Apple Adjusts App Store Algorithm After Realizing Many Apple Apps Dominate Search Results

Apple recently adjusted its App Store search algorithm so that fewer of its own apps appear at the top of search results, senior executives Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue confirmed in an interview with The New York Times.

app store iphones
Specifically, the executives said Apple has tweaked a feature that sometimes grouped apps by maker so Apple apps would no longer look as if they were receiving preferential treatment. The New York Times claims that many Apple apps have dropped in the search results since the change was implemented in July.

Schiller and Cue both denied any wrongdoing on Apple's part, however, describing the change as an improvement rather than a fix:

On July 12, many Apple apps dropped sharply in the rankings of popular searches. The top results for "TV" went from four Apple apps to two. "Video" and "maps" changed from three top Apple apps to one. And Apple Wallet dropped from the No. 1 spot for "money" and "credit."

Mr. Schiller and Mr. Cue said the algorithm had been working properly. They simply decided to handicap themselves to help other developers.

"We make mistakes all the time," Mr. Cue said.

"We're happy to admit when we do," Mr. Schiller said. "This wasn't a mistake."

Even after the change, analytics firm Sensor Tower found Apple apps ranked first in the App Store for over 700 search terms, even when the Apple apps were less relevant and less popular than ones from its competitors:

On Aug. 21, Apple apps ranked first in 735 of roughly 60,000 search terms tracked by Sensor Tower. Most of the tracked searches were obscure, but Apple’s apps ranked first for many of the popular queries. For instance, for most of June and July, Apple apps were the top result for these search terms: books, music, news, magazines, podcasts, video, TV, movies, sports, card, gift, money, credit, debit, fitness, people, friends, time, notes, docs, files, cloud, storage, message, home, store, mail, maps, traffic, stocks and weather.

A spokesperson for Apple said the company could not verify the data because it did not keep a record of historical search results, according to The New York Times. Apple's algorithm is said to examine 42 different signals, including an app's relevance to a given search, its ratings, and its popularity based on downloads and views.

The New York Times shared a particularly compelling example related to Apple's Wallet app following the Apple Card's introduction, but Schiller and Cue denied any intentional manipulation of the App Store search results:

On March 25, the company unveiled an Apple-branded credit card that can be used via the Apple Wallet app. The next day, Apple Wallet was the No. 1 result in searches for "money," "credit" and "debit." The app had not ranked for those search terms before then.

Mr. Cue and other Apple executives speculated that the team marketing the Apple Wallet app had added "money," "credit" and "debit" to the underlying description of the app, causing it to appear for those search results.

Then people searched those terms, found the Apple Wallet app and clicked on it, telling the algorithm that it should be the first result.

"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," Mr. Schiller said.

Apple has faced increasing scrutiny as of late over the way it runs its App Store, ranging from Spotify's anticompetitive complaint in Europe to a class action lawsuit accusing Apple of operating an App Store monopoly in the United States, which the Supreme Court has allowed to proceed.

Apple recently defended its practices, noting that the App Store "welcomes competition" and was created to be "a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps" and "a great business opportunity for all developers."

Top Rated Comments

BigBoy2018 Avatar
27 months ago
This is a good thing, but still has the whiff of Apple correcting something ONLY after people starting pointing it out and complaining about it. Kinda like the Siri monitoring issue.

Like they thought no one would call them on it ... and when people did, only then did Apple decide to make the change.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MacUser09425 Avatar
27 months ago
As a Dev I don’t have a problem with this.... IF it’s a direct match (for the functionality).

What really irks me is having my apps buried behind giant corporate apps that are only tangentially involved in the area of interest.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
1050792 Avatar
27 months ago
This means they were prioritizing their Apps after all. Bad Apple.
"After Realizing Many Apple Apps Dominate Search Results", or more like, after getting sued over it? Get your facts right.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
needfx Avatar
27 months ago
so the algo was preferential in the first place
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
apolloa Avatar
27 months ago
Yet more action indicating guilt from Apple, trying to head off the European competition investigation into the Apple App Store..

I don’t think anything Apple does now can avert a fine for the way it has been behaving.

This is in direct relation to the official complaint Spotify made to the EU commission, and I’d presume it’s on going investigation taken up after the complaint, and not Apple taking action for an issue it’s only just recently realised. As others have said, this is another exposure of Apple being guilty of something it rubbished before, it’s quite the common theme with Apple now and it is damaging trust I have with them, not sure about anyone else.
Because they do have access to an awful lot of data about you, health records and finances...
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Khedron Avatar
27 months ago
So after all the people jumping to Apple's defence saying they did nothing wrong, Apple admits it did something wrong. Again.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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