Briefing: Apple Handicaps Its Own Apps in App Store Search

Apple makes a change to App Store search results to keep the feds away

However, many are not convinced and the firm is now facing a legal challenge in the United States after the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to allow an antitrust class-action lawsuit against the firm. Amid the antitrust investigations, Apple has tweaked the App Store search algorithms to give third-party apps a fair playing ground, and hopefully ease the antitrust concerns in the process.

The main reason that Apple's apps have appeared at the top of search results is due to their popularity, Apple has now made some changes to their algorithm to ensure that their own apps do not dominate the results. Remember, there's still a little time for developers to update their 32-bit apps to 64-bit, so you may not wind up losing them all. Even popular apps such as Netflix, Spotify, and Stitcher would often appear dozens of spots deep in the search results.

Back in 2018, when a user searched for Podcasts in the App Store, they would find Apple displaying its own podcast app along with other Apple apps (around 14 to be precise).

Apple previously told the Wall Street Journal that its App Store search algorithm, which uses 42 ranking signals, "works the same for all apps, including its own".

But in other cases, this approach actually gives some developers an unfair advantage, and makes finding what you want more hard. Eventually, Spotify came down to the fourth spot and then to the 23rd position, which led Spotify into complaining against Apple. "This wasn't a mistake", senior VP Phil Schiller said. While it is obvious that the algorithm worked in Apple's favor in this case, the company has not explained how its algorithm works other than to say that it is not manually altered to benefit Apple.

How Apple apps appeared in the App Store search engine over time from The New York Times- Apple makes a change to App Store search results to keep the feds away
How Apple apps appeared in the App Store search engine over time from The New York Times

Several consultants who study the App Store algorithm to help companies rank higher said Apple's consistent success in the marketplace was suspicious.

In Apple devices, we can't download apps from other app stores. For example, searching for "office" will return a series of Microsoft apps - Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, for example - because the algorithm naturally recognizes that users are looking for Microsoft Office. The odds that Apple intentionally chose its apps to rank first is highly unlikely.

Additionally, first-party software generally has advantages that third-party apps don't. Spotify was one of them, and it filed a complaint with European regulators in March in an effort to put a stop to Apple's "unfair" App Store practices.

Cue suggested that the problem was likely the result of Apple's marketing team adding those terms to the underlying description of the app, but insisted that Apple hadn't otherwise done anything specific to make that happen.

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