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Delisted Overnight: A Cautionary Tale for Indie iOS Developers (russ.app)
217 points by rooster8 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 119 comments

Wow. I literally use this App every single day. I think it was $5 and I have gotten enormous value from it for 3+ years.

Sad that what is probably a random glitch on Apple's part can just kill a person's livelihood overnight.

I used to be a full time iOS contractor but have moved away from it in the last couple of years. Dealing with this kind of junk is one of the main reasons why. I have lots of similarly frustrating stories from my clients.

where have you moved to?

Some general backend and web work, and some blockchain stuff as well.

The latter is the opposite set of tradeoffs. Completely permissionless, but lots of riff-raff and scammy nonsense going on.

Sorry to take the topic a little off rails, but - I meet so many contractors who do "blockchain stuff", and I've never asked until now - what kind of blockchain stuff are people paying you to do?

Edit: I do not expect it can help resolve the issue much, but I went and left the app a rating as I have used it and find it quite good. I realized I had neglected to do so until now


I do not understand the people agreeing with Apple that search results are not guaranteed. App Store search does not nearly exist to serve developers; it exists to help users. This app was number one for years and has good reviews. I’ve used it myself and like it.

And then it vanishes. Something went wrong in Apple systems: either they been making a mistake for years, or a glitch has occurred. This developers support ticket is basically a bug report and Apple is ignoring it. It is pedantically correct to point out that search rankings can end at any moment. But this is far from a good result and I am baffled that some people are siding with Apple here to justify what is clearly a bug.

To the developer: before pulling the plug I strongly suggest trying a subscription model. I would probably pay a few dollars a year just to keep the app, heavy users would be even more willing to pay. I don’t know if your numbers make that sustainable but there may be a way to do so.

Thank you! Your framing is something I wish I had included in the article: users are legitimately searching for a weight loss tracker. Surely this app should be somewhere among the top 400 results, right? I’ve got years of built up reputation as a developer who’s trying to make a good app for users.

I assure you, I won’t be pulling this app anytime soon. I didn’t intend to communicate that. It’s just that I have three small kids at home, so I don’t get much nights and weekends time for the app anymore. If I have to go back to full time work because of this, I’ll just shift into maintenance mode for the app (like making sure it’s compatible with new versions of iOS).

> To the developer: before pulling the plug I strongly suggest trying a subscription model.

You're suggesting that the developer begin asking for a subscription for an app they already bought with the understanding that it was a one-time fee?

This does not sound to me like a recipe for happy customers, regardless of whether or not it's reasonable.

(You _might_ have more success releasing a "Happy Scale 2" and pushing all future updates there. This has the significant advantage of not making users feel forced to buy something new.)

They said they were going to shut it down if search didn’t change.

I think customers would prob prefer that to losing it, so they should at least try rather than simply throwing it away.

Happy scale 2 could work. Or maybe some new feature, not sure how best to work it. They’d be the one to know what their audience might support, but I think they should at least try.

Though hopefully search gets fixed and it won’t be necessary.

Well said. Exactly right.

This is a good argument for having multiple app stores. I don't totally blame Apple's devs here: it's completely imaginable that small, innocent changes in what's no doubt an enormous codebase could have totally unpredictable effects on individual search rankings.

The problem is that there's only a single point of articulation. If half a dozen app stores all got search results "mostly right", then little variations like this wouldn't sink a business. This is far from the only example of the single-platform effect. Facebook gets (or is forced) to be the arbiter of free speech. YouTube gets (or is forced) to be the arbiter of copyright claims. In the world of PC games, for contrast, Steam's algorithms can't totally sink a game because they don't have a total monopoly. There's itch.io, GOG, and now Epic. You can go to other platforms (or all of them!).

I love Apple's app store. I love how hard they fight to protect their customers from exploitative and dangerous software. I feel safe downloading apps there in a way that I didn't on Google Play. But monopolies are bad, even in the rare cases where they don't degrade the quality of the product.

