WSJ: Apple Apps Unfairly Dominate App Store Search Results

Apple's mobile apps are often first in App Store search results ahead of competitors, according to a new analysis done by The Wall Street Journal.

For basic searches like "maps," Apple's apps ranked first more than 60 percent of the time in the WSJ's testing. Apps that generate revenue like Music or Books showed up first in 95 percent of related searches.


Apple, in response to questioning from the Wall Street Journal, did its own testing and said that it had different results where its apps didn't rank first.

Apple says that it uses an algorithm that uses machine learning and past consumer preferences, leading to app rankings that often fluctuate. Apple suggested that its apps ranked first in the WSJ's testing because those apps are popular with consumers. Apple says that all apps are subjected to the same search algorithm, including its own.
"Apple customers have a very strong connection to our products and many of them use search as a way to find and open their apps," Apple said in a statement. "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."
Many of the Apple apps in the App Store are installed by default on iPhones and iPads, though they can now be deleted if desired. Having them available in the App Store lets customers who have deleted them restore them when needed.

In one example, the WSJ highlights the audiobooks search category. The top spot was held by AudioBooks.com for two years before it was unseated by the Apple Books app last September, which led to a 25 percent decline in AudioBooks.com's daily app downloads. Apple Books ranks first for audiobooks, books, and reader searches, leading the audiobooks category because of "user behavior data" and the "audiobooks" keyword, says Apple.

Similarly, Apple Maps ranks first in a search for "maps," while the TV app and the iTunes Store come up first in searches for keywords like "tv," "movies," and "videos."

The Wall Street Journal suggests that Apple's App Store dominance gives Apple an upper hand, especially as many default apps are not held to the same standards that third party apps are required to adhere to. Many Apple apps, for example, do not feature reviews or ratings, which is one of the factors that influence search results along with downloads.

There are a total of 42 factors used to determine where apps rank in search, but the factors with the most influence are downloads, ratings, relevance, and user behavior. User behavior includes the number of times that users select an app after a search and then go on to download it, according to Apple.

Apple is facing legal battles over its App Store policies. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May that a lawsuit accusing Apple of anticompetitive behavior for requiring apps to be sold through the App Store could continue, and the European Commission has asked Apple for answers after Spotify accused it of anticompetitive App Store business practices related to the fee that Apple collects from app developers.

The Wall Street Journal's full report on Apple's App Store search rankings can be read over on the WSJ website.


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Apple Relaunches ‘Texas Hold’Em’ Game to Celebrate 10th Anniversary of App Store

In a surprise move tied to the App Store's 10th anniversary last year, Apple has revived its classic "Texas Hold'Em" game for iPhone.


As noted by 9to5Mac, version 2.0 of the game was released on the App Store today. Apple says it has completely redesigned, rebuilt, and re-rendered the game to use high-resolution graphics, as well as added new characters, more challenging gameplay, and many other new features.

Apple's release notes:
Apple's Texas Hold'em is back! To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the App Store, we've brought back one of its first games, a popular classic. Originally created for iPod, then brought to iPhone, fans will love the polished redesign, featuring new characters, more challenging gameplay, and stunning graphics for the newest iPhone and iPod touch.
Texas Hold'Em is a variation of poker. In the game, players bet and bluff as they attempt to advance through 10 distinctive locations, including Las Vegas, Paris, and Macau. The new version is entirely free-to-play with multiplayer support for up to eight players via Wi-Fi or offline playback against 24 computerized opponents.

The new version requires a device running iOS 12 or later and is optimized for the latest iPhone and iPod touch models.

Texas Hold'Em first debuted on the iPod in September 2006 before launching on the iPhone when the App Store launched on July 11, 2008. The game was pulled from the App Store in November 2011, leaving Apple without its own iPhone game until it released "Warren Buffett's Paper Wizard" in May.

Texas Hold'Em is available now on the App Store.


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Apple’s Difficult App Store Decisions Determined by Executive Review Board Run by Phil Schiller

When Apple has to make a difficult decision regarding an app in the App Store, its fate is determined in a meeting of a group called the Executive Review Board or ERB, led by Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller.

The detail was shared in a CNBC report on how the App Store works, which gives an inside look at Apple's App Store review team.


