By Harry McCracken | Monday, August 23, 2010 at 9:57 pm
The single best thing about the iPhone is that there are a quarter-million applications for it. And one of the single most frustrating things about the iPhone is how difficult it is to find anything other than the apps that make it to the front page of Apple’s App Store.
Enter Chomp, a startup that aims to do more than Apple has to date to help you find cool software for your device–the iPhone for now, and other platforms over time. The company’s ambitious goal is to be the Google.com of app search. They’ve done a number of things right, but I’ve been puzzled by some of the results I’ve gotten as I’ve played around with the app tonight.
Since January, Chomp has had an iPhone app that lets users rate apps using the simplest of scales–either you love a program, or you don’t love it. The new version builds on fifty million of these reviews and uses artificial intelligence techniques to let you search for apps by keyword. Its goal is to return results that are as relevant as a good Web search engine, and its user interface–with summary cards for each app it finds rather than a plain-text list of results–is slick and effective.
Chomp cofounder Ben Keighran told me that the company would like to bring Chomp to every other major mobile platform with a critical mass of apps, and that the two obvious candidates after the iPhone are the iPad and Android. But it hasn’t yet decided which one to tackle next. It also plans, eventually, to include sponsored results (a la Google Ads).
For now, the results you get are purely organic. You can filter results down to show only free apps or only paid ones, browse by category, or click on related searches. You can also review apps yourself (and Tweet them or send them to Facebook), find your online buddies who use Chomp, and browse reviews by the app’s top users.
The app is available now and there’s also a basic browser-based version; both seem to be going through some standard launch hiccups tonight–they’re only working intermittently for me.
I love the idea of Chomp, admire the user interface and got good results for searches such as “books,” music,” and “pinball.” But in this initial form, the results it returned didn’t always strike me as being super-intelligent.
For instance, I searched for “comics” and most of the top results were for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics and something called Elephantmen–none of which had received more than a few ratings, and most of which showed only 50% satisfaction or less. Only by searching for “comic” did I find Marvel Comics, Panelfly, Comic Zeal, and other comics apps that had many more ratings and more favorable reviews.
Similarly, I’m not sure why the first four results for “navigation” are Google Earth, Yelp, Bing, and Flashlight, or why the first one for “GPS” is an app with three ratings, only one of which is favorable Waze, (MotionX and other well-known, well-reviewed nav apps are lower down in the results). And when I searched for “turn by turn directions” I got no results at all.
One last example: When I searched for “spreadsheet,” the top result had no favorable reviews, and the two best-known names in mobile spreadsheets–Documents to Go and Quickoffice–weren’t in the first batch of results.
Chomp’s interface is so nicely done that it’s a useful tool even if it can’t be relied upon to show you the best, most relevant apps for what you might think are simple searches. (It’s still simple enough to browse around until you find apps that look promising.) I plan to keep an eye on it…