App Store search is currently broken

The App Store search results are behaving strangely, specifically, a search for “Spotify” yields “SoundCloud” (and others that aren’t Spotify) and a search for many smaller apps yields nothing. I take this as an accidental early roll-out of pay-to-play search, perhaps. Here’s Craig Grannel‘s take:

All this makes me think is that, once again, the App Store needs a serious kicking. But also Apple needs to do a bit more stealing. I might grumble about Android and that Google Play is mostly full of garbage, but at least when I find something I want to install on my Android devices, I can do so from the web.

I agree that the the App Store needs a serious kicking, but I’m not sure that being able to install remotely would be enough. This search bug is unfortunately timed, because discovery is by far the most lacking component of the App Store. I don’t have a proposal for how to improve discoverability when there are so many apps, but given Phil Schiller is now heading things up at the App Store, I’m hopeful they’ll be an announcement at WWDC.

This reminds me of a fact I learned at an iOS meet up that deserve repeating: as app developers, Apple is our biggest dependency. Mostly this deal works out great: Apple take 30% and the hardware profit to promote and sustain the marketplace for 3rd party apps. But Apple is still a dependency, and this isn’t the App Store’s first year, it’s not Apple’s job to promote 3rd party apps, it’s your job as a publisher. If you don’t like that, there are other platforms.

Update: iMore have a hilarious addendum to this story:

It also seems as though the problem is impacting the Mac App Store as well, with Apple’s Xcode missing from search results.

App Store pay-to-play redux

There has been a lot reaction to Bloomberg’s story of pay-to-play App Store results. Initially, I discounted the report on grounds that Apple doesn’t stand to make a lot of money on it. Having thought about it more, and considering new evidence, I’m not so sure. Namely, Marco Arment‘s and John Gruber‘s pieces made me reconsider:

Also, Arment raises a good question, wondering about the motivations of whoever leaked the story to Bloomberg:

Either to warm us up to the idea so we’re not so mad in June, or by someone inside who doesn’t think it’s right and wants ammo to win the argument internally.

I’ve been wondering about this too. I don’t think it makes sense that it’s a trial balloon from someone in favor of the program. Apple doesn’t care about “warming us up” to changes. They don’t care. I think it makes more sense as a leak from someone opposed to it, and who foresaw that it wouldn’t go over well. Damn curious either way, though.

The App Store started off indie because of the shared code with Mac and intense developer interest, but I think Apple’s plan has always been to cater to big brands, like Nike, Disney, Bank of America, etc. Arguably, Apple has an incentive to keep the cost of software on the App Store as low as possible, because a rich ecosystem of low-cost apps further justifies the high cost of their hardware. Here’s Ben Thompson on this point in 2013:

It’s a reason to buy Apple hardware, and that’s all that matters. Anything that on the surface makes the store less desirable for hardware buyers – such as more expensive apps – is not in Apple’s interest.

The reason I was wrong about Apple making money on paid search is I was looking at this from my own perspective, that Apple doesn’t stand to make money from me (and people like me) on pay-to-play App Store search results. But from the big brands like Nike, Disney, and Bank of America, etc, Apple absolutely stands to make good money. And perhaps Apple believe this to be a way of solving the discoverability problem too. Another reason I was wrong is that Apple doesn’t stand to make a lot of money compared to their hardware today, but mobile trends suggest that people are spending less and less time searching for things in their browser on, say, Google, and increasingly spending time in apps. Bloomberg themselves called this a “Google-like” approach, and so maybe Apple is thinking this is how they can take some of Google’s future business.

In any case, I think we should all wait for an actual announcement from Apple before getting to worked up about this.

App Store review and rule-of-law

The App Store review time is a contentious issue for iOS developers. As a user of iOS, I like it, because it means that I never fear downloading an app, knowing it has at least been vetted for the worst offenses. As a developer, the biggest obstruction to making iOS development as responsive to change as Web development is undoubtedly App Store review times. Here’s Dave Verwer from iOS Dev Weekly:

So, is App Store review still providing a useful service? Did it ever? My opinion is that at the very start it definitely set a tone and stopped the immediate flooding of the store with crap. However at this point, I’m not sure it’s really providing many benefits. Half finished and completely useless apps still get through all the time so it’s definitely not providing the quality control that was promised. More importantly, it continues to stifle innovation through fear of (and the reality of) rejection as we’ve seen time and time again.

I don’t think his points make the case to remove App Store review, but rather that there should be rule of law with regards to App Store review. Inconsistent enforcement is what’s stifling innovation through fear of rejection: multiple times in my career, an app has been rejected for something that had not changed since the last version, pointlessly slowing down development. These should have been cases of “approved, but make these changes for next submission.” Furthermore, I think that organizations in good standing should get approved-by-default status with periodic audits.