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The 2019 Debate Over Apple's Control of the App Store: A Look at Search Rankings

The Wall Street Journal's July 2019 article, "Apple Dominates App Store Search Results, Thwarting Competitors," highlighted concerns about Apple's prioritization of its own apps, ranking them first in 60% of basic searches, potentially impeding fair competition.

Lindsey Cash
Marketing Manager

Table of Contents

In July 2019, The Wall Street Journal published an article, "Apple Dominates App Store Search Results, Thwarting Competitors", detailing how Apple's own apps are often prioritized in the App Store search results over competitors' apps, even when the competitors' apps are more relevant to the user's search. This has caused frustration for some developers who feel that Apple is giving their own apps an unfair advantage.

According to the author, Tripp Mickle (2019), Apple's apps ranked first in 60% of basic searches in the App Store, and in some cases, Apple's own apps appeared in the top search results even when the user's query had nothing to do with the app. For example, when searching for "music," the top search result was Apple's own music app, even though there are many other popular music apps available.

Mickle (2019) suggests that Apple's prioritization of its own apps in search results could be anticompetitive, as it makes it harder for users to find alternative apps and may harm smaller developers who cannot compete with Apple's marketing power. However, Apple has denied any wrongdoing and claims that its search algorithms are designed to provide the best user experience.

So, what are the factors that most influence App Store search rankings?

According to the Wall Street Journal, they include:

  1. App Name: The name of the app is a crucial factor in determining search rankings. Developers often include relevant keywords in their app names to improve their chances of appearing in search results.
  2. User Ratings and Reviews: Apps with higher ratings and more positive reviews tend to rank higher in search results.
  3. Relevance: The App Store's search algorithms attempt to match the user's query with relevant apps. Factors such as app description, category, and metadata all play a role in determining relevance.
  4. Downloads and Engagement: Apps with more downloads and higher user engagement (such as frequent use and longer sessions) are more likely to rank higher in search results.
  5. In-App Purchases and Subscriptions: Apps that offer in-app purchases or subscriptions may be favored in search rankings, as they generate more revenue for both the developer and Apple.

In conclusion, the article highlights the ongoing debate around Apple's control of the App Store and the potential antitrust concerns that arise from the company's dominance in the mobile app market. While Apple claims that its search algorithms are designed to provide the best user experience, the prioritization of its own apps in search results has raised concerns about fair competition and the ability of smaller developers to compete with Apple's marketing power. As a result, it is important for developers to understand the factors that influence search rankings in the App Store and to consider alternative marketing strategies that can help them reach their target audience.


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Mickle, T. (2019, July 23). Apple Dominates App Store Search Results, Thwarting Competitors. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-dominates-app-store-search-results-thwarting-competitors-11563897221

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