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WSJ: Apple apparently advantages own apps in its own App store

I mean, no duh

From the Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc.’s mobile apps routinely appear first in search results ahead of competitors in its App Store, a powerful advantage that skirts some of the company’s rules on such rankings, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

The company’s apps ranked first in more than 60% of basic searches, such as for “maps,” the analysis showed. Apple apps that generate revenue through subscriptions or sales, like Music or Books, showed up first in 95% of searches related to those apps.

This dominance gives the company an upper hand in a marketplace that generates $50 billion in annual spending. Services revenue linked to the performance of apps is at the center of Apple’s strategy to diversify its profits as iPhone sales wane.

In case you haven’t been following, the most relevant context within which to read this story is the ongoing antitrust complaint currently levied by Spotify towards Apple over unfair app store practices. The scenario being complained about is pretty much what you think it is: Spotify, which is in direction competition with Apple over the music streaming business, is expressing displeasure over Apple’s ability to — and apparent practice of — create an unequal playing ground that prioritizes its own Apple Music offerings over Spotify, while imposing additional burdens, like app store percentage charges, on competitors like Spotify. I thought this Gizmodo piece was pretty useful, as far as further context is concerned.

I think I’m with Nieman Lab’s Josh Benton on this one: how is any of this surprising? Also, that if this is an issue, then shouldn’t the fact that the iPhone literally comes bundled with its own apps be more of an issue, or the fact that Oprah’s rationale for working with Apple TV+ — “they’re in a billion pockets, y’all. A billion pockets.” — is pretty much the embodiment of what’s being interpreted as the unfair advantage? Maybe my worldview is just distorted, having long operated within an ecosystem where Apple has long held the default structural advantage. Or maybe I still remember that one time when Apple stuck a U2 album into everybody’s iPhones automatically, and think that perhaps structural advantage… doesn’t always translate into realized advantage?

Not for nothing, but I suppose you could argue that the scenario being complained about here is pretty much the kind of scenario that various podcast folks are worried about when it comes to the bigger podcast distribution platforms getting involved in the exclusive content business: it’s probably going to suck when those platforms end up structurally privileging their own content over others, and very few publishers, at this point in time anyway, have the necessary clout to throw a stink about it. But we’ll cross that bridge if… or when?… we get there.

Anyway, despite my scruples, I highly recommend going over the Journal piece, if only for this banger of an anecdote:

Another Apple app, Podcasts, previously averaged a 1.7-star rating before reviews were eliminated, according to Sensor Tower. It appears No. 1 in a search for “podcasts.”

Phillip Shoemaker, who led the App Store review process until 2016, said Apple executives were aware of Podcasts’ poor ratings. Around 2015, his team proposed to senior executives that it purge all apps rated lower than two stars to ensure overall quality.

“That would kill our Podcasts app,” an Apple executive said, according to Mr. Shoemaker, who has advised some independent apps on the App Store review process since leaving Apple. The proposal was eventually rejected, Mr. Shoemaker said.

An Apple spokesman said Apple executives don’t recall Mr. Shoemaker’s comments.

As the kids might say: lol, if true.