Apple adjusts algorithm that stacked App Store search results with their own apps

Jack Nicas and Keith Collins for The New York Times:

Top spots in App Store search results are some of the most fought over real estate in the online economy. The store generated more than $50 billion in sales last year, and the company said two-thirds of app downloads started with a search…

Apple’s apps have ranked first recently for at least 700 search terms in the store, according to a New York Times analysis of six years of search results compiled by Sensor Tower, an app analytics firm. Some searches produced as many as 14 Apple apps before showing results from rivals, the analysis showed.

Presented with the results of the analysis, two senior Apple executives acknowledged in a recent interview that, for more than a year, the top results of many common searches in the iPhone App Store were packed with the company’s own apps. That was the case even when the Apple apps were less relevant and less popular than ones from its competitors. The executives said the company had since adjusted the algorithm so that fewer of its own apps appeared at the top of search results.

Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president who oversees the App Store, and Eddy Cue, the senior vice president who oversees many of the Apple apps that benefited from the results, said there was nothing underhanded about the algorithm… The executives said the company did not manually alter search results to benefit itself. Instead, they said, Apple apps generally rank higher than competitors because of their popularity and because their generic names are often a close match to broad search terms.

MacDailyNews Take: Obviously, it’s nothing nefarious, it’s simply the naming of the apps that affected search results: Music, Maps, TV, Podcasts, Wallet – these are all generic terms and also the names for Apple apps, so any properly working search algorithm should return those results at or near the top, because, duh, that’s what the user is looking for! Artificially suppressing Apple apps is in fact making the search algorithm less effective for users, in the name of avoiding the suggestion of impropriety, not actual impropriety.

Bottom line, due to outside political pressure, Apple felt forced to degrade the user experience, making it less effective in the name of “fairness.”


  1. When your SEO strategy is to confuse better liked/more popular apps in a category with less liked / less popular apps that are named after the category, you gotta admit it’s a dick move, even if you won’t categorize it as “nefarious.”

  2. First time I ever heard of a company compelled to perform Search Engine De-Optimization, this, in order to sell less of its own product. But it could benefit Apple by showing competitors that it’s a considerate and fair partner.

  3. However, the outsized popularity of Apple’s stock apps was causing the grouping behavior to dominate too much. Part of the cause is that some iPhone and iPad customers apparently use App Store search to find apps that are already installed on their phones. When users would click on an Apple app, its popularity rises disproportionately to third-parties. The cost of developing an app can fluctuate with the degree of interaction and complex design. Adding additional features to an app to improve the functionality of the app such that the cost of app design for a more advanced level of design would increase.

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