As part of the recent OS 3.1 upgrade for the iPhone, Apple introduced a new feature intended to suggest apps based on your previous purchases. Like the similar function introduced to music listeners in iTunes 8.0, this handy little feature goes by the name “Genius.” But does the App Store Genius live up to it’s name like it’s big brother, or is this genius just a C student in disguise?
Accessing the Genius function is a simple enough process. At the top of the App Store App beside the New and What’s Hot options that we’ve grown accustomed to will be a new to access Genius. The first time you access this you’ll need to read and agree to the Genius Terms of Service, but once that’s out of the way it’s pretty much smooth sailing as it compiles a list of recommendations.
iTunes Genius has, in my experience, offered a wonderfully appropriate list of suggestions based on my listening tastes. They’ve turned me on to new music, suggested music I already know I love — all in all it’s been a quality service since it launched. It’s baby sibling, however, isn’t fairing as well.
While iTunes Genius seems to base it’s recommendations off of the purchases of like-minded individuals, App Store Genius feels as though it’s pulling random apps from similar categories and dumping them in your lap. Paypal was recommended based on my use of CBC Radio. NFL 2010 was recommended because I have Pac-Man Remix. While these things might technically fall under the same category, their purposes and audiences couldn’t be less similar.
Still, it’s not all bad. Based on my use of Tweetie a number of Twitter-related apps were suggested my way. My use of Twitpic led to a recommendation for HP iPrint Photo. These are all things that are thematically the same. They make sense. The problem is that more often than not I would be recommended MLB at Bat based on Twitpic or DOOM based on Civilization Revolution.
Looking at your purchases on the whole and making recommendations based on those might have made a little more sense. If it did Genius would learn pretty quick how much I love tower defense games, and recommendations of those would have been a welcome addition to the sea of nonsense that’s currently presented. It may break from the system used by iTunes Genius, but maybe that’s what’s needed here. Music and apps are two very different beasts, and those beasts need two very different approaches to be tackled effectively.
One thing that surprised me was that Genius only factored in apps currently on your device. If you’ve purchased apps in the past but removed them, those aren’t included. One can appreciate the logic behind this — if you’ve deleted an app you probably don’t like it — but there’s a flipside to that argument. What if you loved the app, but just didn’t need it right now? Secret of Monkey Island SE easily ranks amongst my favorite iPhone games, but I deleted it once I was finished because of the space it took up. In my mind, that’s something that should absolutely be factored in to any recommendation engine that’s trying to learn about my shopping habits.
App Store Genius is a great idea, but it’s execution is poor and contrary to the it’s own purposes. Without consistently sensible recommendations, this just isn’t a part of the App Store that you’ll find yourself visiting.