Update

Apple changed the App Store Search Algorithm for Handicapped

Apple executives Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue revealed that Apple has adjusted the App Store algorithm to ‘handicap’ its apps from appearing too much in search results, according to an interview with the New York Times.

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Following press attention from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Apple observed that the App Store was thinking of displaying a lot of Apple apps for common search terms. For instance, a search for ‘music’ would display not only Apple Music but up to seven other first-party apps in the first ten spots.

According to Apple, this occurred due to a feature of the App Store ranking engine where apps from the same developer are often shown together. This feature can be helpful, for instance when users search for “office” they can see most of Microsoft’s suite.

Apple told The Times that the App Store was operating as designed in these instances. “There’s nothing about the way we run a search in the App Store that’s designed or intended to drive Apple’s downloads of our apps,” said Phil Schiller, the Apple vice president who oversees the App Store, in an interview on the subject. “We’ll present results based on what we think the user wants.” The idea that someone would “want” to see the iTunes Remote or Clips apps ahead of Spotify or Pandora when searching for “music” frankly seems a bit idiotic. That reasoning doesn’t hold up. 

But there was another culprit to be blamed. Apple says it had an algorithm in play that would often cluster apps from the same developer in results. Since Apple’s apps have basic names like Podcasts or Music, they’d show up first — followed by a batch of other, irrelevant Apple apps right after.

The algorithm was updated in July, a few months after Spotify filed a formal complaint about Apple’s tactics, and search results quickly looked more sensible and balanced afterwards. As the company faces an antitrust inquiry from the EU, Apple’s executives were careful to avoid admitting any wrongdoing or harmful mistakes. “It’s not corrected,” said Schiller about the algorithm. “It’s improved,” added Eddy Cue, who operated the App Store before Schiller took over those duties.

James J

James has been writing about tech since 2009 after spending 25 years in a computer research lab studying and improving the future of computers. He watches Netflix sci-fi with his pet, enjoying spicy snacks.
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