Apple denies preference for proprietary apps over competitors in the App Store search results

Apple claims today that it has no preference for its own apps when ranking search results for the iOS App Store, and is pushing back findings in a investigation by The Wall Street Journal published this afternoon show how less popular Apple apps often score higher than better rated software from external competitors. The WSJ discovered that Apple's own apps took first place in 60 percent of app categories in the App Store, including for categories such as books and maps where Apple's own offering was much less popular than options from competitors such as Amazon and Google.

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For example, Apple's own Apple Books app, which does not have a 5-star rating or a number of downloads that are publicly available, is listed as the number one result when searching for "books" in the US version of the App Store. (Rankings may change slightly in other countries, but The edge has confirmed that Apple options are often still number 1 in the UK.) Nevertheless, Apple Books is listed by downloads as the 168th most popular app in the category.

Amazon & # 39; s Kindle app, rated 4.8 million and rated 1.2 million times, is found lower than Apple Books in search results, at number 2 with a Featured App ad in between. It is ranked as the third most popular app in the Books category. The same situation occurs for Maps, where Apple's offer, which is not even in the top 100 navigation apps, is found higher in the search results than Google Maps and Waze, both in first and second place in the category respectively stand .

Allegedly, Apple once considered forcibly removing all apps with less than a two-star rating, but former App Store review Phillip Shoemaker said WSJ that his team, who suggested the removal in 2015, was told it would kill Apple & # 39; s own Podcasts app. Many of Apple's own apps no longer have ratings.

Apple denies manipulating the search results rankings in cases such as those we flag, and says it uses both name matches and "user behavioral data", along with dozens of other factors, to make decisions about how to rank the results. In fact, the company told the WSJ it has a total of 42 factors that it takes into account when ranking search results, but it keeps that ranking algorithm reportedly secret to prevent manipulation of search results by external developers.

"Apple customers have a very strong bond with our products and many of them use search as a way to find and open their apps," Apple told the WSJ in a statement. "This use by customers is the reason that Apple has a strong position in the search results and it is the same reason that Uber, Microsoft and so many others often have a high position."

In fact, Apple seems to say that because users use iOS Spotlight Search to find apps that they have already downloaded, their own apps with corresponding names get a higher boost when searching. So search for Google Maps with only & # 39; maps & # 39; Apple Maps can unintentionally make the best ranked result in the App Store.

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Apple was not immediately for comment.

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