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Apple TV App Store Growing Quickly… In the Wrong Direction?

Analytics company appFigures has released some fascinating early information about the Apple TV’s App Store. First, the good news: a little over one month after opening, the Apple TV’s App Store already boasts over 2,600 apps. appFigures estimates that 447 new apps are added every week, and it expects 10,000 apps to be available by early 2016.

That rate of growth is phenomenal, but a deeper dive into the statistics show that developers might be moving in the wrong direction. By far, the largest Apple TV app category is games, with over 1,000 now available. The second largest category, entertainment, which includes streaming apps like Netflix and HBO NOW, contains only about 400 apps. The numbers drop off fast from there, with some categories having only a handful of apps — there’s room for more innovation here, as I discussed in “Apps that Reveal the Apple TV’s Potential” (9 November 2015).

The Apple TV App Store may have vastly more games than anything else, but when you examine the most popular app categories, games come in a distant second. Entertainment apps account for 28 of the Apple TV’s 50 most popular apps, while only 8 are games. It seems that most Apple TV users want to stream content, not shoot aliens or solve puzzles. This isn’t surprising — as I concluded in “FunBITS: Testing the Siri Remote as a Game Controller” (20 November 2015), gaming is a secondary consideration for the Apple TV, not the main attraction.

Although I’m a gamer, I’m more frustrated by the Apple TV’s lack of streaming media options. If you want to watch Sling TV, listen to music via Spotify, or watch Amazon Video, you have to turn to other devices. While I’m sure all of these will come to the Apple TV sooner or later (see “Amazon Instant Video Coming to Apple TV,” 30 November 2015), the wait is vexing.

As on most mobile platforms, free apps dominate, with 61 percent of Apple TV apps costing nothing. There’s still room for developers to make some money, with 39 percent of apps being paid, although 85 percent of those cost less than $2.99. It’s a tough situation, since Apple TV owners may be hesitant to buy unknown apps willy-nilly, but without the massive user base of the iPhone and iPad to provide volume, developers may have a hard time justifying ongoing development.

A key stumbling block is discoverability, which is worse on the Apple TV App Store than Apple’s other App Stores, not that it’s good there. While developers can submit apps to more than 20 categories, Apple makes only 7 of those categories visible in the App Store. Worse, there’s no way to link directly to an Apple TV app, making it even harder for users to learn about apps in traditional ways like reading a review or a Web search.

So far, the Apple TV App Store seems to be off to a strong start. But two key problems remain: Apple needs to make it easier for users to find apps, and developers need to make apps users want. I still believe that the Apple TV has tremendous potential for apps that provide new and innovative forms of interactivity, but early adopters seem to be voting for passive entertainment.

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