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Did Apple swing and miss with App Store Genius recommendations?

Zach Epstein
September 14th, 2009 at 7:40 AM

When Apple announced the availability of iPhone OS 3.1 and the new features that came along with it, we’re not going to lie — we were pretty excited. Regardless of your feelings about Apple and its products, nearly everyone can agree that the App Store was one of the biggest game-changers in recent history where the wireless industry is concerned. With all of the great things about Apple’s App Store however, come several faults of course — and one of the biggest problems was the lack of a recommendation system. In fact, we’d call it the second biggest fault behind lack of a facility for trial versions of apps.

Then came OS 3.1 and with it, Genius for apps. Woo hoo! Even off the bat we could see that Apple’s recommendation solution wasn’t going to be ideal but at least it was a good start, right? Unfortunately, not so much. As you may have read elsewhere by now, many people — us included — have found Apple’s Genius recommendations a bit lacking so far. In fact, the system is basically laughable at this point. Now, many of you probably already know this but recommendation systems are tricky business to say the least. The technology behind them is extremely complex and the amount of information considered can be staggering. That said, there are many companies out there that have done incredible things with the science of recommendations. Apple probably should have worked with one of them.

Looking at the screenshot above, we’ve highlighted one item in particular — though the subsequent recommendation is nearly as bad. “MobileNavigator Europe based on Camera Genius.” Really, Apple? Suffice it to say, the connection doesn’t immediately jump out at us. We want more control over our camera so that means we probably also want to fly to Europe and find our way around once we get there? Or perhaps with Camera Genius we’ll be taking better pictures so we may want to head across the pond and take pictures while touring Europe?

In browsing through the recommendations on one of our iPhones, there are definitely a bunch in the list where connections can be found. More often than not however, we’re at a loss. “iOutBank Pro (German mobile banking app) based on Camera Genius?” “Death Cab for Cutie (a portal for fans of the band) based on F-MyLife (community where people whine about bad things that happen to them, and then get laughed at)?” “EasyWriter Pro (landscape typing app rendered nearly useless by OS 3.0+) based on AT&T Navigator?” The worse news is that so far, we’re finding that removing bad recommendations and checking out good ones has lead to zero improvement. Long story short: the criteria Apple’s Genius system uses to make its recommendations needs refinement. A whole lot of refinement.

So, iPhone users, our question is this: Did Apple swing and miss with App Store Genius recommendations? Hit the comments section and let us know how Genius is working out for you.

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.

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