In 2019, faced with extensive investigations through The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times showing that Apple’s App Store was clearly and consistently ranking its own apps ahead of competitors, Apple claimed it had done nothing wrong — a secret algorithm with 42 different variables worked as intended, top executives told the turn, insisting that Apple not manually change search results.
Why am I bringing this up? An Intriguing Email Chain Has Popped Up During the Epic vs Apple trial where it certainly looks like Apple has done the exact opposite — admitting that it manually boosted the rankings of its own Files app for 11 full months ahead of the competition.
“We’re removing the manual boost and search results should be more relevant now,” Apple app searcher Debankur Naskar wrote, after the company was confronted by Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney about Apple’s Files app popping up first when searching for Dropbox. . “Dropbox wasn’t even visible on the first page [of search results]Sweeney wrote. You can read the entire email chain below in a small way.
As you will see, Naskar suggested that Files was on purpose incremented for that exact search result during the ‘last WWDC’. That would have been WWDC 2017, almost a year earlier, when the Files apps first debuted.
The email chain actually reflects pretty well on Apple in general. Apple’s Matt Fischer (VP of the App Store) clearly objects to the idea at first. “[W]ho lit green to place Files app above Dropbox in organic search results? I didn’t know we did, and I don’t think we should,” he says. But he does end the conversation with “In the future, I want similar requests to come to me for review/approval,” which suggests he doesn’t rule out manual transfers altogether.
But Apple tells The edge that what we think we see in these emails is not quite accurate. While Apple didn’t dispute the idea that Files was unfairly ranked above Dropbox, the company says the reality was a simple mistake: The Files app had Dropbox integration, so Apple put “Dropbox” in the app’s metadata and it was automatically added. ranked higher for “Dropbox” searches as a result.
Apple manually increases its first-party apps in search results? Funny, I feel like someone has testified under oath that that never happens https://t.co/mTgnw8d8CK
— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) June 7, 2021
I’m a little skeptical of that explanation – partly because it doesn’t match what Naskar suggests in the email, partly because Apple also told me it fixed the bug immediately (despite apparently persisting for 11 months, barely immediate), and in part because the company repeatedly ignored my questions about whether this has ever happened to other apps before.
The most Apple would tell me is that it wasn’t manual files over competitors, and that “we don’t favor our apps over those of any developer or competitor” as a general rule.
But honestly, it might not matter if Apple manual its own apps promoted or not. What matters is the result: For 11 months, Apple’s new Files app owned exact searches for its competitor Dropbox, a company Steve Jobs reportedly swore he would commit murder, and it took the CEO of a prominent Apple partner emailing the company before Apple did anything about it. and based on The Wall Street JournalApple’s research may not have done much: The Files app was still #1 in the App Store for cloud storage in June 2018, a month after this email chain was dissolved, according to an infographic at the WSJ story.
In addition, the distinction between a “manual” boost and any other kind of boost can be purely academic. After all, algorithms are written by people. If Apple can build a 42-factor algorithm that gives favorable results to its own apps, why should it ignore that algorithm and risk its emails getting caught up in a lawsuit over the years?
It could tweak that algorithm at will – which is exactly what it did to solve the problem WSJ and NOWreviewed two years ago. It only took one engineer to change the algorithm in July 2019, according to the turn, and Apple’s own apps fell straight into the App Store rankings. But then executives said the previous formula was not a mistake. Apple just wanted to make it look less like its own apps were getting special treatment. So it “improved” the algorithm to achieve the new result it wanted.
Apple has provided this statement:
We’ve created the App Store as a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. App Store Search has one goal: get customers what they’re looking for. We do so in a way that is fair to all developers and we do not favor our apps over those of any developer or competitor. Today developers have many options to distribute their apps and so we work hard to make it easy, fair and a great opportunity for them to develop apps for our customers around the world.