Apple reportedly purchased startup Ottocat to bolster App Store search functionality

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited April 2015
A report on Monday claims Apple quietly acquired startup Ottocat to bolster App Store search functionality, specifically pertaining to the store's "Explore" feature that surfaces titles for users browsing app categories.


Ottocat's webpage as seen in August 2013.


While little solid proof of Apple's supposed buy exists, TechCrunch reports Ottocat was purchased "some time ago," possibly in mid-2013. The company was founded in May 2013, but apparently closed up shop in October of that year, announcing through its webpage that "Ottocat is no longer available."

Circumstantial evidence seems to back up those claims, as Ottocat's official Twitter profile went inactive at around the same time, and Apple introduced Explore a few months later at WWDC in 2014.

Linking Ottocat to Apple is a single patent application from co-founder Edwin Cooper. Titled "System and Method for Divisive Textual Clustering by Label Selection Using Variant-Weighted TFIDF," the invention was assigned to Apple with Cooper listed as an employee. The patent has yet to be granted.

With Ottocat, Apple purchased technology that plugs into the App Store's backend to organize, aggregate and serve apps based on categorical searches. In current iterations, Ottocat's invention is very similar to the App Store's Explore tab and eschews keyword queries for a system that surfaces apps by directing users through a series of increasingly specific subcategories.

Cooper's current status at Apple is unknown. His most recent patent grants and filings go back to Pearl.com (now known as JustAnswer), a consumer advice website that connects users with vetted professionals from a variety of fields.

If Ottocat was purchased, it wouldn't be the first time Apple bought a smaller tech startup to help organize its unwieldy App Store. In 2012, the iPhone maker purchased app search engine Chomp and later incorporated the firm's tech and, on iOS devices, card style app information pages.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 14
    Deleting about 450,000* apps would be a good start. There's too much garbage in the App Store these days, we don't need 24,673 free fart apps.




    *obviously that's a guesstimate.
  • Reply 2 of 14
    sirlance99sirlance99 Posts: 1,096member
    About time they made search better. It's horrible as it is now.
  • Reply 3 of 14
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SirLance99 View Post



    About time they made search better. It's horrible as it is now.

    Yeah and people think Apple can start their own search engine to rival Google. Searching with Siri is flat out horrible no matter what language. Google app on iOS is just so much better, especially when there are Spanish names mixed in with the English or vise versa which is quite common in California and Central America.

  • Reply 4 of 14
    idreyidrey Posts: 640member
    mstone wrote: »
    Yeah and people think Apple can start their own search engine to rival Google. Searching with Siri is flat out horrible no matter what language. Google app on iOS is just so much better, especially when there are Spanish names mixed in with the English or vise versa which is quite common in California and Central America.

    It did take time for Google to be as good as they are. Rome wasn't built in a day!
  • Reply 5 of 14
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member

    Thank god. "Exploring" on App Store is almost as bad as Netflix.

     

    I take that back. Nothing could ever be anywhere near as bad as Netflix.

  • Reply 6 of 14
    carthusiacarthusia Posts: 561member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by BobSchlob View Post

     

    Thank god. "Exploring" on App Store is almost as bad as Netflix.

     

    I take that back. Nothing could ever be anywhere near as bad as Netflix.




    The conspiracy theorist in me feels as if it's intentional on Netflix's part. I, for one, would quickly zoom through all the good stuff if I could easily find it and then cancel as soon as the House of Cards season ended.

  • Reply 7 of 14
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,963member
    mstone wrote: »
    Yeah and people think Apple can start their own search engine to rival Google. Searching with Siri is flat out horrible no matter what language. Google app on iOS is just so much better, especially when there are Spanish names mixed in with the English or vise versa which is quite common in California and Central America.

    Shoot, try the Philippines.
  • Reply 8 of 14

    I've thought exactly this for years when it comes to iOS apps and more recently with OS X apps. My potty-mouthed appraisal of the state of both app stores:

     

    "There's some crapp for that."

  • Reply 9 of 14
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post



    Deleting about 450,000* apps would be a good start. There's too much garbage in the App Store these days, we don't need 24,673 free fart apps.









    *obviously that's a guesstimate.

