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iPhone apps punt iPhone apps

Dross-filtering in-app advertising feedback loop

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A new service from mobile developer Mobui promises to sort through the morass of mediocrity that is the iTunes application store, by providing recommendations from the authors of apps you've already bought.

The premise is simple: Mobui provides an Objective C object, with source code, that you insert into your iPhone application with suitable hooks. When the user selects AppsWeLike they get a cached, but updateable, list of applications recommended by the authors of this application. If they buy any of those apps then the author of the original application gets the five percent reseller's bounty, Apple gets 25 per cent and the author of the original app gets the usual 70 per cent.

The plethora of apps available for the iPhone is impressive; but in the same way that for many years the Spectrum home computer had more software available than the PC, it's not quantity that matters, it's quality. Decent applications for the iPhone do exist, but finding them can be a real challenge, and one that the other application stores are also going to face if they prove half as popular as Apple's.

Best-selling lists are one way, but on the iTunes store getting a staff pick has proved to be the most effective form of promotion. Recommendations from other iPhone users, in the form of blog postings, have also proved effective - but recommendations from the authors of previously-purchased apps surely carry more weight? The idea is that authors will recommend applications of a similar quality, though equally likely is other titles from the same publisher, or recommendations made in exchange for cash.

Mobui allows application authors to make money from such recommendations, and even provides a bidding system that would seem to undermine users' trust as it allows recommendations to be made to the highest bidder - though the author (or, more likely, his publisher) still has veto, so some indication of quality should still exist. Mobui even reckons the service, which goes into public beta today, could fund free applications, though given the derisory figures for free-application reuse that's hard to believe.

But with the barriers to application development becoming so low, there is a need to distinguish quality applications from the dross that's clogging up the application stores - before users come to associate smartphones with the ability to make farting noises. The Sinclair Spectrum might have had more applications available than any other platform, but that was no guarantee of success in the long term, and in-application recommendations might be one way of reaching through the scum that also rises in the official application store. ®

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