An image generated by Serkan Ozkaya's MyMoon

Why the Apple App Store Needs an “Art” Category

As a pivotal arbiter of culture, Apple should recognize the importance of art by recalibrating "how arts-centered apps are perceived, defined, and discovered in the App Store".

New York based artists Seth Carnes and Serkan Ozkaya, along with gallerist Paulina Bebecka, recently created a petition to get Apple to add an Art category to the App Store. Carnes’ justification for the tweak is simple: art is central to culture. As a pivotal arbiter of culture, Apple should recognize the importance of art by recalibrating “how arts-centered apps are perceived, defined, and discovered in the App Store”.

Currently, there are 24 categories in the Apple App Store. When an app artist submits artwork to the App Store, which is the only way to distribute apps to Apple device owners, she must choose between the categories Education, Entertainment, or Lifestyle. None of these labels fit the bill.

Horace famously wrote that the purpose of art is “to inform or delight, or to combine together … both pleasure and applicability to life”. This is art’s quandary as a cultural phenomenon. It’s neither exclusively Education, nor is it Entertainment. Artists like to point out that art expands boundaries. Art also blurs boundaries, straddles them, dissolves them. Art doesn’t slide neatly into any readymade category apart from its own. This conundrum of categorization also applies, of course, to app art.

Carnes, Ozkaya, and Bebecka call attention to what every app developer knows; minor tweaks to an app’s configuration within the Apple App Store can have major ramifications. In fact, there’s a newly emerging discipline dedicated to maximizing App Store exposure. It’s even got its own acronym. Where the web in general has SEO, apps have ASO, or app store optimization.

A couple years ago, eBay subsidiary StubHub paid ASO savant Aykut Karaalioglu a million bucks to supercharge the StubHub app’s App Store rankings. Incredibly, Karaalioglu spent just 20 grand of the budget to accomplish the feat. In short order, he bumped the app up to a rank of 6 in its own category and up to a ranking of 15 overall. In a brilliant PR move, Karaalioglu returned the rest of the cash. He then parlayed that first client into the founding of a company called Mobile Action, which helps developers optimize their app store positioning.

App artists don’t necessarily have the resources or inclination to compete with heavy hitters pouring thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars into ASO. But Apple by default asks artists to do just that.

Apple leadership may worry that employees in charge of vetting app submissions may be ill-equipped to judge whether an app warrants an “Art” designation. But that’s one of the beauties of art. Judging what qualifies as art– and, concomitantly, what makes for good art — is a largely democratic process. As they’ve always done, artists and art connoisseurs themselves will do their part to ensure the integrity of the category.

On the flip side, art institutions find themselves relegated to the Education category. Carnes and company note that while educating its patrons is certainly an important part of the mission of the Met, the Louvre, and Tate Modern, such a categorization doesn’t do justice to the central role these venerable institutions play within not only the art world, but also the broader culture.

App artist Scott Snibbe, who worked with Björk to make her app, Biophilia, and whose app artwork is part of the permanent collections at the Whitney Museum and MoMa, reminds us that “Steve Jobs sometimes called his computers works of art.” Aaron Sorkin’s recent biopic adds another wrinkle to the mythos of Jobs as artist, the Steve Jobs of our collective imagination, the hard-driving, irascible perfectionist.

In their marketing, Apple certainly appeals to the budding artist in all of us. Apple devices have been and will continue to be the tools of choice for what Snibbe calls “digital creators”. It behooves Apple to vociferously endorse the notion that creativity is much more than mere “design thinking”, a mindset that risks reducing art to being the handmaiden of commerce. Snibbe suggests that, as we continue to contemplate Jobs’ legacy, adding an Art category to the Apple App Store would “honor his passion”.

Take a moment to visit the +ArtApp site and add your name to the growing list of people who believe Apple should make this small but meaningful improvement to the App Store.