Apple has introduced a new featured area of its iTunes App Store called "App Store Essentials Hall of Fame." The company characterizes these famous apps as "the best of the very best."
Those developers fortunate enough to be selected by Apple can count on a sizable increase in sales. Everyone else can continue to wonder how Apple makes its selections, because there's no known path to acceptance. It's just something bestowed on the chosen.
Having an app that's already popular app clearly helps. Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, the two best selling paid iOS apps at the moment, have been included among the 50 admitted to Apple's Hall of Fame. There are a number of non-games too: Evernote, Instapaper, and Pandora Radio, to name a few.
Since it opened in July 2008, the iTunes App Store has grown to include some 300,000 apps, according to mobile metrics company Distimo.
The Hall of Fame represents yet another attempt to address the issue of app discovery. With 300,000 apps, developers have a hard time standing out. Search doesn't help as much as one might think because many apps don't have an obvious association with search keywords (which is why you see trademark rights invoked over keywords that do have a strong brand association). Developers also can't count on customers chancing across their apps, given that the likelihood of such encounters diminishes with ever new app added to the App Store.
Apple has an incentive to help developers sell apps and its approach has been to promote obvious winners. It also plucks some apps from obscurity by featuring them in the Staff Favorites section. But for most smaller developers, the path to being noticed isn't obvious or regularly accessible. Making a great app is one way to get attention, but that's not easy to do.
Other companies see socially-driven distribution as an alternative to search or curated galleries. StumbeUpon, a personal content recommendation service, just launched StumbleUpon App Discovery, a service embedded in its Android app to help users find other apps they may enjoy. And over the summer, Google bought a company called SocialDeck to develop social distribution mechanisms for its mobile and Web apps.
Apple, with its Ping service, has dipped its toe into social distribution for music. It remains to be seen, however, how successful social mechanisms will be for the company.