On the App Store
I’ve really been sweating the details of the App Store lately because Birdhouse, the iPhone app my partner Cameron and I have been developing for the past months is nearly ready for submitting for Apple’s approval. But one detail that’s causing sweat more profuse and desperate is Apple’s choice of preposition for the official phrasing of the product we’re trying to sell.
The phrase “on the App Store” is the chosen syntax to which developers are to adhere in marketing materials. Apple disapproves of and even forbids altering the App Store banner (pictured above). But the guidelines specified under Apple’s licensing agreement dictate adherence to this phrasing in all promotion of an app, even the developer’s own original text. Not “at the App Store” and not “from the App Store”, they dicate. Always use “on the App Store”.
Niggling little detail, you say? Shut up, you say? Fair enough, but the choice of “on” as opposed to “in” or “at” or even “from” raises, in me, a question of what it is exactly that Apple wants the App Store to be.
From the original desktop iTunes, solely a music-playing app, evolved something the likes of which we hadn’t widely seen: a dedicated app applying the metaphor of the retail outlet embedded within the desktop. The world had been accustomed to online retail through the browser, much as it had been accustomed to the sales of Apple hardware within bigger retail electronics outlets. But iTunes did with its Music Store what it did with its own retail outlets: it created a space specifically for immersing the customer in an all-Apple buying experience. Apple’s retail stores have been credited with an incredible increase in market share since their inception in 2001. So it follows that the formula applied to iTunes Music Store has seen the same success since its debut in 2003.
Now, back to prepositions. If I asked you where you went to buy your iPhone, would you say you bought it on the Apple Store? No, you wouldn’t. You’d say you bought it at the Apple Store. Does this mean that Apple chooses not to think of iTunes as a retail outlet or to think of apps as retail products?
Let’s look at it another way: what destinations built for the trade of goods would the word “on” apply to? I could say I bought a song on iTunes, but when I speak of it like that, I think of iTunes as more of a network for content rather than an outlet, much in the same way I’d say I saw 30 Rock on NBC or heard my favorite song on my favorite radio station. So does this mean that Apple likes to think of its iTunes Stores as networks? And if the iTunes App Store is a network rather than a retail outlet, what does that make the apps it sells? And herein lies the real question: is an app a product or is it content?
I’ve always thought of an iPhone app, like any other software, as a product. Perhaps this has something to do with tying my first memories of software programs to the boxes in which they were sold, on the shelves at retail outlets like Egghead and CompUSA. But clearly, Apple thinks of apps differently. Apple, it seems, thinks of apps as content created by developers in the way that music is created by musicians and movies are created by filmmakers.
My instinct told me that to say an app was available “on the App Store” was wrong, that an app should be available “in the App Store”, the App Store being a destination where I could walk in, pick an app off a shelf, pay my money and leave. But I’ll be honest, in the process of writing all this down, I’m ready to put an app on the App Store.