September 26, 2019: Apple’s App Store Radically Changes Rankings
Shortly after the New York Times’s September 9 story on Apple’s manipulation of App Store search results, Apple’s search rankings changed dramatically. On information and belief, Apple changed its search algorithms in an apparent attempt to remove the techniques for manipulation and suppression that it had previously employed and that were now under scrutiny in the wake of the New York Times’ extensive report.
Days after the New York Times story published, BlueMail shot from #143 to #13 on simple keywords such as “email” in the iOS App Store – despite no change in the BlueMail iOS application itself.
BlueMail was not the only Apple Mail competitor to experience this sudden change in search ranking suppression. For example, YandexMail (another competing mail client) jumped in the search rankings for “email” from approximately #160 to #32 on September 26, 2019.
This was not just limited to iOS mail clients. On information and belief, given the widespread nature of Apple’s reported search result-stacking, this same practice harmed competition for multiple different categories of apps that compete with Apple’s default apps, and multiple different types of Apple app competitors enjoyed a sudden, unexplained rise in search rankings following the New York Times expose.
In addition to suppressing search results showing the highest-quality alternatives to its default apps, Apple has also taken a number of other affirmative steps to abuse its monopoly over iOS applications and protect Apple’s own applications from fair competition.
Apple has designed the iOS App Store so that Apple’s own applications are the top-ranked search result in response to a number of application keywords, including “mail” and “email.” This makes it harder for consumers to discover competing applications such as BlueMail.
On information and belief, users rarely if ever select search results outside the top 20 to 25 results for a given query. On information and belief, users frequently only review the very top results for a typical keyword query.
By designing Apple’s search algorithms such that competitors (but not Apple) fall outside the top-ranked results for a given search, Apple effectively forecloses competition. If consumers will only review the top search results, Apple can create the illusion of competition – but in fact, foreclose competition – by ensuring that Apple’s applications occupy the top positions in a search ranking.
On information and belief, Apple specifically designed its iOS App Store search algorithms to ensure that Apple’s applications – not competitor applications – would enjoy the top-ranked position for keyword searches such as “mail” and “email.”