With more than 300,000 applications on the App Store, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Bitsmedia wants to fill this gap with Frenzapp, a Facebook-powered app recommendation service that automatically discovers the apps you use and lets you view which programs your friends are using.
Frenzapp lowers the bar for participation in a couple of clever ways. First, and most interestingly, you don’t have to manually search for your favorite apps. Unlike other attempts at trumping Apple’s iTunes-powered Genius app recommendations with a human-powered network, Frenzapp automatically discovers the apps you have running or used recently, then lets you mark your favorites from the list it built for you.
Frenzapp’s second clever move is that it does not require you to sign up for Yet Another Social Network—it’s entirely powered by Facebook. The first time you mark a bunch of apps as your favorites, Frenzapp prompts you to share your undying love for them with your friends, via your Facebook wall. Subsequent sessions will not prompt you to send more messages, however. You are simply encouraged to add or invite more Facebook friends to use the service. In that way, you arguably build a better app recommendation service, powered by the friends you chose on Facebook, instead of some algorithm in Apple’s data centers.
When I ran Frenzapp on my iPhone 4, it found 35 of my most recently used apps (30 apps, five games), but not all 204 apps I have installed. (No, I don’t have an App Store problem. I can quit whenever I want. You’re not the boss of me!). On the downside, Frenzapp also automatically posted to Facebook when I installed it—without prompting me—then asked me to post a second time when I marked my first few favorite apps. It may be a social-focused app, but that initial auto-post without any warning has become a faux pas among today’s social app gold rush.
That Frenzapp can automatically discover a device’s most recently used apps gave me reason to pause. See, a section of Apple’s App Store guidelines makes it clear that—outside of a few specific exceptions, such as iOS’s Document Sharing features—applications must remain in their own “sandbox” and not really interact with one another. Some developers I talked to were surprised that Frenzapp made it into the App Store despite its app auto-discovery features, so I got in touch with Bitsmedia founder Erwan Macé to learn more about how Frenzapp works.
Macé assured me that Frenzapp’s app auto-discovery features “do not even get close” to violating App Store policies, and he shared a couple of the tricks Bitsmedia uses to automatically discover apps. First, Frenzapp leverages an Apple-provided system in iOS to find other applications that have a specific data-sharing system turned on (custom URL schemes, for the geeks in the audience). This is how, for example, apps like Air Sharing and Good Reader figure out that you have Pages installed and offer the option to send documents to that app for editing.
The second trick up Frenzapp’s sleeve is a process for detecting which apps are currently running—specifically, the most recent apps that you’ll see in the multitasking shelf when you’re running iOS 4 or later and you double-tap the Home button. Macé explained that this is primarily why Frenzapp probably does not automatically detect every single app you have installed unless you have only, say, five to ten apps.
Of course, it would certainly help Frenzapp if it could sniff out all installed apps, but that’s a limitation Apple imposes in the name of privacy and security. Still, Frenzapp is a nice evolution of the “social network for the App Store” idea, though it would be great to see Bitsmedia add Twitter integration to cover the other side of the social fence.
Frenzapp is available now in the App Store for free. It requires an iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 3.0 or later.