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- Apple apps ranked first in over 700 tracked searches for popular search terms like “books,” “music,” news,” “TV,” “sports,” and “people,” according to a new report from The New York Times.
- According to its analysis, some App Store searches “produced as many as 14 Apple apps before showing results from rivals,” even when Apple’s other apps were less relevant or popular than competitors’ offerings.
- Apple’s apps have reportedly pushed other popular apps down in the search results, like Spotify and Netflix, making them harder to find when you search for terms like “music” or “TV.”
- Apple’s App Store made $50 billion in sales in 2018; Apple says over 60% of downloads “started with a search.”
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An investigation into App Store search results found that Apple-designed apps were heavily favored in the search results around hundreds of popular keywords – a discovery that gives more ammo to antitrust arguments made by companies like Spotify, which recently accused the iPhone maker of monopolistic practices that harm competition.
A New York Times investigation and analysis of the App Store found that Apple’s apps ranked first for as many as 700 search terms – for popular words like “books,” “music,” “news,” “TV,” “sports,” “people,” and many more. Mind you, the App Store generated over $50 billion in sales last year, with over 60% of that money coming from direct searches.
The Times worked with Sensor Tower, a company that tracks and analyzes mobile app data, to examine how Apple-created apps benefited from popular searches and how search results changed over time. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting and startling discoveries from the investigation:
- In 2013, before Apple unveiled Apple Music, Spotify was the top result for “music” searches in the App Store.
- Apple Music took the top “music” search result when it debuted in 2016, kicking Spotify to the No. 4 spot.
- Apple’s Wallet was the top search result for “money,” “credit,” and “debit” earlier this year right after Apple debuted its credit card.
- In 2018, Apple apps appeared in the first eight results for “music” – including unrelated apps like iMovie and Clips – pushing Spotify to the No. 23 spot.
- Apple surfaced 14 different Apple-made apps when you searched “podcast” in the App Store in 2018, pushing some competitors so far down in search results that one said the App Store no longer provided a meaningful source of downloads.
- Apple executives Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue said the App Store algorithm has since been “improved” to no longer prioritize Apple apps in some searches, but refused to call the past rankings or algorithm a mistake or issue that needed fixing in the first place.
Schiller and Cue refused to admit to any wrongdoing on Apple’s part. They say the App Store presents “results based on what we think the user wants,” and said Apple apps usually rank high in search results because their apps have generic names that tend to match with popular search terms.
Business Insider has reached out to both Apple and Spotify for any additional comment on the Times’ investigation.
According to some anonymous Apple employees that spoke to The Times, Apple’s algorithm was responsible for Apple’s recent domination in the App Store, but App Store engineers made a tweak to the algorithm in July when they noticed that search results for months had been packed with Apple apps. Schiller and Cue said the algorithm was “working properly” at the time, but “simply decided to handicap themselves to help other developers,” according to The Times.
Apple engineers said the App Store algorithm looks at 42 different signals, including relevance and rankings based on downloads and reviews, but the company still keeps mum on how exactly the algorithm works to prevent people from gaming the system.
Check out The Times full analysis from its investigation into the App Store.