This is a big part of why, as an app user, I'm pretty unhappy with Apple's long-running string of decisions to effectively bottleneck app discovery to the App Store. It just doesn't matter how good the App Store is, it cannot possibly scale to embody the diversity of interests that is today's mobile app ecosystem.

Most recently, there was the decision to discontinue the affiliate referral program. Perhaps this was not "moving the numbers" significantly from Apple's perspective, but it did severely impact some sites that were great at covering domain-specific app niches in detail. And unlike Apple's in-house editorial, these were sites with writers with actual names meaning you can track their 1) quality of writing and 2) how the writer's individual preferences mesh with your own over time.

Related to that, Apple went on a bit of a "buying spree" from the independent Apple journalist community and the bylines of some writers I really liked just ... vanished. They're still out there, still writing, but part of the faceless Clone Army of Apple editorial. :-( So I'm glad those folks have stable jobs, but I'm mad at Apple for undermining good, independent tech journalism.

Going back further, to the misty dawn of the App Store, there's Apple's long-standing blockade on any app that functions like the App Store, i.e. curated app editorial. This essentially shut down another first-class (here, meaning "app") venue for app-centric selection.

Yeah, I agree. I hope the legal system forces Apple to allow opt-in third party app stores. Would go a long way towards alleviating these kinds of situations.

Why should the legal system force Apple to do this? I get that it would prevent this type of scenario, but why should the the law care about this scenario at all?

Apple is arguably acting as a monopolist abusing its market position in violation of anti-trust laws. Apple takes a 30% cut on App Store purchases, potentially much higher than they would be able to if they didn't stifle competition. The Supreme Court recently ruled against Apple in Apple v. Pepper [1] on the question of whether purchasers of apps have standing to sue Apple. The case now goes back to the district court to decide the merits of the case.

[1] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-204_bq7d.pdf

Why should MS be forced to promote alternatives to IE?

MS had a monopoly on x86 operating systems, Apple does not have a monopoly on ARM operating systems.

How is this anything but a category error? Just as there are phones other than Apple's, there were computers other than Wintel boxes.

I see nothing wrong with society demanding more accountability from those with more economic importance.

> Just as there are phones other than Apple's, there were computers other than Wintel boxes

Well the specific numbers matter, don't they? Microsoft had a massive overwhelming monopoly whereas iOS has healthy competition in Android.

> I see nothing wrong with society demanding more accountability from those with more economic importance.

I don't disagree, but why should we specifically target Apple's app store rather than say, for example, passing a law that prohibits selling locked down hardware that prevents the user from installing whatever software they choose?

Because it's less healthy for capitalism, and the government cares how the economy does.

In theory, anything that increases competition is healthier for capitalism, but that doesn't mean that "anything that increases competition" should be mandated by law. Why should opening Apple's platform to other App Stores be mandated by law?

personally, i don’t want any more “stores”...

like social media,i don’t think we don’t need multiple committees and algorithms deciding to delist or not, what we need is a totally decentralized way to sign and notarize an app (to prove it doesn’t contain any malware etc) and provide it from ones own website (as an option)

worst case google changes their algorithm, you can still send an email, print and ad, make a poster for on the train whatever and people can go to your website etc

i would prefer that much more than relying on just app stores

I complained about this early on.

I thought "give them time, and they'll come up with something better - better searching, better categories, better filters, make discovery smart and useful"

I thought, "they almost have 100,000 apps in the store, they will have to get this right to survive!"

so... yeah.

If you're reading this, I'm so sorry this happened to you, Russ.

The problem is worse than being de-ranked for your keywords. The search is downright broken. Searching for 'predictive weight loss tracker', 'predictive weight tracker', anything with 'tracker' yields no results on my phone. Removing 'tracker' and only searching for 'Predictive Weight' or 'Predictive Weight Loss' gives me only one result: Happy Scale.

It almost seems like they're filtering your app on the 'tracker' keyword. That's not fair!

