App Discovery & Quality Remains a Challenge, Apple Adjusts Algorithm to Overcome It

POSTED BY Analyst Team
The number of apps in the leading app stores – Apple’s App Store and Google Play – is overwhelming, at 900,000 active apps for the US App Store and over 1 million in Google Play. ‘This is great’ say Apple and Google (I imagine), ‘developers are keen to reach our users and there is so much choice and variety in our stores’. The key difficulty which they haven’t paid much attention to, however, is discovery; with so many apps, how do they expect users to find the ones which are most relevant and engaging to them? The top app charts are useful to an extent, but certain apps remain in these charts indefinitely, and the charts are not personalised based on users’ previous downloads or preferences.

To break into these charts requires a high number of app downloads in a relatively short space of time, so unless developers have a significant marketing budget, the ability to cross-promote in one of their already popular apps, or unexpected viral success, they are unlikely to break into these top charts. A recent report by analytics firm Distimo highlighted this - to break into the top 50 charts for iPhone apps, they found that a developer of a free-to-play app must see 23,000 daily downloads and to break into the top 10 a staggering 70,000.

Mobile marketing platform Fiksu recently noticed a change in the positioning and visibility of the apps which they track in the App Store, leading them to conclude that Apple has begun incorporating ratings into their positioning algorithm, as well as downloads. A logical step, highlighting to developers the importance of listening to their user’s feedback and updating their apps based on it. This was substantiated by Appurify, who asserted in a recent report that gaining a four star rating is a practically a minimum requirement to break into the top 1,000.

An additional change is that positioning is updating every three hours, as opposed to every 15 minutes, perhaps to try and catch those developers who are seeing success through ad- or bot-fuelled downloads before they reach the top charts. Indeed, the opportunity exists for developers to pay a certain amount of dollars (often in the tens of thousands) to illegitimately boost its app store ranking through false downloads.

Apple seems to be focusing on having top quality apps in its stores, and for chart positioning to be informed by organic downloads and positive user reviews, which are in turn influenced by a positive user experience instead of ad campaigns and user acquisition. Fiksu also corroborates this, noting that social reach and uninstall rate could also affect an app’s rank.

iOS 7 is just round the corner as well, bringing with it certain changes to the App Store including automatic updates, a Kids section, and a location-based Apps Near Me section, along with other changes. Apple obviously wants a cleaner App Store with a smoother browsing experience for users, and a focus on high-quality apps, which should benefit both developers and users.