The fakery used to game the App Store's search

Yesterday I read two articles about the deplorable state of Apple’s iOS App Store search and some hints pointing at the future that awaits ahead. Andrew Fretz at Touch Arcade argues that in mid-2015 you are not going to launch the App Store app to find the app or game you need. There are youtubers, big sites, small blogs alike and people on Twitter doing a great job sharing the good stuff. The problem starts with the App Store app, but is that the main reason why the system is “stuck in the dark ages”?

On any shopping site, from my online supermarket to Amazon, my ritual is the same. I select a main very broad category and narrow down what I’m after through subcategories. If you want to buy a chair, for example, you would expect to find a department called Home & Garden, a sub section called Furniture where you would find an area just called Dining chairs. If you cannot guess where your item is filed, it only makes sense after a couple of clicks. Once I’m sure I only have dining chairs in front of me I will sort this information according to its price, customer review or popularity.

A discovery problem

Unfortunately shopping for apps and games is nothing like this. Although you can clearly differentiate apps from games, anything after that is a very subjective exercise. You may argue, as Fretz does, that the genres provided are very broad. I’m of the opinion that using more specific labels could complicate things even more. In any case, what’s really confusing is how the same product appears on several categories and not just one.

The App Store was launched based on past successful experiences with iTunes using similar infrastructure. Perhaps Apple could not foresee the monster it would become and neglected the now clear fact that multimedia content and apps are, actually, very different animals.

To take advantage of this situation, welcome the marketing gurus that have ruined the web to find the best way to optimize the App Store. Some people believe that the key to discovery is adding some “magic keywords” to position your app properly. ASO, short for App Search Optimisation, is the discipline that promises developers to “get more downloads today” by bidding on popular search terms used by App Store users. The so-called ASO marketeers use expressions like “gems in the ocean” and “gold mine” to pitch their service to developers — always classy.

That seemed to be an odd strategy since it’s unclear how many consumers will willingly download an app with a title that appears so spammy

Apple is making changes, though. Sarah Perez over at TechCrunch notes, the old algorithms used to highlight what’s popular are being substituted by lists curated by actual people. She is also the author of the quote above. Hopefully this will stop regrettable ASO practices and put at the store front the contact editors deem worthy.

The approach introduced in the US store in the last month has its own pitfalls, but it definitely feels more like the way the modern Apple wants to behave. Wouldn’t you like something like Beats Music curation and the way music is presented with a context. Not like the old iTunes marketplace where everything looks the same.

We are approaching WWDC territory and with a new iOS 9 with rumoured improvements I can only wish for more information about the editorial changes, how iTunes analytics are helping developers without having to rely on dodgy third-party agencies and the value of great honest apps.