It seems like you may be onto something here.

When I query "weight loss tracker", what's interesting is that MyFitnessPal comes in at #4 which has a subtitle of "Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker".

I also get 0 results for "predictive weight loss tracker" even though that matches the app's subtitle. Seems weird.

The Happy Scale app itself does look really well done though. Looking forward to giving it a try.

The number 1 app that comes up for me with the term "weight loss tracker" is called "Monitor Your Weight" and looks significantly less polished than your app. But it uses the term "weight tracker" in the first few words of the app description and not in the subtitle. Your app doesn't use the phrase anywhere in the description that I saw. Maybe subtitles are now ignored for search ranking (due to bug or intentional)?

Nice looking app. You may have gotten a new customer in me.

Thanks for your support! Yes, it specifically seems like anything with the word "tracker" in it got axed. Maybe it's just a glitch?

I just bought your app – looks fantastic! I'm sorry this is how I discovered your app, and hope the issue gets resolved.

Thank you!

Maybe change "tracker" to "monitor" until they fix it? I usually search for both when it comes to fitness/diet and it might not be blacklisted.

I do have "monitor" as a keyword, too. The thing about "tracker" that makes it so valuable is that it comes up as predictive text. If you type "weight loss" in the search bar, "weight loss tracker" is suggested, and "weight loss monitor" is not. PS: Thank you for proffering a helpful suggestion!

Take it from someone who’s worked with client apps making ten times as many downloads at similar price points: if you want to be successful in the app business you need to look beyond optimizing App Store search terms. You need to be marketing and promoting your application across multiple channels to a wider audience. It does not sound like this developer was doing that, so while it is sad he has had revenue slashed in half overnight he could have avoided this kind of big hit if he was reinvesting some portion of revenue back into promoting his application.

First off, yours is a great message to send out to anyone reading this. You can mitigate risks like this by having a more direct relationship to your users, and this was a wake-up call to me.

That said, a few counterpoints:

1. Something like 70% of all installs, for all apps, come from App Store search. It's the most popular way for users to find what they're looking for.

2. My business had to come alive before it could grow to be robust. I built this app from scratch. I didn't have an audience. I just built it, and App Store search connected me to people who were looking for an app like this, and it grew to the point where I could do it full-time.

Has the time come for me to take steps to make my business more robust? Yes. And your advice is great in that regard.

But a fledgling business must first survive before it can grow to be robust. This is a tale of me hitting an inflection point. I hope to learn from it, and grow.

This is just another way of saying "Apple doesn't give a f*ck about indie developers." Might be true, but it's still shitty.

Or just another way of saying "if you put 0% of your budget in to marketing your business, you're hurting your product's demand"

The app dev put time and energy into understanding and optimizing for search within the store (and also keeping analytics), so to say they put 0% of their budget is not correct. Their time is money.

Apple is not a marketing service.

Other than Facebook and Google, what are the preferred marketing services for iOS indie developers in 2019? Is it mostly domain/niche specific, or are there horizontal promotion services for apps?

If Apple's 30% fee charged to developers does not include any marketing services, what additional percentage should be budgeted for the companies that are promoting apps? 10%? 20%?

Apple quite literally is the market, and they refuse to allow external influences on the market's listings (mostly, sorta).

Apple chose to adopt it's existence as being a market and they're getting the revenue that goes along with assuming responsibilities which they are shirking.

Apple really needs to be hit with anti-trust investigations. Ditto for the play store.

Except that is part of the quid-pro-quo of letting them take 30% of your revenue, the idea that they will curate and market apps. Something they were doing for rooster8 and then inexplicably stopped. If we have to do our own marketing, then WTF is the point of the vig?

Arguable some portion of the cut that Apple gets from app sales is to pay for the inherent "marketing" that the app store provides.

Except it literally provides this via the app store. Even paid targeted advertising.

