Prominent Apple apps in App Store search results face more criticism

Posted:
in iOS
The search function of Apple's App Store has come under fire again with a report reasserting the claim the algorithm unfairly pushes Apple's own apps to the top of the list in related searches, making it tough for competing apps providing similar services to find an audience.

App Store search


The dominance of tech companies and operators of digital marketplaces have faced stiff criticism and accusations they are not playing fairly, with Apple and Google thought to be gatekeepers deciding which apps are presented to consumers. Due to being the main point of contact for device users to find new apps, the results of searches face extra scrutiny, with increased calls of foul play in cases where the marketplace owner's apps top the list in searches.

In an investigation by the New York Times, based on six years of search results compiled by Sensor Tower, Apple's apps have ranked in first place for at least 700 search terms for quite some time. The data, which includes rankings of more than 1,800 apps across 13 keywords since 2013, is said to illustrate "the influence as well as the opacity of the algorithms that underpin tech companies' platforms."

In the case of Apple's own apps, they were added to the App Store in June 2016, and have consistently become the top search result for many popular terms.

In some cases, such as a search for "Music," Spotify was the first result for years, then fell to fourth following the launch of Apple Music in June 2016. Apple Music was joined by other Apple apps, with eight apps including some unrelated to music at the top for the search by the end of 2018, while Spotify was in 23rd place.

Responding to the report, Apple SVPs Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue insisted there was "nothing underhanded about the algorithm," with Apple not manually alter search results for its own benefit. Instead, the apps are ranked higher due to their popularity and because of their generic names being caught up in related searches.

"There's nothing about the way we run search in the App Store that's designed or intended to drive Apple's downloads of our own apps," said Schiller. "We'll present results based on what we think the user wants."

In the case of multiple Apple apps reaching the top of search charts, it is suggested the algorithm sometimes groups apps by producer, though that was tweaked in July to minimize its effect on Apple's apps.

The argument echoes a similar story from the Wall Street Journal in July, which the report references. At that time, AppleInsider's own testing could not replicate results described in the report, with non-Apple apps taking pole position below the search ad in 56 of 60 searches.

Apple's knowledge of how the search algorithm works also helps propel apps to the top. In the instance of the Apple Card launch, the Apple Wallet app became the top listing in searches for "money," "credit," and "debit" for the first time, with the speculation by Cue and Schiller that the team added the terms to the app's metadata.

"We can just tell you that we've not done anything to drive that - that is, other than launching a great wallet, an Apple Card, and marketing the heck out of it," said Schiller.

On corrections made over the last few months, which resulted in fewer Apple apps appearing at the top of searches, Schiller and Cue indicate search has been working fine, but Apple wanted to handicap itself to aid other developers. "We make mistakes all the time," said Cue, with Schiller following up "We're happy to admit when we do. This wasn't a mistake."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 57
    It's their app store they can do what they want.
    razorpiteideardGG1
  • Reply 2 of 57
    So?   That seems right to me:  If I am looking for an app -- say a spreadsheet program -- I will want to see what Apple has to offer more than anything else.
    razorpiteideardGG1StrangeDaysbonobobjbdragon
  • Reply 3 of 57
    If this is considered unfair, I hope it's applied unilaterally throughout all stores. Was in Target on the weekend and their home brand products were prominently displayed in the walking aisles, again and again. So you literally had to walk by them to go down and search for a different product. Have yet to search for something on Amazon and not get the Amazon-branded version as the first listing if it exists. Or other brands who paid to be the top result. 
    GeorgeBMacurahararazorpitGG1StrangeDaysjbdragonFileMakerFellerpscooter63
  • Reply 4 of 57
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,011member

    The dominance of tech companies and operators of digital marketplaces have faced stiff criticism and accusations they are not 
    In some cases, such as a search for "Music," Spotify was the first result for years, then fell to fourth following the launch of Apple Music in June 2016. Apple Music was joined by other Apple apps, with eight apps including some unrelated to music at the top for the search by the end of 2018, while Spotify was in 23rd place.

    Apple's knowledge of how the search algorithm works also helps propel apps to the top. In the instance of the Apple Card launch, the Apple Wallet app became the top listing in searches for "money," "credit," and "debit" for the first time, with the speculation by Cue and Schiller that the team added the terms to the app's metadata.

