Apple found itself in hot waters back in 2019 when The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times investigated the company’s App Store and concluded that the company was placing its own apps ahead of those of its competitors.
Now, more information is surfacing that seeds even more doubt.
In 2019, when these allegations first surfaced, Apple insisted that it had nothing to do with the search results and that its customers “have a very strong connection to our products and many of them use search as a way to find and open their apps. This customer usage is the reason Apple has strong rankings in search, and it’s the same reason Uber, Microsoft and so many others often have high rankings as well.”
Which means that, according to Apple, since iOS users use Spotlight to locate the apps they already have, searching for apps will show results for those with a similar name, such as simply searching for “maps” will show you Apple Maps as the top result instead of Google Maps.
Apple has also stated that it has its own algorithm that relies on machine learning and consumer preferences, which makes the rankings fluctuate depending on the user’s downloads. The company has not gone into detail about how this algorithm works.
However, according to the reports, Apple’s apps showed up as top-ranking in over 60% of searches. Those that generate revenue for the company such as Music, or Books showed up in the first 95% of searches.
Meanwhile, users searching the App Store for “music” would be directed to Spotify at the top, while Pandora would only be found on the eight place. In 2016, this same search placed Apple Music at the top with Spotify following as the fourth option.
With all that information in mind, it’s time to come back to the present, more exactly to the still on-going Epic vs. Apple trial where Apple is forced to face the music.
A leaked email that surfaced from the trial, tells us that Apple has not been completely honest regarding its aforementioned algorithm. The email comes from Apple App Search Lead Debankur Naskar and is a reply to Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who used to be an Apple partner.
Sweeney had asked Apple why the Files app appeared first in the App Store’s search results when he searched for Dropbox instead.
Naskar mentioned in the email that, following Sweeney’s query, they will be “removing the manual boost and the search results should be more relevant now.”
Apple manually boosts its first-party apps in search results? Funny, I feel like somebody testified under oath that that never happens https://t.co/mTgnw8d8CK— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) June 7, 2021
It’s easy to understand that what Naskar suggested in the email is that Files had indeed been boosted intentionally during the “last WWDC” (WWDC 2017, where Files debuted).
It’s worth mentioning that, allegedly, Steve Jobs swore to erase Dropbox from the market when the company refused to be acquired by Apple.
In response to the new allegations, Apple released the following statement:
“We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. App Store Search has only one goal — to get customers what they are looking for. We do that in a way that is fair to all developers and we do not advantage our apps over those of any developer or competitor. Today, developers have many options for distributing their apps and that’s why we work hard to make it easy, fair and a great opportunity for them to develop apps for our customers around the world.”
No doubt we will hear more about this soon and we will keep you updated with any new developments.