iPhone Life magazine

App Store new search algorithm promotes "Zombie" old, stale, non-Universal apps

As you may have noticed, Apple has been overhauling their search algorithm for the App Store, and while no official statement has come from Cupertino, it appears to be designed to eliminate some of the confusion and the 'gaming' of the system that has been prevalent. This is a good thing.

However, as with any change, the new method introduces it's own set of problems. Here's what I've observed:

Apps that have sold a lot, historically, are ranked higher. One might say this is class warfare, as the rich get richer, but this makes some sense. Proven apps are likely to continue to be desirable. There's safety in numbers.

Yet in this case, it looks to be a case of rewarding the old guard. For example, many apps that haven't been updated since 2011 or even 2010 are returned first. That means, by definition, those apps don't take advantage of new features in iOS 5 (or iOS 4 or even iOS 3 in some cases!) nor the hardware introduced since 2010. They don't support Apple's 'resolutionary' Retina display, for example.

This directly contradicts Steve Jobs' intention as quoted here, from the Walter Isaacson biography:

"We spend lots of effort to make our platform better, and the developer doesn't get any benefits if Adobe only works with functions that every platform has. So we said that we want developers to take advantage of our better features, so that their apps work better on our platform than they work on anybody else's."


 


Another area that Apple could prioritize is Universal apps. When I search for apps, as an owner of several iPads and iPhones, I prefer apps that specifically target both kinds of devices. As more customers and families adopt multiple iOS products, I would think Apple would want to promote iPhone apps that also take advantage of the iPad's screen size, yet the new algorithm goes in the opposite direction, prioritizing older, iPhone-only apps that offer a sub-par experience on an iPad.

A good example is to search for the term 'wallpaper backgrounds' and inspect the results. After all, when searching for such an app, the goal is to have full size background images to use on your iOS device. If you have an iPhone 4S with Retina display or any version of the iPad, you will want a recent app. Most of the returned apps are NOT written for the iPad, and a good number are from 2011 and pre-date the Retina display of the iPhone 4S. The result is iPhone 4S and iPad owners will be disappointed with most of the apps, should they download them.

Apple should tweak their algorithm to prioritize apps that have embraced newer technology by developers who have shown a responsiveness to users. It might also light a fire under developers who have not updated two year old apps to take advantage of new technologies like the Retina display or the iPad itself. Stale apps will only frustrate users and won't show Apple's hardware in the best light. After all, the goal should not just be making it easier to find apps to buy, but to find apps worth buying.

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Todd Bernhard's picture

Todd Bernhard is founder of No Tie Software, an app developer specializing in Ringtones and Sound FX including AutoRingtone.

An iPhone is almost always attached to his hip, but over the years, Bernhard has owned an Apple Newton, a Motorola Marco, an HP 95LX, a Compaq iPaq, a Palm Treo, and a Nokia e62.

In addition to writing for iPhone Life, Mr. Bernhard has written for its sister publications, PocketPC Magazine and The HP Palmtop Paper.