Why should Apple care more about indie developers vs a much larger developer with multiple apps and more marketing reach? Sure, you've got grit and determination but who's making them more money?

This is why I think every app should be sold in a subscription model. The current users of this app are very happy with it, and yet they will suffer when the developer can't make enough new sales. It's like a Ponzi scheme: everything falls down if you can't enroll enough new users. That's not sustainable.

For apps you install on your own machine, I think the JetBrains perpetual license model is probably my favourite so far. After a certain period you can stop paying the subscription and keep using the old version. But if you want to keep up to date with features and bug fixes, you keep paying the subscription.

It just seems to align incentives on both sides quite well.

I really like their model as well. I think the really novel part of it is that, when you decide to stop paying the subscription, you keep the perpetual license for whatever was current a year ago. So if you just updated to the latest and greatest, and you love it, then you need to pay one more year subscription in order to "buy" it out right.

I think that's clever

Personally, if I thought I might have to downgrade a piece of software a year from now, I just wouldn't update in the first place, to avoid the pain of downgrading.

Even understanding that the goal is to incentivize continued payment, making users downgrade at the end feels excessively punitive IMO. Just let them keep the last version.

It used to be more friendly - you could have kept the last update before your time was up, not to roll back 1 year.

I don't think "keep using the old version" is a solution. We should accept the truth, which is that in today's computing world you can't "keep using the old version", because you will want the bug fixes, the security fixes, and you will need the software to be updated to newer OS versions.

Oh I agree that most users will want / should have the updates, but having the ability to still access an older version:

(1) means the lapsed subscriber can still access their data / functionality (at least for a while until OS compatibility issues kick in), and

(2) makes sure the developer is still actually 'earning' the subscription through updates, not just counting on data lock-in.

I agree. I completely avoid any locally installed software that's subscription only (e.g., Adobe Photoshop CC) because in most cases, I don't need the continual updates. I'm perfectly fine using a single purchase for years and just buying the update when the OS upgrade triggers it.

The price goes down over the first 3 years as well. Not sure why they do that exactly, but for a long time user like myself I'm happy they do!

I wonder if the App Store supports (or could support) this kind of model.

It does not support it on its own. You could build that functionality into an app as far as features go, but how easy they are to isolate will probably vary wildly, and it may be more work than it's worth.

It would mean only pushing updates to some users and not others, which would have to be supported by the App Store. Unless you jerry-rigged some way of separating your "updates" from the actual binary updates distributed by the app store, which, yes, would probably be more work than it's worth.

Generally I agree, though this App does have a broad enough market that it could probably be sold as sustainably as a one-time upgrade for years without exhausting the potential, especially if it's a one man project.

No no no. Nothing about the subscription business model guarantees that an app will be or become sustainable. If I buy an app like this and it works. I can use it until something breaks it. That is true even if I'm the very first and only person who ever purchases it. If I'm the first and only subscriber the app will suddenly stop working a few weeks later when the dev realizes he can't make a living on it.

That stinks for the dev, but it's not my fault, and I shouldn't be punished by revoking my ability to use the app.

As an Apple employee (not in any role related to the app store), and satisfied user of Happy Scale, I'm sorry to hear about the ranking loss.

On the other hand, it's in the nature of machine learning systems such as search that sometimes, a simple update of the underlying model can lead to drastic changes in search results (say, for argument's sake, that there has been a recent influx of apps using the word "tracker", which could lead to the word being considered essentially noise).

This can happen without any "bug" in the underlying system, even less a sinister agenda to undermine any developer or help another one. So while these possibilities can and should be investigated, ultimately search results will sometimes change.

Great point.

Though I do wonder why many of the other apps that came up as a search result for "weight loss tracker" continue to do so, and mine was singled out. It's an important search term, because predictive text will suggest "weight loss tracker" when you start typing "weight." If tracker were being penalized as noise, then adjusting the predictive text would be a great way to handle the transition.