    First of all comparing Google search with App Store results is not an equal comparison... App Store results represent apps that only run on Apple devices. Google search results should represent everything that’s available on the web - an open platform. If Google listed their services first on their Pixel devices - who cares! It’s their hardware. it comes down to... “You bought our hardware, here’s some other stuff you might like from us.” I don’t see any problem with that whatsoever. Whether it’s Apple, Samsung, Google or Microsoft. You purchase their hardware there’s bound to be some “freebies”. That’s a normal incentive most OEMs take part in.

    Second, 90% of the apps Apple puts in the App Store are apps that come FREE with the purchase of Apple hardware. When someone buys an iPhone and they’re told it comes with free software - most people will search for that free software, so of course Apple’s apps may come up on top most of the time!  Would everyone prefer Apple preload all that software instead? That would be extremely unfair to 3rd party developers. Instead Apple puts those apps on the App Store with the possibility that a user may discover and choose an alternative 3rd party app. That’s more than fair.

    Finally... After all the hype in the media, when the Apple Card was finally released, Apple Wallet went to #1 !!!  What a blatant anticompetitive move!!! /s  Really!?


    What’s next? Apple will be taken to task because they only allow their own apps on icloud.com!?
    edited September 9 AirunJaerazorpitGG1FileMakerFellerpscooter63
  • Reply 5 of 57
    "There's nothing about the way we run search in the App Store that's designed or intended to drive Apple's downloads of our own apps," said Schiller. "We'll present results based on what we think the user wants." 

    So why did they tweak the App Store search algorithms then? Saying we did nothing wrong but we changed our algorithms anyway makes it seem like they were doing something wrong and corrected it after being outed by the WSJ and NYT.
  • Reply 6 of 57

    So?   That seems right to me:  If I am looking for an app -- say a spreadsheet program -- I will want to see what Apple has to offer more than anything else.
    If someone is searching for a spreadsheet app the first one that should pop up is Excel. 
    muthuk_vanalingambigtdschemengin1
  • Reply 7 of 57
    It is expected that users will usually choose Apple’s apps before others, causing them to be more popular, causing them to show up more frequently. 
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 8 of 57
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,011member

    So?   That seems right to me:  If I am looking for an app -- say a spreadsheet program -- I will want to see what Apple has to offer more than anything else.
    If someone is searching for a spreadsheet app the first one that should pop up is Excel. 

    Wrong! When you buy an iPhone and it says it comes with “Numbers” many people will search for it driving it up the list. 
    GeorgeBMacuraharaStrangeDaysjbdragonfastasleeppscooter63
  • Reply 9 of 57
    Please don:t let this become an appgate issue.
  • Reply 10 of 57
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,011member

    "There's nothing about the way we run search in the App Store that's designed or intended to drive Apple's downloads of our own apps," said Schiller. "We'll present results based on what we think the user wants." 

    So why did they tweak the App Store search algorithms then? Saying we did nothing wrong but we changed our algorithms anyway makes it seem like they were doing something wrong and corrected it after being outed by the WSJ and NYT.

    Did you read?

    They tweaked the algorithm so that grouping results by “producer” excluded Apple’s apps, but apparently left others as is.
    uraharaStrangeDaysjbdragonpscooter63
  • Reply 11 of 57
    mjtomlin said:

    So?   That seems right to me:  If I am looking for an app -- say a spreadsheet program -- I will want to see what Apple has to offer more than anything else.
    If someone is searching for a spreadsheet app the first one that should pop up is Excel. 

    Wrong! When you buy an iPhone and it says it comes with “Numbers” many people will search for it driving it up the list. 
    It does if you search for Numbers. If you search for spreadsheet Google Sheets comes up first, then Excel. Which I guess makes sense as I forgot there is no free version of Excel.
  • Reply 12 of 57
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,011member
    In my opinion Apple should just add an “Apple” button at the top of the App Store that contains all software Apple offers. And when people buy an Apple device, Apple can direct them to that section of the store.

    Then Apple should leave that software out of search results, but put a line somewhere stating, “If you’re looking for Apple software please go the Apple section.”

    Problem solved.
    muthuk_vanalingamrazorpit
  • Reply 13 of 57
    croprcropr Posts: 961member
    mjtomlin said:

    So?   That seems right to me:  If I am looking for an app -- say a spreadsheet program -- I will want to see what Apple has to offer more than anything else.
    If someone is searching for a spreadsheet app the first one that should pop up is Excel. 

