No, Apple isn't favoring its own apps in App Store search [u]

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 23
Tripp Mickle from the Wall Street Journal alleges that Apple is favoring its apps unfairly in iOS App Store searches. Not only does Apple deny it, but testing with devices associated with iCloud accounts seems to disprove the allegations.

Apple's App Store landing page on July 23
Apple's App Store landing page on July 23


A Wall Street Journal report alleged on Tuesday that Apple's mobile apps "routinely appear first in search results ahead of competitors in the App Store." Analysis by the claims Apple's apps appear in the top spot in more than "60% of basic searches," such as for "Maps" or other simple terms, but doesn't go into great detail about what the other terms could be.

For apps with a subscription, such as Apple Music, they appeared first in 95% of searches for terms within the same industry.

Search and discovery

User searches power approximately 65% of all app downloads from the App Store, making it a major influencer in whether an app gains an audience or not. Despite this alleged favoritism for promoting its work over others, Apple advises developers that a variety of factors influence search results, such as the number of downloads, user reviews, and ratings.

App Store Search involves a secretive algorithm that Apple refuses to specifically detail. Apple does note that it incorporates machine learning and past consumer preferences. Apple also says that it uses 42 factors for ranking apps in search, and maintains that secrecy regarding the algorithm is to minimize result manipulation.

The four core elements that change behavior are downloads, ratings, relevance, and user behavior, with the latter being the most important and includes how many times users select the app following a search query.

Apple says that it doesn't provide itself an advantage over other apps within the App Store. The report notes that Apple performed its tests, yielding results for some searches were Apple apps did not rank first.

Testing the theory

In AppleInsider's own testing, the Wall Street Journal results could not be replicated as described in the report. Using three devices with iCloud accounts associated with purchase histories, we duplicated the generic terms that the Wall Street Journal said that they used.

Using our three devices, apps other than Apple's apps filled the spot below the search ad in 56 of 60 of our searches, and two spots below the search ad in 48 of the 56 searches that didn't have an Apple app in the top spot.

This is a notable deviation from the claims in the post. The Wall Street Journal claims that it used three devices with accounts associated with a purchase history during its own testing, so the reasoning behind the discrepancies aren't clear.

Simple searches give simple results

Given the simple descriptive names of Apple's apps, like Maps, Podcasts, TV, and News, a simple keyword search with no algorithmic influence would most likely come up with Apple's apps for searches using these terms anyway. If Apple had gone for names that were less descriptive of their purpose, such as how "Spotify" doesn't have a direct meaning that relates to music in any way, the results would be different.

As an example, in a test case cited by the Wall Street Journal the app "The Podcast App" was searched. The publication said in the report that it ranked below Apple's Podcast app. However, testing on the iCloud accounts populated with a purchase history that we used earlier, it appeared first, above Apple's app in both the US and UK App Stores.

The top position for the query "books" being its Books app is reasoned as being an exact name match. The high ranking for an "audiobooks" query is due to "user behavior data," according to Apple, as well as the use of the term as a keyword in the app listing's metadata.

Apple has issued a statement regarding the matter.
We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. App Store Search has only one goal -- to get customers what they are looking for. We do that in a way that is fair to all developers and we do not advantage our apps over those of any developer or competitor. Today, developers have many options for distributing their apps and that's why we work hard to make it easy, fair and a great opportunity for them to develop apps for our customers around the world.

Apple customers have a very strong connection to our products and many of them use Search as a way to find and open their apps. This customer usage is the reason Apple has strong rankings in Search, and it's the same reason Uber, Microsoft and so many others often have high rankings as well. The search algorithm is always changing as we strive to improve the ways our customers can find what they want and prevent fraud on the store, but our commitment to running search with the highest integrity and in a way that is fair to all developers will never change.
Apple maintains the search algorithm itself works the same for all apps, including its own. The company notes that the positions are created from usage of the store by users over time, not by direct influence by Apple itself.

The report also alleges two dozen of Apple's apps that are pre-installed on iOS devices "are shielded from reviews and ratings." Apple says pre-installed apps don't need to be rated because they are already integrated into iOS, leaving little need for a user to manually download them again from the store.

Update July 23, 1:48 P.M. Eastern Time Added Apple's full statement on the matter.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,768member
    Journalism is hard, so keep tryin’ Tripp! 👏🏾