This is one of the primary ways that the culture's general knowledge is lagging behind technology. Our culture still thinks in terms of "notoriety," as was known in Julius Caesar's day. Andy Warhol was a bit more advanced. ("Everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame.") In 2019, the mental model should change to encompass algorithmic and viral discovery.

In 2019, it's not just reputation which matters. It's not just the ability to merely publish which matters. It's the ability to leverage algorithmic and viral discovery which truly matters. In 2019, the people who control algorithmic and viral discovery are the ones who hold the reins of cultural and commercial power behind the scenes.

In 2019, having the ability to publish, but not having a solid strategy over discovery, is like in 1960, concentrating on the newspapers and neglecting television. In 2019, ceding control over algorithmic and viral discovery to a few megacorporations is handing over the keys to the most potent commercial and cultural power.

Interesting thoughts. Not sure what the developer could have done differently, here? The App is published on Apple's Platform, and it's impossible for him to distribute outside the store. He has been working on it for years, been a good citizen of the App Store, and created something people seem to genuinely love and value.

Honestly, this is one of the reasons I hope the legal system does eventually require Apple to enable opt-in, third party app stores. We need to have SOME release valve from being at the mercy of Apple's whims.

Interesting thoughts. Not sure what the developer could have done differently, here?

He couldn't have done anything different. That's my point! If we cede the power of algorithmic and viral discovery to large corporations, we're ceding the powerhouse of 21st century culture to them.

Changing the tagline to "Predictive Weight Tracker" might have an interesting (positive) effect, for a variety of reasons. It seems likely Apple has downrated the phrase "weight loss" altogether.

It's odd that the app marketing doesn't explain how it's useful once you reach a target, and doesn't offer any hint that it can be used to set weight gain targets for people who are looking to reach a new weight class. If I reach my weight loss target, does the app become useless?

>It seems likely Apple has downrated the phrase "weight loss" altogether.

What makes you say that?

Apple takes a more long-term view of health self-care than “weight loss” alone can encompass, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if a phrase that is highly prone to fraud and snake oil outside the App Store was eventually punished.

“Reach and maintain your target weight” with at least one screenshot showing an increase phase and a maintenance phase rather than decrease would be vastly more inclusive and health-forward than today’s “weight loss only” content.

Is this app useful for recovering anorexics, or for maintaining a target weight after reaching it? I imagine it is, but I couldn’t tell from its App Store page.

> Apple takes a more long-term view of health self-care than “weight loss” alone can encompass,

I suspect this is an unintentionally humorous phrasing. How many brands do we interact with without asking their owners for their "view of health self-care"? Fitness tracker features notwithstanding, I would most certainly not expect it from a phone vendor. I would expect them to let their customers decide how they will or won't care for themselves.

Now, your point that the term might have a lot of snake oil products using it... That is somewhat plausible.

Nope, not sarcastic. Apple specifically notes that they designed their Watch product to have value to people after they reach their goals, not just during the trek towards the goal. I consider their statements to indicate that they apply the same considerations to "weight targets" – gain/loss, followed by maintenance – as they would to any other health target, such as those they measure with Activity rings today.


“The idea that small behavior changes can actually add up to something great is a real core philosophy of the activity app,” says Blahnik [director of fitness and health at Apple]. “Partially because what we find is that’s going to correct everybody. If you’re a beginner, and you’re not very fit, small changes are what you need to do. But it turns out that if you’re really fit, small changes are all you have left. So, it ends up being something that actually works for everybody.”

I did not mean you're being sarcastic. I mean you bought into the Apple PR a bit heavily and it's humorous.

I mean this in the most respectful way possible.

SEO is all about reading the tea leaves. I'm expressing my personal belief and, as part of reading the SEO tea leaves, noting that there's indirect evidence that Apple agrees with my personal belief. While I appreciate your effort to somehow avoid disrespecting me while trivializing my beliefs, you have not succeeded. We'll need to agree to disagree as I don't think I can continue this discussion, sorry.