     

    Exactly what I've been thinking for years with the glut of pointless, pile-on, uninspired garbage in the OS X and iOS App Stores:

     

    There's some crapp for that.

  • Reply 10 of 14
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,033member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by oirudleahcim View Post

     

     

    Exactly what I've been thinking for years with the glut of pointless, pile-on, uninspired garbage in the OS X and iOS App Stores:

     

    There's some crapp for that.


     

    Did you think that was so witty that you had to post it twice in a row?

  • Reply 11 of 14

    @Slurpy: ;Nope. Just couldn't find a way to delete the original post. So sorry to cause you such butthurt. Now, you can troll the next person you want to target with your misplaced snark.

  • Reply 12 of 14
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post



    Deleting about 450,000* apps would be a good start. There's too much garbage in the App Store these days, we don't need 24,673 free fart apps.

     

     

     

    Imagine - one developer submits a new fart app. Apple declines to host it on the App Store. The reason given is "there are already too many fart apps". 

    The developer then goes on to argue that his app is better than most. 

    "My app farts better than his app".

     

    An App Store review board then sits and listens to the farting of 24,673 apps and compares it to the new one and then decides to drop one of the existing ones to include the new one.

     

    The guy whose app was dropped gets a mail saying "your app didn't fart so well". Then he is out to prove that his app is better...

     

    It would save Apple time if they simply followed some guidelines and minimum criteria that an App must fulfil and let them all in.

     

    Personally, I have given up going beyond the main App Store page because it is so difficult to find something worthwhile if you do not have a specific app in mind. I too wish that they did something to make it more manageable.

  • Reply 13 of 14
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,179moderator
    carthusia wrote: »
    The conspiracy theorist in me feels as if it's intentional on Netflix's part.

    It is, they have agreements with partners to promote content and they promote their own content ahead of others:

    http://ir.netflix.com/long-term-view.cfm

    "By personalizing promotion of the right content to the right member, we have a large opportunity to promote our original content, one that’s effectively unlimited in duration. Long after the premiere of House of Cards, large numbers of members are just starting the series each week. The improved economics from full season, and the improved storytelling that comes from giving creators more scope, are big advantages for Netflix."
    Linking Ottocat to Apple is a single patent application from co-founder Edwin Cooper. Titled "System and Method for Divisive Textual Clustering by Label Selection Using Variant-Weighted TFIDF," the invention was assigned to Apple with Cooper listed as an employee. The patent has yet to be granted.

    With Ottocat, Apple purchased technology that plugs into the App Store's backend to organize, aggregate and serve apps based on categorical searches. In current iterations, Ottocat's invention is very similar to the App Store's Explore tab and eschews keyword queries for a system that surfaces apps by directing users through a series of increasingly specific subcategories.

    This applies more to books than apps. It's like a tag cloud on the web and a component in search engines. Determining keyword frequency and relevance on web pages helps rank pages relative to what the user has indicated they want.

    Apps only have their titles and descriptions to go on. Take Monument Valley's description:

    "In Monument Valley you will manipulate impossible architecture and guide a silent princess through a stunningly beautiful world.

    Monument Valley is a surreal exploration through fantastical architecture and impossible geometry. Guide the silent princess Ida through mysterious monuments, uncovering hidden paths, unfolding optical illusions and outsmarting the enigmatic Crow People.

    "This might be the most beautiful iPad game of 2014" - Wired
    "Brilliant design... stayed with me like a dream I didn't want to forget" 9/10 - Polygon
    "The most sublime hour my iPad has ever given me... and the value of such a thing is incalculable" - Kotaku
    "Monument Valley stuns with it's serenity... each screen is a work of art" - Huffington Post
    "Almost impossibly gorgeous... a feast for your senses" 5/5 - Touch Arcade

    BEAUTIFUL
    Inspired by minimalist 3D design, optical illusions and palaces and temples from around the world, every monument is a unique, hand-crafted world to explore.

    EASY TO USE
    Twist and drag to reshape the world and help Ida to explore. Designed to be easy for everyone to pick up, enjoy and complete.

    SOUND
    Audio reacts to your manipulation of the world to provide a surreal and beautiful soundscape. Best experienced with headphones."

