How I Find My Favorites in the App Store

Genius app icon illustration

I’ve downloaded hundreds of apps, if not thousands. I honestly lost count a long time ago.

Apple overstates that they have a bajillion apps and all of them are worth customers’ time. We all know that can’t be true, and the more time we shop for apps rather than using our devices the more friction we encounter between technology and life itself.

I try to shop smartly, and here’s what I do to find the apps that are the best of the best.

Find recommendations from reputable sources

Although the App Store star rating system may be of some use to you, it’s not the most helpful way to score apps or identify their real worth. People have bizarre and sometimes foolish reasons for the ratings and reviews they give apps, and their foolishness makes a large difference on the averages.

One common complaint for reviewers of the App Store is their petty reasons for giving low ratings. Another problem with their high ratings is they could be fake. Some businesses pay reviewers to give 5-star ratings to bad apps. This is dishonest and malevolent. You don’t want to be their sucker.

So use sites that curate app recommendations. I recommend you stick to a short list of sites that do this: Macworld is the old guard with a reliable track record, so see what they have to say for an app you’re interested in.

Another great place to get app recommendations is The Sweet Setup. This site is largely inspired by The Wirecutter. Reviews there goes deep into the app categories and comes back to the surface with “best of category” recommendations. They cover apps for a wide range of use cases for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Another place I suggest you find app recommendations is from podcasters you trust. In my case, I listen to more than one tech podcast. Most all of the hosts make good observations about the apps they use, and they frequently have something important to say about great apps.

If you’re interested in going this route and you’re new to tech podcasts, start with Mac Power Users, as they have a phenomenal archive of podcasts where they have covered a wide range of apps. Most of their episodes are timeless, so if you find an episode about going paperless, or some other very specific topic, that’s more than a year old, figure that the podcast is still relevant.

Window shop the App Store on Thursday

If you are interested in what Apple showcases in the App Store, they update the app categories on Thursdays. The categories like Featured, Top Charts and Near Me may see updates on other days of the week (for who knows what reason), but Apple routinely updates the App Store each Thursday.

This is especially helpful for shopping for apps in the Featured section. New Editor’s Choice apps appear. New “Best New Apps” are given the spotlight. App collections like “App of the Week” and “City Living” get updates too.

Shop by developer

There are app developers that create several gems, and its not uncommon for a good app to come from a developer who makes other good apps.

Its easy to overlook their collections though. Many great developers are trying hard to bring some semblance of quality to your app experiences, so its worth your time to explore what they offer.

If you like the one app that shows you how to brew 40 delicious coffee recipes, chances are you will find something to like about their other app called something like “The 7-minute Pet Paper Airplane Game.” Even when you don’t think you’re interested, the developer may pleasantly surprise you.

Search by the use case of the app

When all else fails, or you’re in a hurry to get an app that will solve your immediate problem, you should search the app store with keywords. For instance, if you want an alternative music player—something besides Apple’s iOS Music app—you will find a variety of music players searching for “music player” or just “music.”

That said, App Store searches aren’t as powerful as you would hope. The more specific your search (like “British TV”) the better the results should be. But if there are dozens of apps competing in the same category, then it will be hard to glean the great apps from the crappy ones.

So supplement your app searches with online reviews and a quick glance at the in-App Store reviews, if you have the time.

Whatever way you choose to shop for apps, don’t be that guy that nitpicks about the price. You spend more on cat litter and ballpoint pens than you do on a good app. In most cases, the apps with a high price tag have many satisfied customers. A $9.99 app doesn’t reflect the expense of the app. Rather, it reflects the value of the app.

That’s my two cents and my suggestions. I’d like to know what sources you turn to. Do you have sites you usually visit for app recommendations? Which developers are your favorites? Let me know in a comment.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.