    FileMakerFellerwonkothesanesuperklotonjbdragonwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 2 of 18
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,538unconfirmed, member
    It's sad how bad people want Apples App Store to fail. So much so that they'll go to lengths to make crap up.
    coolfactorFileMakerFellersuperklotonjbdragonStrangeDayswatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 18
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,534member
    Tripp Fickle may also be overlooking the popularity factor. The Apple apps may be what people are *actually* looking for, and each additional hit+download may be giving added weight to the items. Google Search has a similar behavior. Clicked matches strengthen their reputation for that search.
    superklotonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 18
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 539member
    Refuting the arguments of know-nothing journalists!!?  Your guys are treading into DED’s space (I’m sure there’s a pun in there somewhere). 
    berndogmuthuk_vanalingamjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 18
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,117member
    Tripp Fickle may also be overlooking the popularity factor. The Apple apps may be what people are *actually* looking for, and each additional hit+download may be giving added weight to the items. Google Search has a similar behavior. Clicked matches strengthen their reputation for that search.
    Google would be a poor comparison for the reason that EU regulators didn't accept "popularity" as a permissible excuse to favor the company's own services. A multi-$B non-permissible one as a matter of fact. 
    FileMakerFellermuthuk_vanalingamCarnage
  • Reply 6 of 18
    ummmm, it's the WSJ!! What do you expect?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 18
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 1,007member
    Assuming apps are listed in most popular order, searching for something like "word processor" turns up - unsurprisingly, MS Word as the top hit. Surely if Apple was favouring their own services Pages would be first? Similarly with "spreadsheet", Google Sheets is first, then MS Excel. Numbers is fifth. Apple doesn't (currently) even take the "Ad" spot at the top. So not sure what the problem is here.
    AppleExposedFileMakerFellersuperkloton
  • Reply 8 of 18
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 64member
    A quick search for several random items on the Target and Walmart apps show that their first party products were in the first 2 results 100% of the time. Where is the outrage ?
    AppleExposedpscooter63FileMakerFellerjbdragonwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 9 of 18
    goofy1958goofy1958 Posts: 127member
    Japhey said:
    A quick search for several random items on the Target and Walmart apps show that their first party products were in the first 2 results 100% of the time. Where is the outrage ?
    Maybe they're mostly Android customers?  B)
    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 18

    ...
    App Store Search involves a secretive algorithm that Apple refuses to specifically detail. Apple does note that it incorporates machine learning and past consumer preferences. Apple also says that it uses 42 factors for ranking apps in search, and maintains that secrecy regarding the algorithm is to minimize result manipulation.
    ...
    Nice to see the answer to life, the universe and everything in the search algorithm...

    PS: Why is it that the financial rags (WSJ, Forbes, Bloomberg, Business Insider) are so click-baity with their Apple reporting? I expect it with some of the tech blogger type sites, and I get that they are not tech specialists, but it's almost amazing how unreliable (or sensationalist) a source for Apple tech news they are.
    manfred zornFileMakerFellermuthuk_vanalingamsuperklotonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 18
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 731member
    Just more proof that the WSJ has become another crap scandal sheet since Rupert Murdoch bought it, 
    FileMakerFellerStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 18
    boboqboboq Posts: 9member
    It’s no longer journalism, it’s simply clickbait. 
    wonkothesanesuperklotonStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 18
    bonobobbonobob Posts: 201member
    OK, so I did "the podcast app" search on two iPhones, one with my decade long purchase history, the other with no history at all (it's an old 5S, set up as new).

    With purchase history, I got:
    1. Ad for Audible audiobooks app
    2. Apple Podcasts
    3. Article: Podcast Paradise
    4. The Podcast App

    Without purchase history, I got:
    1. Ad for The Podcast App
    2. Apple Podcasts
    3. Article: Podcast Paradise
    4. The Podcast App

    So in neither case did The Podcast App come first, except when paying for ad placement.

    The WSJ is often full of shit, but not necessarily in this case.

    edited July 23 superkloton
  • Reply 14 of 18
    pscooter63pscooter63 Posts: 943member
    Ah, but... autocomplete puts it at the very top, before you even get results...
    (I've never searched for this before.)


    edited July 23 FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 18
    Apple's apps are free, so I tend to disagree with the idea that Apple are manipulating the algorithm to put their apps first:

    1. It makes perfect sense that Apple's free apps are popular on their app store. They are well known and the consumer already trusts the brand. Many choose Apple devices for their 1st party apps. E.g. People used to buy macs just for iLife (which by the way, wasn't even free at the time.)
    2. When Apple provide one of their free apps, they're missing out on the 30% cut or subscription from a paid app. So it's actually a disadvantage for them to funnel consumers into their 1st party apps over paid solutions.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 18
    imougyimougy Posts: 1member
    Of course Apple has a shitty biased search algorithm. Search for “Stocks Live” and you will get their Stocks native app instead of the app named “Stocks Live”, I can give more examples if someone really cares. 
    Also, the search hides some quality apps and keep some garbage at the top, it is unfair system for developers.

    Kind Regard,
    A developer who can’t give up since 2011 but about to. 
  • Reply 17 of 18

    I visit the "Today" section of the App Store everyday. I cannot recall a time when an Apple app was the featured app.

    Even the editorial picks for apps are never the stock Apple apps.

    Tripp threw a dart at Wall Street Journal's "Crap on Apple" dartboard, came up with a hypothesis and then decided to prove it himself and declared it as a law.

    pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 18
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,584member
    imougy said:
    Of course Apple has a shitty biased search algorithm. Search for “Stocks Live” and you will get their Stocks native app instead of the app named “Stocks Live”
    I get both, under the ad. 








    watto_cobra
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