. If you've ever used the excellent Hype Machine (for music) or Techmeme (for tech news) sites, it's along those lines. A bit.

Something else that's still a bit under the radar is LivingSocial's iPhone Apps application on Facebook, which lets people upload details of what iPhone apps they own, along with ratings and reviews, and then displays this to their friends on the social network.

It's only got just under 17,000 monthly active users, though, and its usefulness relies on a few of your friends owning it. However, if that's true, it's a good way of getting social recommendations as your friends buy and rate new games.

There's been some speculation this week that Facebook itself could include game and app recommendations in its own iPhone app.

At the same MobileBeat conference, SGN boss Shervin Pishar suggested that the Facebook app should have an apps tab, letting you see what Facebook Connect-enabled iPhone games your friends are playing. Facebook's exec on the spot apparently said they're considering the idea.

Another new recommendation model is that being tried by Aurora Feint in its OpenFeint community platform for iPhone games.

It's not just about letting developers put high-score tables and chat in their games – it also lets players browse other OpenFeint-enabled games from within the titles.

In fact, that's how Aurora Feint makes its money from the platform, which is free for developers to use. The advantage of this method is that players know they already have an OpenFeint login for any games found through this method.

These are just some of the new discovery tools that are emerging for iPhone gaming. We haven't even mentioned the tactics that individual developers are trying, such as the use of Twitter shout-outs and Facebook Connect links that are helping gamers spread the word on apps to their social networks.

With iPhone 3GS, Apple has taken the iPhone hardware up a notch. With the iPhone 3.0 software, it's provided developers with some marvellous APIs to make better games.

The next step is recommendation and discovery improvements for the App Store. Happily, while we have no doubt that Apple is working on it, there are plenty of other companies looking to help out too.