Apple "improved" the search in the App Store after its own apps had unfairly dominated results

Apple & # 39; s iOS App Store greatly favored the company's iPhone and iPad apps and ranked them higher than more popular third-party options up to a recent algorithm change, according to a new report from The New York Times. The Times studied the search results of the App Store (of a few years) for frequently asked questions such as "music" and "podcasts" and discovered that Apple regularly sent customers to a handful of its own apps – even unrelated results such as Compass and Find My Friends – before they for options from external developers.

The Wall Street Journal has carried out a similar assessment of historical App Store results in July and also concluded that Apple's apps had a clear and significant advantage.

Apple told the Times that the App Store actually worked as designed in these instances. "There is nothing about the way we search the App Store that is designed or intended to encourage Apple & # 39; s downloads from our own apps," said Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president overseeing the App Store, in an interview on this subject. "We present results based on what we think the user wants." The idea that someone would want to "see" the iTunes Remote or Clips apps before Spotify or Pandora seems frankly a bit ridiculous. That reasoning does not really hold.

But there was another guilty party. Apple says it had an algorithm that often grouped apps from the same developer into results. Because Apple's apps have basic names such as Podcasts or Music, they would appear first – followed by a series of other, irrelevant Apple apps immediately afterwards.


The algorithm was updated in July and search results quickly looked wiser and more balanced based on what the Times found it. Faced with an EU antitrust investigation, Apple's executives have carefully avoided admitting misconduct or harmful mistakes. "It's not corrected," Schiller said of the algorithm. "It's improved," added Eddy Cue, who runs the App Store before Schiller took over those duties.

The App Store team has not noticed for months and months to what extent the company's own software pushed the esteemed top positions into the search results. In the end, however, they did so and "a single engineer decided to change the algorithm," which takes into account a long list of criteria when compiling search lists in the App Store.

The algorithm examines 42 different signals, they said, including the relevance of an app for a particular search query, ratings and popularity based on downloads and user clicks.

Apple presented one very public defense of his App Store practices earlier this year and the digital marketplace portrayed as a game changer for app makers. That has certainly been the case: Apple says developers have brought in more than $ 120 billion in digital sales. But as the only place where iPhone users can download native software, the App Store has undergone a more thorough investigation in recent years. Former employees have also expressed concern about the company's hold on the store.

App developers may cry over Apple's tendency to emphasize its own software efforts, but the company refuses to admit a penny in recognition that it may have done something to harm the competition. "We always make mistakes," Cue told de Times. Without missing a beat, Schiller added that "this was not a mistake."