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Apple Dominates App Store Search Results, Thwarting Competitors

Apple’s mobile apps routinely appear first in search results ahead of competitors in its App Store, a powerful advantage that skirts some of the company’s rules on such rankings, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. From the report: The company’s apps ranked first in more than 60% of basic searches, such as for “maps,” [Editor’s note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source] the analysis showed. Apple apps that generate revenue through subscriptions or sales, like Music or Books, showed up first in 95% of searches related to those apps. This dominance gives the company an upper hand in a marketplace that generates $50 billion in annual spending. Services revenue linked to the performance of apps is at the center of Apple’s strategy to diversify its profits as iPhone sales wane. While many of Apple’s products are undoubtedly popular, they are held to a different standard by the App Store. Apple tells developers that downloads, user reviews and ratings are factors that influence search results. Yet more than two dozen of Apple’s apps come pre-installed on iPhones and are shielded from reviews and ratings.

[…] Audiobooks.com, an RBmedia company, largely held the No. 1 ranking in “audiobooks” searches in the App Store for nearly two years. Then last September it was unseated by Apple Books. The Apple app had only recently begun marketing audiobooks directly for the first time. “It was literally overnight,” said Ian Small, Audiobooks.com’s general manager. He said the change triggered a 25% decline in Audiobooks.com’s daily app downloads. […] Apple’s role as both the creator of the App Store’s search engine and the beneficiary of its results has rankled developers. They contend Apple is essentially pinning its apps No. 1, compelling anyone seeking alternatives to consider Apple apps first. […] Phillip Shoemaker, who led the App Store review process until 2016, said Apple executives were aware of Podcasts’ poor ratings. Around 2015, his team proposed to senior executives that it purge all apps rated lower than two stars to ensure overall quality. “That would kill our Podcasts app,” an Apple executive said, according to Mr. Shoemaker, who has advised some independent apps on the App Store review process since leaving Apple. The proposal was eventually rejected, Mr. Shoemaker said.


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