    Wrong! When you buy an iPhone and it says it comes with “Numbers” many people will search for it driving it up the list. 
    Don't take your preference as the standard for all Apple users.

    There exists only one spreadsheet program in a professional environment and it is called Excel.   Numbers might look great but as a spreadsheet program it is just horribly limited.
    chemengin1
  • Reply 14 of 57

    So?   That seems right to me:  If I am looking for an app -- say a spreadsheet program -- I will want to see what Apple has to offer more than anything else.
    If someone is searching for a spreadsheet app the first one that should pop up is Excel. 
    Why?  Because you use Excel?   Few independent users -- the type who use the App Store do.   It is mostly a commercial product due its high cost.
    edited September 9
  • Reply 15 of 57
    FolioFolio Posts: 636member
    What's next? That Apple should just sell a blank screen phone with nothing installed but a frustrated emoji. Right.
    StrangeDaysFileMakerFellerpscooter63
  • Reply 16 of 57
    croprcropr Posts: 961member
    mjtomlin said:

    First of all comparing Google search with App Store results is not an equal comparison... App Store results represent apps that only run on Apple devices. Google search results should represent everything that’s available on the web - an open platform. If Google listed their services first on their Pixel devices - who cares! It’s their hardware. it comes down to... “You bought our hardware, here’s some other stuff you might like from us.” I don’t see any problem with that whatsoever. Whether it’s Apple, Samsung, Google or Microsoft. You purchase their hardware there’s bound to be some “freebies”. That’s a normal incentive most OEMs take part in.

    Second, 90% of the apps Apple puts in the App Store are apps that come FREE with the purchase of Apple hardware. When someone buys an iPhone and they’re told it comes with free software - most people will search for that free software, so of course Apple’s apps may come up on top most of the time!  Would everyone prefer Apple preload all that software instead? That would be extremely unfair to 3rd party developers. Instead Apple puts those apps on the App Store with the possibility that a user may discover and choose an alternative 3rd party app. That’s more than fair.

    Finally... After all the hype in the media, when the Apple Card was finally released, Apple Wallet went to #1 !!!  What a blatant anticompetitive move!!! /s  Really!?


    What’s next? Apple will be taken to task because they only allow their own apps on icloud.com!?
    Of course Apple can do whatever it wants, because Apple owns the App Store. 

    However, don't start complaining if the EU will fine Apple because Apple is abusing its App Store monopoly.  You just gave all the ammunition the EU needs.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 17 of 57
    rwx9901 said:
    It's their app store they can do what they want.
    or be honest and tell developers that they are wasting their time being part of the App Store. 
    muthuk_vanalingamchemengin1
  • Reply 18 of 57
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,106member
    mjtomlin said:

    So?   That seems right to me:  If I am looking for an app -- say a spreadsheet program -- I will want to see what Apple has to offer more than anything else.
    If someone is searching for a spreadsheet app the first one that should pop up is Excel. 

    Wrong! When you buy an iPhone and it says it comes with “Numbers” many people will search for it driving it up the list. 
    It does if you search for Numbers. If you search for spreadsheet Google Sheets comes up first, then Excel. Which I guess makes sense as I forgot there is no free version of Excel.
    All the results may differ from what they were 30 days ago. At one point a few weeks back if you searched for "Music" the first 8 results were all Apple apps, with Spotify for example kinda buried down at #11 I think, tho that may not be 100% accurate. 

    In any event Apple has made a couple of changes since July besides the grouping by developer tendency which was claimed to be one reason for Apple apps surfacing so prominently. 
    muthuk_vanalingamchemengin1
  • Reply 19 of 57

    mjtomlin said:
    In my opinion Apple should just add an “Apple” button at the top of the App Store that contains all software Apple offers. And when people buy an Apple device, Apple can direct them to that section of the store.

    Then Apple should leave that software out of search results, but put a line somewhere stating, “If you’re looking for Apple software please go the Apple section.”

    Problem solved.
    That's something of a bait and switch, Apple still brags about how much money independent app developers can earn on their platform, every OS needs apps which means developers. 
  • Reply 20 of 57
    FolioFolio Posts: 636member
    You can slice and dice App Store search in numerous ways. Like lists of top sellers by category. Or similar apps. If APPLE store so biased, then why is there such diversity in app offerings? How has Swedish spotify grown to No. 1? Pretty lame that NYT relies of six years of data from third party, when search trains are quite serendipitous. They rely on so much more than initial results. Apple allows multiple ways of discovery.
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