Apple Promotes Own Apps Before Yours
Written by Lucy Black   
Wednesday, 11 September 2019

We have been putting up with the walled gardens of the app stores for a long time. Some think they are an advantage; some not so much. What we tend to ignore is that with the fox in charge of the hen house, things can be arranged to work against the hens.

appledev

Suppose I was to suggest that a leading manufacturer of widgets was opening up their market to third party suppliers. So you could spend a lot of time developing your unique widget and then offer it for sale alongside the manufacturer's widgets. If you think that there is no problem with this then you are assuming that everyone in business is an philanthropic angel. Of course, if you are suspicious, as you have every right to be, you might be supposing that the market has just been stacked against you. The manufacturer has every opportunity to promote their widget over yours and if your widget has any interesting features then why not borrow the idea. 

If you think that this is far fetched then it prepared for even more of a shock - the Apple App Store is much worse. Apple controls the App Store and implements the search. According to some original research by the New York Times Apple has been massively favoring its own apps over anyone else's:

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. (Though competitors could pay Apple to place ads above the Apple results.)

Apple executives even admitted that this was the case, but then stated that the problem had been fixed so that search showed fewer Apple apps. Interestingly, when questioned about the issue of the algorithm being wrong before it was fixed, Apple stated that the algorithm was correct before, but they had decided to handicap themselves to help other developers! Soon afterwards, other executives attempted to argue that in no way was the search biased, it just returned what the user wanted.

You can read more about the evidence of such bias in the New York Times report, and, in my opinion, it is a very strong case,  but Apple  declined to comment on the accuracy of the data because they don't keep historical search records. Well they would say that wouldn't they...

It is difficult to prove intent and it is all too easy to say "the algorithm did it - honest!". What is more than clear, however, is that to have a company that produces apps in charge of the store is an invitation to doubt honesty, even if it isn't dishonest.

Of course, things are worse that this picture suggests. Apple can rule what type of app is allowed in the store and it can give its own apps access to APIs and hardware that other apps are forbidden to use. In short, Apple can promote its apps over yours, it can steal your ideas and implement them using methods that are denied to you.

You may be OK with the other huge disadvantages of a walled garden for software. You may think that it delivers a market to you that would otherwise be difficult to access while protecting users from dangerous software, but you have to admit that you are the mercy of Apple.

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More Information

New York Times

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 September 2019 )