The Executive Review Board meets once per week and discusses controversial apps or iPhone apps that might be infringing on App Store guidelines, and it has the final word on whether an app can stay on the store or if it's going to be removed.

The ERB also creates the policies for Apple's Worldwide Developer Relations department, otherwise known as the App Review team that looks over every app submitted to the App Store. Last year, the ERB was the team that decided to ban the controversial Infowars app from the App Store for violating Apple's content policies.

Apple runs multiple App Review teams around the world, and according to CNBC, recently opened up new offices in Cork, Ireland and Shanghai, China. Over the course of the last few years, hiring for the team has ramped up.

People on the app review team are paid hourly, have employee badges, and receive healthcare, like any other Apple employee with Apple opting to use a full in-house team rather than relying on contractors. The main App Review team is based out of an office in Sunnyvale, California, which is close to Apple's Cupertino campuses.

According to CNBC, new hires start out on iPhone apps, but as reviewers gain more experience, are able to evaluate apps with in-app purchases and subscriptions as well as Apple TV and Apple Watch apps. Each reviewer claims a batch of apps using a web portal, then checks over the app using an iPad (or Apple Watch or Apple TV for those apps). The app is compared to Apple's App Store guidelines, and reviewers decide whether to accept, reject, or hold the app.

Reviewers are expected to get through 50 to 100 apps per day, and evaluating most apps takes a short amount of time. Number of apps reviewed per hour is tracked by Apple, and they're also evaluated on whether or not review decisions are later overturned.

When an app is rejected, developers can appeal to the App Review Board, which is separate from the Executive Review Board, to get the decision overturned. Several appeals may eventually send an app to the ERB, though. Most apps are rejected for common reasons, but edge cases or apps that are publicly sensitive go to Phil Schiller's ERB for more careful evaluation.

Apple doesn't give apps from major companies special treatment, according to CNBC, and all apps are required to go through the same exact review process.

For more on how the App Store review process works, make sure to check out CNBC's full report.


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Developers Sue Apple Over App Store Fees in Latest Class Action Lawsuit

Apple is facing a new class-action lawsuit from iOS developers who claim that the company uses its monopoly in the App Store to impose "profit-killing" commissions.

Filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, the lawsuit argues that the tech giant's practice of instating a 30 percent commission rate on all app sales is anticompetitive and "sets the stage for Apple to abuse its market power."

The suit also takes aim at Apple's minimum $0.99 price requirement for paid apps in the App Store and in-app purchases, as well as the annual $99 Apple Developer fee, calling these policies "especially damaging to smaller and new developers."
"Between Apple's 30 percent cut of all App Store sales, the annual fee of $99 and pricing mandates, Apple blatantly abuses its market power to the detriment of developers, who are forced to use the only platform available to them to sell their iOS app," said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and attorney representing the proposed class of developers. "In a competitive landscape, this simply would not happen."

"Today's lawsuit seeks to force Apple to end its abusive monopoly and allow competition in the distribution of iOS apps and related products, to get rid of its pricing mandates, and to reimburse developers for overcharges made through abuse of its monopoly power."

"We think app developers should be rewarded fairly for their creations, not over-taxed by a corporate giant," Berman said. "After 11 years of monopoly conduct and profits, we think it's high time that a court examine Apple's practices on behalf of iOS app developers and take action as warranted by the law and facts."
Hagens Berman won a suit against Apple and various publishing companies in 2016 that settled for a total of $560 million on behalf of e-book purchasers, who said they were forced to pay "artificially high prices due to Apple and the publishing companies' colluded price-fixing." That suit went to the Supreme Court, where the Court ruled against Apple.

The latest class action accuses Apple of violating federal antitrust law and California's unfair competition law.


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Apple Music, App Store, and Mac App Store Suffering Limited Outages Following iOS 13 and macOS Catalina Betas

Apple Music, the App Store, and the Mac App Store are experiencing outages affecting "some users," according to Apple's system status page, one day after Apple seeded the first betas of iOS 13 and macOS Catalina to developers.


Apple says some users are "experiencing a problem" with each service. The company is investigating and will update the statuses of each service as more information becomes available. The issues began around 5 a.m. Pacific Time.

We'll update this post once the outages are resolved.

