Apple Admits Its Apps Had App Store Advantage

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2019/09/09/apple-admits-its-apps-had-app-store-advantage/

Top Apple executives have acknowledged that Apple’s own apps have enjoyed a search ranking advantage in the App Store. Apple says it has adjusted the search algorithm, but the lack of oversight may have already damaged the company.

Slotting and pay-to-stay allowances and in supermarkets, drug stores, department stores, etc. are terribly different? They don’t promote their house brands in-store, in their promo materials? Or in ads on TV, print, online or radio? They don’t benefit from co-op advertising?

I don’t have access to any Android devices, so I just typed music (without quotes) into iOS Safari on my iPad, which Google is paying $9 billion this year to be the default search engine. They list three app results for iOS first (even though I didn’t include iOS or Mac OS in my search) YouTube Music (which Google owns), Google Music, and Spotify New Music. The next few listings were for web results for YouTube and YouTube channels and Google Play. Then came MTV and Wikipedia entries. The "People Also Search for were "Spotify, Pandora, YouTube Premium, SoundCloud, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger. Articles were all about Google Music, including “Google is Giving Three Months Of Google Music To Students For Free.” Nothing about Apple Music or even Apple on the first page.

It’s at least a little bit different. Sure, General Mills pays a slotting fee to have Cheerios on a particular shelf location in a grocery store, but they sell the same Cheerios in multiple retail outlets. (And, of course, there is no search engine that the retailer can game for a supermarket.)

Also, I can only find a particular iOS app in a single retail store. If I don’t like that WalMart stocks my favorite brands and products in a way that is hard for me (on a high, unreachable shelf, for instance), I can go to another retailer. If Apple’s search algorithm isn’t relevant and is tipped in the company’s own favor, that’s a problem.

This seems like a whataboutism. Just because Google is wrong it doesn’t mean that Apple shouldn’t do better.

Seriously, if I search for “Podcast” in the App Store, there is absolutely no reason that the Apple “Compass” or “Tips” apps (which both have nothing at all to do with listening or producing podcasts) should even show up in the search results, much less be placed second or third in the search results.

And Apple has now updated the store to fix the issue.

The app store search is indeed problematic. If I’m worried Google is screwing with me in search (and I’m pretty sure they are) I can just go to DuckDuckGo (and I do). But on Apple’s app store what is the alternative search? I suppose there must be something, but I’ve never read about anything like that.

That said, in my own personal experience, I’m usually not bothered so much by Apple’s own apps showing up too far at the top (they don’t have that many apps after all), but rather that the results shown to me are of just generally poor quality. To be honest, I’m not sure what the problem there is or what they’d have to do to fix it, but it’s rather clear to me Apple has plenty of work left there. Simple example: when I search for podcast vs. podcasts I get vastly different results. I doubt that is sensible. Or the fact that I get several listings in Arabic even though I have nothing related to Arabic selected in my dictionaries, keyboards, or any Arabic documents on my iPhone (perhaps because I don’t speak Arabic, duh). :smiley:

What really bugs me though is I have no option to turn off the display of ad listings. Sure, Apple marks them with a little “Ad” badge, but I’d like to disable their display at the top altogether. I cannot find any option to do so. Is that Apple telling me their revenue stream from selling listing space on the App Store search trumps user desire to find what user is looking for? I have to this day NEVER seen a paid ad that was about an app I was actually looking for or interested in. I guess either Apple doesn’t care or the rest of the world finds tremendous value in those listings and I’m just the odd outlier. Hmm. :confused:

MMTalker:
Slotting and pay-to-stay allowances and in supermarkets, drug stores, department stores, etc. are terribly different?

It’s at least a little bit different. Sure, General Mills pays a slotting fee to have Cheerios on a particular shelf location in a grocery store, but they sell the same Cheerios in multiple retail outlets. (And, of course, there is no search engine that the retailer can game for a supermarket.)

Slotting fees are already being used for online shelf space by Peapod, Whole Foods, Fresh Direct, Walmart, etc. And as voice shopping grows, paying slotting allowances to in-store shopping assistants is under discussion:

https://hbr.org/2019/08/as-customers-begin-to-shop-through-voice-assistants-what-can-brands-do-to-stand-out

Also, I can only find a particular iOS app in a single retail store. If I don’t like that WalMart stocks my favorite brands and products in a way that is hard for me (on a high, unreachable shelf, for instance), I can go to another retailer.

You can go home and order the item from WalMart online. Or see if it’s available online at a better price elsewhere. And Walmart began charging slotting fees for non food items when they agreed to wage hikes a few years ago:

https://www.businessinsider.com/r-wal-mart-to-impose-charges-on-suppliers-as-its-costs-mount-2015-6

Apple is not a general retailer, and the App Store a a specialized boutique. You don’t find Calvin Klein in Ralph Lauren Store, or Cartier at Tiffany’s.

If Apple’s search algorithm isn’t relevant and is tipped in the company’s own favor, that’s a problem.

Here’s what Amazon has been doing:

https://www.businessinsider.com/amazons-positioning-itself-to-steal-sales-on-competing-pages-2019-9

And what they have been doing at Whole Foods:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/getting-your-product-on-shelves-at-whole-foods-just-got-harder-1518085801

MMTalker:
I don’t have access to any Android devices, so I just typed music (without quotes) into iOS Safari on my iPad, which Google is paying $9 billion this year to be the default search engine. They list three app results for iOS first (even though I didn’t include iOS or Mac OS in my search) YouTube Music (which Google owns), Google Music, and Spotify New Music.

This seems like a whataboutism. Just because Google is wrong it doesn’t mean that Apple shouldn’t do better.

I don’t see anything at all wrong about the 30% markup or having stringent quality assurance, vetting and sandboxing. Apple is in the retail business to earn money.

Seriously, if I search for “Podcast” in the App Store, there is absolutely no reason that the Apple “Compass” or “Tips” apps (which both have nothing at all to do with listening or producing podcasts) should even show up in the search results, much less be placed second or third in the search results.

I just did searches for “podcast” as well as for “podcasting” and gave up counting after the first 30 results yielded 100% results for both.

I still don’t see what this has to do with Apple having their own apps appear at the top of searches of the App Store, many of which have nothing to do with the search term.

Apple is the only retailer for iOS apps. I can find Calvin Klein at Macy’s. I can find the app Dark Sky in only one place if I want to install it on my phone. If I have an iPhone or an iPad, I have no other way to get a particular app on my phone.

I never said anything about the 30% markup or vetting. All I mentioned was whataboutism. Just because Google’s search algorithm (not even on Android; I’m still not sure what your point was) puts Google’s own apps first, it doesn’t mean that Apple is free to do so. (And on Android, the Play Store is not the only way to get Android apps, unlike on iOS.)

By the way, you can search the Google Play Store on the web without an Android phone. https://play.google.com/store/apps

Read the article again. Apple fixed this in July (though they continue to argue that there was nothing wrong with the search algorithm - it’s just been improved). But that’s not the way these searches worked for months and months. If there was another App Store for iOS apps, this might be fine - Apple was just a poor retailer. If they are the only retailer, they have an obligation to prevent gaming of search results.

1 Like

To me this is the core of the issue.

If Apple is the sole provider, they have a certain obligation towards their user base. And that IMHO trumps their revenue stream and/or any preferences they might have towards certain devs/players in the market.

Sure – and they seem to agree with you, which is why they changed things.

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.