Apple's App Store Needs Cold Storage

I have this app on my iPhone that I love. It's not deeply useful, it's just fun. And I enjoyed it for years, from the moment I discovered it until recently when I tried to launch it and nothing in the app was working quite like it should. So I looked up the website and found the support link. I sent an email to the developer to ask about it and the reply I got back was that the app hadn't been actively developed for four years and in fact the developer didn't even realize the site was still up.

Tim Cook shows off all the Apps in the App Store. So. Many. Apps.

Well now I'm disappointed, because the app I like so much isn't working, and it turns out it never will again. And iTunes has no obvious indicator that this app isn't compatible with iOS 8 or anything, Lots of apps are compatible with iPhone 5 or newer, and unless you note the date of the most recent update you'll never know if this app is still being developed or not.

I know sometimes development ceases for whatever reason, and that devs can take down an app whenever. But I also know there are lightweight apps out there that work fine in iOS 8 and have worked fine for years. It can be something that someone released for free to do one small thing and wants to leave it in the store for the greater good.

I propose the store should add a "Cold Storage" section for these apps. Then people who can't/won't update to the latest version of iOS or are still clinging to a useful app that has effectively been abandoned don't end up completely cut off.

Here's how I would work it: As a developer, I can check a box for "Cold Storage" on an app, meaning it's the last update it will get. Then I can send it off to that No Man's Land of the iTunes Archive, where it can hang out for people who still own a first or second generation iPad or an iPhone 4 and need to make sure they can still get the most recent available version.

Now that's for devs who are conscientious and make sure their apps get the attention they need. For those that get abandoned for other reasons, it should be at Apple's discretion to move apps after some designated amount of time has passed. If there hasn't been a single update for 18 months (for example), then if Apple wants to move the app to the Archive, it's at Apple's discretion to do so.

This way a good portion of the apps in iTunes are under active development, and at least apps that need to stick around can still be available. You don't end up searching in iTunes and getting an overwhelming number of results. What results you do get are apps that are being cared for.

I know it's not in Apple's best interest to start ratcheting down the number of apps in iTunes. Announcing how many apps are in the store is an awesome thing to drop on an audience during an event, especially now that the number of apps has hit six digits. However, as a consumer all those abandoned apps are frustrating, particularly if they were once popular.

Briefly popular but now abandoned apps can eclipse new and current apps, making it frustrating to choose the right app. You already have an overwhelming list of results and now you have to weed through those to find out how recently the app was updated.

It really seems that the current model is not sustainable for a variety of reasons. Cold Storage won't fix everthing that Apple (and everyone else) faces with online discovery, but it would be a helpful step in the right direction.