(Thanks, Chris!)


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European Regulators Awaiting Response From Apple After Spotify Called the App Store a Monopoly

The European Commission is awaiting a response from Apple after Spotify accused the iPhone maker of anticompetitive business practices in relation to its App Store, said the European Union's antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager.


"We are looking into that and we have been asking questions around in that market but of course also Apple themselves, for them to answer the allegations. And when they come back, we will know more," said Vestager, speaking on the sidelines of an economic conference, according to Reuters.

In March, Spotify announced it had filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with the European Commission over unfair App Store practices. Apple responded two days later, labeling the complaint as "misleading rhetoric" and arguing that "Spotify wants all the benefits of a free app without being free."

In a blog post, Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek took particular issue with Apple charging a 30 percent "tax" on App Store purchases. This results in Spotify charging existing subscribers $12.99 per month for its Premium plan via the App Store just to collect nearly the $9.99 per month it charges normally.

Apple also forbids developers from alerting users that they can sign up for a subscription or complete a purchase outside of an app, which would bypass Apple's commission on in-app purchases tied to digital goods.

Spotify later said "every monopolist will suggest they have done nothing wrong" and that Apple's response was "entirely in line" with its expectations.

Apple has faced increasing scrutiny as of late over the way it runs its App Store, beyond Spotify's complaint. In the United States, for example, the Supreme Court recently ruled that a class action lawsuit accusing Apple of operating an App Store monopoly can proceed to trial in a lower court.

Parental control app developers have also petitioned Apple to release a public API for its Screen Time feature to ensure a fair playing field on the App Store, while the Netherlands is investigating whether or not Apple favors its own apps.

In response, Apple added a new page to the App Store section of its website titled Principles and Practices, noting that the App Store was created with two goals: to be "a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps" and "a great business opportunity for all developers."


Apple emphasized that the App Store "welcomes competition" and listed many examples of third-party apps that compete with its own apps, such as Spotify versus Apple Music and Google Maps versus Apple Maps.
We believe competition makes everything better and results in the best apps for our customers.

We also care about quality over quantity, and trust over transactions. That's why, even though other stores have more users and more app downloads, the App Store earns more money for developers. Our users trust Apple — and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution.
The deadline for Apple's response to the European Commission is unclear.


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Apple Highlights WWDC 2019 Scholarship Winners and Their Apps

Each year, Apple provides up to 350 students with a free ticket to WWDC and lodging for the conference. The lucky winners are selected based on the quality of their Swift Playground coding submission and written answers.

Apple has now highlighted dozens of WWDC 2019 scholarship winners and their apps in an editorial in the App Store under the Today tab.


This year's winners hail from over 20 countries and regions around the world, according to Apple, including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Italy, Kazakhstan, Korea, Norway, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the U.K., and the U.S.

The winners had the opportunity to discuss their apps with Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple marketing executive Greg Joswiak, and vice president of software engineering operations Cheryl Thomas at the McEnery Convention Center on Sunday, according to photos shared by CNET's Connie Guglielmo.


WWDC scholars are treated to a special experience at the conference, starting with Apple's Scholarship Kickoff event yesterday at the Discovery Meadow park. There, Apple executive and WWDC scholar chaperone Esther Hare welcomed winners in a speech and posed for selfies with the young developers.


Each scholar also received a special badge, t-shirt, and magnetic pin, in addition to the reversible WWDC jacket that all developers received, although they have yet to receive a bigger gift like AirPods given out last year.

Here's another look at that reversible jacket:


From a year ago: A Week in the Life of WWDC 2018 Scholarship Winners

Related Roundup: WWDC 2019

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Apple Increases Over-the-Air App Store Download Limit to 200MB

Apple has increased the over-the-air download limit for the App Store to 200MB, up from 150MB.


The download limit is now 200MB for iPhones and iPads. The limit affects the maximum size of an app that can be downloaded over 3G or 4G networks.

The file size limit is designed to prevent iOS users from accidentally downloading a large app over cellular and using up all their data allowance or running up data charges. But as 9to5Mac notes, there's no way to opt out of the limit, which can be frustrating for users with unlimited data plans.

Apple officially increased the App Store cellular over-the-air download limit to 150 MB in September 2017.

