Pay Your Way To The Top

April 15th, 2016

A new report from Bloomberg is potentially going to cast some shadows over the AppStore:

Apple Inc. has constructed a secret team to explore changes to the App Store, including a new strategy for charging developers to have their apps more prominently displayed, according to people familiar with the plans.

If this report will end up being true, there could potentially be massive repercussion on the majority of small indy-developers.

As of today, the AppStore is the home of several million apps, most of which are good, with an overwhelming majority of spam, copycat and just generally terrible second tier apps. The problem is that the search function is terrible and so it’s almost impossible to have to good app surface above the rest of the crowd.

Now, if Apple has really created a new team in charge to solve this issue, why would they keep it as a secret? The AppStore is one of the most public and direct channel that Apple holds in their hands, so it would only make sense for them to open up to customers and especially developers feedback, as they deal with the architecture of the store every other day.

The second part of the report is even more worrying.

Among the ideas being pursued, Apple is considering paid search, a Google-like model in which companies would pay to have their app shown at the top of search results based on what a customer is seeking.

Paid search? Ouch.

Yes, Google made a huge business out of this model, but I’m not confident that Apple could achieve similar results in this space. The problem with the AppStore is not just the search function. The biggest issue at play here is that the store is kind of a black hole. Developers drop their apps in and somehow, sometimes they show up on the other side, available to customers. To make a paid search model work, Apple has to increase the level of transparency of the all infrastructure. In particular Apple has to clarify the set of rules that regulate its store. Nowadays app gets rejected for all sort of strange reason. Or even worse, they get accepted, they stay in the store for a few days or even just hours and then they get removed without a good explanation1. Imagine a developer, especially a small one, gearing up to release a brand new app and deciding to pay to get to the top of the list, only to suddenly be shut down few hours later? How would this work in this complicated environment?

Of course we need to apply the big footnote here, that this report is just a rumor and Apple hasn’t of course confirmed or declined, but we know that when Apple puts together hundreds of engineers in the same room, something is definitely boiling under the hood.

I guess we may see something in this year WWDC. In the meantime I’ll keep using Google search.

  1. This Reddit case is just the latest in a long and complicated story.