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Battelle Pitches An ‘App Search’ Argument For Apple’s Buy Of Topsy

Battelle has an interesting theory about Apple’s purchase of Topsy. It’s not, he says, about Twitter at all: it’s about making search the central metaphor of a new iOS UX.

John Battelle, APPLE+TOPSY: IT’S NOT ABOUT TWITTER (AND TWITTER IS PROBABLY COOL WITH THAT)

In  Apple Won’t Build a (Web) Search Engine and Of Course Apple Is Going to Do Search, I argued that Apple must get into the “app search” game. Just as web search became the coin of the web realm, app search will be next. It won’t look like web search, I argued, but at its core, it’s quite similar.

That was three years ago, right after Apple bought Sirilaunched iAds, and was relentlessly touting the growth of its app ecosystem. I was certain Apple was going to figure out a way to create value above the level of a particular app, using all that tasty data it had within its restrictive walled garden to build the next generation iOS interface.

But so far, Apple has failed to innovate inside its own ecosystem (unless you count minimalist icons and bright base colors as innovation). Three years later, we’re still stuck in a user interface of app-filled screens, most of which we never use, each disconnected  from the other save for the fact they happen to reside on your phone, possibly right next to each other, but otherwise unaware of the value they might reap should they magically start sharing links and data with each other. (You know, the way the web works.)

This has to change.

Google knows it, which is why I find Google Now so fascinating. Apple knows it too – the days of home screens littered with app icons are numbered. What will replace it?

My guess is some kind of intelligent, search-driven interface that “understands” you, based on the intent you signal through your use of all kinds of apps – including browser apps, of course, as well as true search apps like Siri (or Google Now). This new kind of interface responds to your voice as well as your location, your history, and anything else you might willingly (or unwittingly) feed it. It will strive to always put the very thing you need at your fingertips – something that simply isn’t possible without understanding your interactions as the equivalent of …. well, a personal interest graph.

And to do that, Apple needs a powerful engine, the kind of engine that, say, has been hard at work understanding a massive corpus of interest data for, say, six or so years. Something like Topsy.

I go along with some of John’s complaints. As I have added a few dozen apps that I use regularly to my iPhone, the UX has become an impediment. Yes, iOS 7 is an improvement, but its the same old restaurant with better tablecloths.

I’d like to see a better UX, and search offers some great angles. And it’s a good idea to buy new talent, considering how bad Spotlight was for so long (and it’s still not wonderful). In particular, creating elements in the OS where apps could register and allow a search to index their data stores, so that I could search against the data and not just apps. Including, of course, Twitter data, and all sorts of other things that could be relevant.

So, maybe we should call this app-centric search, not app search.

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