Developers frequently work hard to keep their apps under the over-the-air download limit, as they believe going over that limit reduces the likelihood of spontaneous purchases.


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Apple Says App Store ‘Welcomes Competition’ Following Criticism From Spotify and Others

Apple has faced increasing scrutiny as of late over the way it runs its App Store, ranging from Spotify's anticompetitive complaint in Europe to a class action lawsuit accusing Apple of operating an App Store monopoly in the United States, which the Supreme Court has allowed to proceed.


Apple has since responded with a new page on its website, noting that the App Store was created to be "a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps" and "a great business opportunity for all developers."

Apple says the App Store "welcomes competition":
We believe competition makes everything better and results in the best apps for our customers.

We also care about quality over quantity, and trust over transactions. That’s why, even though other stores have more users and more app downloads, the App Store earns more money for developers. Our users trust Apple — and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution.
Apple includes many examples of third-party apps that compete with its own apps, such as Spotify versus Apple Music.

Apple notes that its app review process uses a combination of "automated systems and hundreds of human experts":
We work hard to maintain the integrity of the App Store. In fact, since 2016, we have removed over 1.4 million apps from the App Store because they have not been updated or don't work on our most current operating systems. This helps unclutter the search for new apps, and makes it easier for users to find quality apps.
More details to follow…






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Apps Are Using Background App Refresh to Send Data to Tracking Companies

When Background App Refresh is enabled, some iOS apps are using the feature to regularly send data to tracking companies, according to a privacy experiment from The Washington Post that explores the relationship between apps and tracking companies.

The Washington Post's Geoffrey Fowler teamed up with privacy firm Disconnect and used specialized software to see what his iPhone was doing and when. And while it's no surprise that apps are using trackers and sharing user data, the frequency with which apps took advantage of background refresh to send data off to tracking companies is surprising, as is some of the data shared.


Fowler found that apps were sending data like phone number, email, location, IP address, and more.
On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.
Apps that were found passing data along included Microsoft OneDrive, Mint, Nike, Spotify, The Weather Channel, DoorDash, Yelp, Citizen, and even The Washington Post's own iOS app. Citizen shared personally identifiable information that violated its privacy policy (the tracker was later removed), and Yelp was sending data every five minutes, something the company later said was a bug.

During the course of a week of testing, Fowler ran into 5,400 trackers, mostly found within apps, which Disconnect told him would likely send 1.5 gigabytes of data over the course of a month.

Trackers within apps, for those unfamiliar, serve different purposes. Some analyze user behavior to let apps streamline advertising campaigns, combat fraud, or create targeted ads. Delivery app DoorDash, for example, was found using a whopping nine trackers in its apps, sharing data like device name, ad identifier, accelerometer data, delivery address, name, email, and cellular phone carrier.

DoorDash also has trackers from Facebook and Google Ad Services, which means Facebook and DoorDash are notified whenever you're using the DoorDash service. DoorDash is not alone in sending tracking data, nor are the apps listed above - using tracking information is standard practice - but most people aren't aware that it's happening.

Not all data collection is bad, such as when it's anonymized and stored for a limited period of time, but some trackers are collecting specific user information and don't provide clear information on how long that data is stored nor who it's shared with.

As Fowler points out, there is no way to know which apps are using trackers and when that data is being sent from your iPhone, nor does Apple have tools in place that give iPhone users a way to see which apps are using trackers and for what purpose. Apple was contacted for comment, but provided a standardized privacy response.
"At Apple we do a great deal to help users keep their data private," the company says in a statement. "Apple hardware and software are designed to provide advanced security and privacy at every level of the system."

"For the data and services that apps create on their own, our App Store Guidelines require developers to have clearly posted privacy policies and to ask users for permission to collect data before doing so. When we learn that apps have not followed our Guidelines in these areas, we either make apps change their practice or keep those apps from being on the store," Apple says.
Fowler suggests Apple could require apps to label when they're using third-party trackers, while privacy company Disconnect suggests greater privacy controls in iOS to give users more control over their data.

iOS users concerned about the data apps are sending, especially at night and without user knowledge, can turn off Background App Refresh in the Settings app and can use a VPN like Disconnect's Privacy Pro to limit the data apps are able to send to third-party sources.


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