OK. I hope you learn to take it all a little less seriously in the future. Good luck.

People tend to search for weight loss tracker though, and that's what this app is for. The tagline is perfectly named. Why should it change because of Apple's mistakes? Shouldn't we be pressuring Apple to fix its monopolistic store?

I think he already has his answer- Apple doesn't guarantee search placement- though it is odd that he'd fall all the way off altogether.

If you're relying on Apple (or Google) to feature you in their search results, you're already at their whim with no recourse.

That's a BS answer, and if it's the one Apple wants to give, then they should not be surprised when they 1) are seen by devs as a unattractive platform to build a business on 2) Get treated like a monopolist in courts.

I'm not sure I understand this reasoning.

Why should Apple or Google be responsible for promoting your app? If I walk into a supermarket and I don't see the item I wanted on their front feature displays (meaning I need to walk down the isle to find it), does that mean the supermarket is monopolistic? Does that mean the item vendor should stop selling their product in that supermarket?

I like this analogy, but there are some pretty big differences between a supermarket and the app store.

The "aisle" on the app store goes on for miles. Sure the product may be there, but if it's a 5-10 minute walk down the aisle to get to it, I don't think may people would look that far. The item is technically there, but it's not exactly accessible.

In this example there's also only one supermarket, the Apple app store. With grocery stores your product may not be in an advantageous place at Store A, but it could be right at eye level in Store B, C, or D. With the Apple store, if you're not featured there, you're not featured anywhere.

I agree the developer should not be surprised by this. I don't think Apple is acting badly. These are just consequences of having many apps and only one app store.

> In this example there's also only one supermarket, the Apple app store.

My argument was simply about who is responsible for promoting the app. But your point is correct.

My response to this: Would having multiple app stores available on iOS really solve the issue that OP is experiencing?

If iOS suddenly allowed a user to download apps from multiple different stores, would the number of app downloads for OP increase? How will I know which app store to find OP's app in? From a pure promotional aspect, I would have to know to look for OP's app, which does not sound like it would help OP in this case.

I think both the multiple app store and 'apple isn't responsible for promoting your app' are both red herrings. The issue is that the search function in the app store lies to end users. To use the example in the article, if I go to the app store and search for "weigh loss tracker" I get 5 result, none of which is Happy Scale. The default sort is 'relevance', whatever that means, but i can change that to Most Popular. Still no Happy Scale. If I search for "Happy Scale" i get no result. From my perspective as an end user of the App Store, I'm being lied to. The search is not returning honest results that correspond to what I search for. This is not what the end user expects of search, they expect true organic results based on what they searched for, or at worst, a complete list with the apps Apple wants to promote at the top. In this case they are getting a curated subset of those results and not being told this is the case. Also, consider that the app store is unusable without search. There are million of apps, so is no way to browse it to find what you're looking for. If search doesn't return it, it might as well not exist in the app store.

Unless this is thoroughly explained somewhere in the dev documentation, then developers are being lied to also.

People threw a fit when Google changed the search result UI so that it became impossible to tell paid results from organic results. This is similar but worse. Google just put the paid results above the organic ones. Apple completely removes the organic results at their whim.

The author should have been promoting the app thru multiple channels and not relying on the app store search exclusively, this was an obvious mistake. This doesn't justify what Apple did though. It's their app store, and they can do what they want, but this, although legal, is pretty sleazy IMO.

Is this bad faith or unbelievable incompetence on Apple's part?

It's tempting to assume the former, but I seriously suspect the latter.

As a user I've seen this happen repeatedly. Search can't find an app even if I enter the name.

This happens for mundane but specialised apps - train timetables, toll payment apps, and other apps for which there is literally no alternative, never mind one that might somehow sell better and make more money.

I don't see how this possibly benefits Apple. Possibly there's some not very effective "optimisation" happening, but it's also possible search is just plain broken.

