Case study

Google Play Store


When thinking about the app browsing experience, it’s easy to forget that there are many ways people discover apps.

From the top, it depends on what operating system your device is on. iOS users are given the App Store app by default, and Android the Google Play Store. And, even before that there’s unintentional browsing by way of ads on social media.

For this exercise, I’m going to focus on the Google Play Store browsing experience.


Upon opening up the app there are one of four screens you can land on.

  • Games
  • Apps
  • Movies & TV
  • Books

The app will always open up on the tab you left off at. This is quite nice as it’s hardly noticeable but in theory would generally default to the tab you use most as the home.

This seems like a good way to bucket the overall browsing experience. Though Games are a subset of Apps, it makes sense to split out Games as their own bucket since they drive so much revenue. According to a report by Business of Apps, “mobile games account for 77% of total 2018 app revenue.”

Each main tab has its own set of sub-tabs at the top, starting with For you across the board. I’m assuming the Books tab doesn’t have a For you section as I haven’t purchased any books on the Google Play Store before. So, there isn’t any easy history for the store to create this content.

Choose your browsing style

There are four main ways to browse within the overarching Apps tab.

  1. Personalized suggestions
  2. Social proof
  3. Filter by intent
  4. Search

1. Personalized suggestions

For you

These are recommendations most likely from an algorithm that brings apps you don’t currently have installed but may enjoy based off of your past download history.

2. Social proof

Top charts, Editors' Choice

These apps are backed by some sort of social proof. Quantitatively supported by number of downloads in Top charts, and qualitatively supported by curation in Editors’ Choice.

3. Filter by intent

Family, Early access

These are for people who are looking to browse all apps that fit a certain filter: I want to download family friendly apps for children. Or, I want to download apps that are new and may even still be in development. Family is a bit more robust, but both of these offer more filters to further pinpoint your browsing.

4. Search

Search is definitely another experience in itself, but is also crucial to the overall browsing experience. People can search for specific apps if they want to find something specific that they already know about.

Overall sub tab layout and design

Each of these sub tabs have different layouts. Though these are all designed differently based on the content and purpose within each sub tab, these end up feeling a bit chaotic when switching between them.

A few questions:

  • Why do the app icons need to be different sizes across all of these screens? It seems like there’s a way to get more consistency.

  • Why is Top charts the only sub tab with the ability to toggle apps that are already installed?

  • Why do the margins differ on the introductory content versus the content below (e.g. Top categories, Explore the new Editors’ Choice, Welcome Parents, Check out new stuff)?

  • Why, on the Categories sub tab, is Verizon a category here? This seems oddly placed, whether it’s a partnership or attempt to personalize (or both) it seems like it might feel better in the For you sub tab.

  • Why, on the Family sub tab, is popular characters designed so similarly to normal apps? If there’s already variety across layouts, why not do something special to help differentiate that section?

Side note: Also notice the decision to capitalize the c in Choice where as other buckets like For you and Early access are sentence cased with the second word starting with lower case letters. This is a bit inconsistent, but perhaps this is an attempt to help make Editors’ Choice feel more exclusive and branded.

Viewing an app

The biggest inconsistency that always bothered me was why apps sometimes had different layouts. Upon casual browsing the pattern was never clear to me.

Alas, with side by side comparisons it turns out that apps that you don’t have installed focus on highlighting the product. Whereas if you’re viewing an app you already have installed Google instead prioritizes ads and recommends other apps before telling you more information about the app you’re on.

Priorities impact your layout and design decisions

I’m pretty sure the decision to have a vastly different layout for apps that are already installed was made to earn more from ads and optimize for the number of new downloads.

People don’t need to be convinced to download an app they already have. But, if you’re viewing the Netflix app it seems weird to put the information about the Netflix app below the fold. The intent of coming to this screen is still to view information about the app you selected.

This probably works to drive more business, but from a UX and design standpoint it feels like there’s room for compromise.


Overall the underlaying structure of the Google Play Store makes a lot of sense. It’s pretty easy to browse based on how you want to browse. But all together it does get a bit messy. Google offers a lot of apps and is a big corporation. I’m sure there are many priorities and consequences that I’m not aware of. With so many things to consider consistency is hard, but it’s always good to strive for it.