    There's not a high frequency of terms in there to be able to determine relevance. Is this app defined more by 'soundscape', 'surreal', 'architecture', 'art'? If 'architecture' occurs more frequently and that's a defining label, is that going to convey the essence of the game to a potential buyer?

    The biggest problem I've found in the store is covering the same ground. When I visit the store, the only thing I know is that I want to find a good game to play. I don't know what to look for - no names, no keywords. I know vague genres but not specific ones because apps cross over genres.

    I'd quite like to see them make something like Tinder's swipe mechanic. So you just go to a Discovery page and you'd get maybe 9 app icons on screen. If you tap an icon, it shows the info box. To get new apps, you have to swipe them all out the way. So swipe left to say 'not interested', swipe right to put them on the wishlist. There could be swipe up for 'I'll think about it' but the binary option pushes people to fill their wishlist. They'd be able to browse each list to undo any choice. The buy/cart button would be in the info panel if people want to buy immediately. You can swipe multiple icons at a time. This panel will never show you apps that you've marked as not interested in.

    On top of individual apps, it will track the genres and keywords of apps you're not interested in so that the next grid of 9 is more along the lines of apps you would be interested in. It would use your wishlist, your past apps, your ratings, customer ratings to determine the best apps to show that you haven't seen before and it would push apps nobody has rated or downloaded yet. You'd never see the same app twice. That's key to finding new apps when you are running through millions of apps.

    Steam does this with their discovery queue - they do 1 at a time but they only have a few thousand apps total:

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/2687122/sweeping-steam-discovery-update-makes-it-easier-to-find-games-you-actually-want.html
    http://www.pcgamer.com/valve-says-the-steam-discovery-update-is-working/

    That has had a positive effect on sales for less prominent games but they just do fairly random recommendations, which isn't enough. It needs to be personalised to be effective because when you do it randomly, people just give up wading through dozens of apps they're not interested in - people don't have time to do this. It's like going to a clothing store and you know you want jeans without holes already in them and the store keeper just says here's a hat, here's a shirt, here's a pair of shorts, here's a pair of jeans with holes in them, here's another hat and not having the ability to filter out what you don't want to get recommendations on what you do want. Although categories help, some things aren't categorized properly. It levels the playing field too because there's no chart pushing the same apps again and again, it's always new titles.
  • Reply 14 of 14
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,179moderator
    Marvin wrote: »
    I'd quite like to see them make something like Tinder's swipe mechanic. So you just go to a Discovery page and you'd get maybe 9 app icons on screen. If you tap an icon, it shows the info box. To get new apps, you have to swipe them all out the way. So swipe left to say 'not interested', swipe right to put them on the wishlist. There could be swipe up for 'I'll think about it' but the binary option pushes people to fill their wishlist. They'd be able to browse each list to undo any choice. The buy/cart button would be in the info panel if people want to buy immediately. You can swipe multiple icons at a time. This panel will never show you apps that you've marked as not interested in.

    Rather than the 9 icons, it might just be better doing a standard scrollable list like so:

    2000

    Instead of having to manually mark each as not interested, it would assume that scrolling down would mean the person isn't interested in the apps shown. It can cache the last 5-10 apps to allow quickly scrolling back but otherwise, remove the apps from the list and keep them hidden. The apps upwards would always stay in the same order. The order of the apps coming in from the bottom would keep changing based on the apps skipped past.

    They can spawn these as sub-processes like they do for browser tabs so that when they are far enough back, they just flush all image and text data so the App Store app never gets bogged down wasting memory.

    There is only a buy button shown and a dropdown for sharing/gifting/wishlist. It would be more efficient to have the wishlist and sharing separate so you could quickly tap it as a favorite (star icon) to buy in future and keep going and new recommendations coming in would use all this info.

    Every time you go back into the queue, it would start you right where you left off. You'd never see the apps you'd spent hours scrolling through again.

    It would show the star rating and screenshots without tapping anything.

    This kind of layout means it'll work on multiple devices, even the desktop and can be used for the Mac App Store. This feed can take up a portion of the App Store front page called 'recommended for you' and could just be a line or two and clicking the block would open the queue.

    This whole mechanism can act as crowd-sourced curation because they'd track all the app ids that are collecting in people's not interested lists and this demotes them so the garbage apps can be pushed further and further into obscurity.
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