I'd argue this is a consequence of a lack of competition. Since there's no where else for you to go, what incentive do they have to fix search? Devs may complain a bit, but Apple still controls enough of the phone market that people are going to continue to make apps out of necessity and Apple will still get paid. As long as people can still find the "big" apps (uber, netflix, tinder, spotify, etc.), there won't be a meaningful outcry from users. It's not like someone is going to switch OS's over this.

> In this example there's also only one supermarket, the Apple app store.

But there is other apps stores. There is Googles, Amazons, even Samsung have one.

Those situations are in no way comparable. It's wild to me you think they are.

No one is saying they are responsible for promoting your app. What we're saying is that if they're going to lock down their platform so that you can't install apps without going through their store, then they shouldn't arbitrarily, with no explanation, destroy years of good will thats been built up by genuinely building and delivering a high quality app people love.

I think you're suffering from the "just world bias", honestly. Look it up if you haven't heard of it. TL;DR is that as much as you want to believe they don't, shitty, unfair things happen everyday. Pretending they don't doesn't help the situation.

> destroy years of good will thats been built up by genuinely building and delivering a high quality app people love.

And how did they do that? By changing where it appears in one search. wow.

mrkstu's comment was:

> If you're relying on Apple (or Google) to feature you in their search results, you're already at their whim with no recourse.

But your response is:

> No one is saying they are responsible for promoting your app.

Does higher search placement not equate to promotion, in this case?

Also, I looked it up: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis

I'm not sure how it relates to my questions.


1) they're neither "seen by devs as a unattractive platform to build a business on" (they have millions of apps, and hundreds of thousands of devs contributing, including all major software companies, from MS to Adobe, plus they have earned devs by far the most money of off any app store, in fact an unbelievable amount ($120 billion in developer revenue [1])

2) Nor are they treated like a monopolist in courts. Being the only app store for your own platform is not a monopoly. Being the only platform is a monopoly, and iOS is not only not "the only platform", but is a minority platform (more people use Android). Not to mention that even being a monopoly (which Apple is far from one, and wont ever be due to price) is not illegal: exploiting that monopoly (like Microsoft of yore did) is.

[1] https://mobilesyrup.com/2019/01/28/apple-app-store-120-billi...

No it isn't. They changed the algorithm in which apps appearin search. Should they have to go through every change of app order, contact that dev and explain why?

Possible explanation why it happened: https://twitter.com/ilyakuh/status/1134008287068921856

Why should he hold Monopoly on search placement for the phrase "weight tracker"? The other side of this story is that another developer is now happy to be able to feed their family.

There's a pretty wide canyon between "has a monopoly on a phrase" and "drops from long-term #1 to virtually unlisted overnight". Moving up and down organically in search is normal and to be expected. Suddenly going from #1 to completely missing in results should not be expected.

He shouldn't get a monopoly, but going from 1 to not in the top 400 overnight is suspicious. Not that Apple ever promised that wouldn't happen. But it is probably worth complaining about publicly in case that helps shake something loose.

If an Apple employee connected to a competing app was able to remove the search result then that is suspicious.

This doesn’t sound particularly different than people who thought they were entitled to whatever search result position on Google due to their SEO effort and built their entire business around non-retaining users. I recall stories of companies getting sales to their e-commerce site, for free, from Google listings, and taking on long term liabilities and leases for warehouses or fulfillment locations only to end up bankrupt.

Who knows what is really going on here, but you certainly aren’t entitled to any search result listing save for your actual app or company name, presuming it isn’t generic.

The thing, though, is that Apple has chosen to fully control the market place and search engine. They are fully culpable for any disruptions because they refuse to let their system be audited externally.

There's an argument to be made that if the market is free or allows competing indexes then Apple is less on the hook, but Apple has a stranglehold on how the AppStore works, they've made their bed in this case.

It's a matter of unpredictability. Imagine you had an investor. Now his investment is 44% down.

I don't know if this is the issue Russ is having or not, but I thought I would post here (I've also emailed Russ). I experienced similar drop-off this week with an app of mine which has been in the App Store for several years. I wouldn't have noticed except I checked after reading Russ's post.

My app has space-separated keywords in the Appstore Connect portal. They've always been space-separated and I can't remember the last time I updated them. But the App Store guidance says to comma-separate keywords. Indeed, the newer apps I work on for my day job have comma-separated keywords. Could Apple have changed how keywords are parsed, and broken older keyword sets that used to be valid but now are not?

I'll be updating my app tonight and the keywords along with it; time will tell if this is the culprit.

Anybody have experience with buying app store ads? I wonder if they could provide a crucial bump in a situation like this where presumably the reviews are good but you drop because of things beyond your control.

The developer learned the hard lesson of relying on a walled garden for livelihood. A livelihood that can be taken away without reason or recourse. Looks like they were all in on Apple, too.

Is the functionality of your app already included in the Health app? If not, take a guess what feature will be soon included in the Health app. Apple have a history of killing competitors in the App Store, most recently with screen time apps:


Man, if only there were an alternate app store or another way for people to get his app on their phone...

Just installed the app. I wish I found this one earlier.

I hope you enjoy it!

Silver lining: HN readers now know about your app.

This is truly unfortunate and I hope Apple resolves this. Happy Scale is a fantastic product and it would be a shame to see the developer have to give this up full time.

One of the things I did with Octal [1] a while back was experiment with different title/subtitle combinations, noting where my app landed in the search results for 'hacker news' for each variation. Then I picked the one that ranked the highest.

Example variations were:


Hacker News Client


Octal for Hacker News

Tech, programming, and startup news


Octal - Hacker News

Social tech news from Hacker News

[1] https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id1308885491?mt=8

Seems like Apple changed the search/discovery algo and he got hit with it.

Don't think anything particularly devious has happened, but seems like the App Store search team really hit some folks who were trying to organically build a good app/biz over time. For what it's worth there's some pretty good feedback here for AppStore search + customers who voted up the app individually, so hope that helps.

Happy scale created a way for me to track what i was doing every morning already - jumping on the scale while looking at the mirror....

Thanks for sharing that! Really nice to hear from a satisfied user amidst all of this.

I hope that Apple will soon give an explanation. I suspect your app is not the only one to take a hit.

Probably not, but it doesn't seem like OP has seen chatter online about it. If it truly was a bug, a lot more people would be pissed

Had hoped there was a happy ending, hope for the dev and his family that there will be one.

Thank you! I will surely post an update if anything changes. I'm sure that no matter how this turns out, my family and I will all be fine.

Good to hear!

That's terrible and really puts indie developers at risk. One small change on Apple's side and your business might not survive. Hope Apple fixes it quickly!

What's clearly broken here is the sudden changeover. If things were working correctly, placement would change gradually, based on a shift in the marketplace. From the information in the post, it looks like Apple just decided, "Okay, your turn is over! Next!"

Totally agree with you.

It's another sad case, of many that seem to have hit the HN front page in recent months, of a developer having to resort to social media (i.e. blog, Twitter, HN, etc.) to try to get sufficient attention to get a problem fixed by (Apple/Google/etc).

This is a risk that has always existed and is not particularly new - how many web-based businesses have died due to changes in Google's search algorithms, for example?


Reddit did the same. I was a paid user of Alien Blue (no ads), then Reddit acquired it, killed it and now we have the new Reddit ad-rich app.

Not only is this not relevant at all, but Reddit also gave you 4 years of Gold (now Premium) as part of that sunset for buying the paid version. On top of however much use you got out of that initial (and tiny) fee for Alien Blue pro.

Reddit Gold/Premium includes an ad-free experience on their site and app.

How is that at all related to this story?

yeah, check out narwhal. its pretty good. not great, but better than reddit-facebook

As another option, Apollo[0] is fantastic, and also independently produced.

0: https://apolloapp.io

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