Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How Apple's Apps Topped Rivals in the App Store It Controls (nytimes.com)
226 points by mswift42 on Sept 9, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 205 comments



I'm not saying this isn't a problem, but it seems pretty minor compared to the fact that:

1) Apple's apps come preinstalled on every iPhone.

2) Apple's apps have permission to do things that 3rd party apps cannot.

If I search for "Web Browser" on the App Store... well, technically I'll get results from third parties, but every single one is just a UI skin around Apple's own browser. That strikes me as a much larger problem.


I see it differently.

Since Apple makes the hardware and the software I don't have a problem with them preinstalling their own products.

However, when a user is clearly searching for alternatives on the app store, it matters how far down you have to scroll to find a 3rd party app.

Spotify being the 23rd result for a "music" search is absurd.


> However, when a user is clearly searching for alternatives on the app store, it matters how far down you have to scroll to find a 3rd party app.

If I delete Apple's Calendar, install a third party Calendar app (like Fantastical), and click a date link, I'll get a message asking me if I want to reinstall Apple's Calendar. I think it's pretty darn clear in that scenario what the user actually wants.


On the other hand, Apple products are (or were) frequently marketed towards the tech illiterate ("it just works") and so it's possible grandma accidentally deleted the calendar, tried to re-download via the App Store, downloaded the wrong one, etc.


Even if they also installed a third party Calendar app?

That strikes me as a frivolous concern, but if it worries Apple, there's an easy solution—add a "defaults" menu in Settings, like every other OS. Set it up so the default can only be changed by the user, and remains associated with the first party app even on uninstall.

We're coming up on the 13th version of iOS, and Apple hasn't done this yet. I don't think it's because they haven't gotten around to it.

Actually, I suspect that advantaging their own apps is a key part of Apple's business strategy for the future. Consider their recent shift towards "services". If the iPhone didn't exist, it would be silly to expect Apple to outdo major incumbents like Spotify, Netflix, and Venmo, but Apple thinks it can leverage its status as iPhone platform holder against competitors.


>On the other hand, Apple products are (or were) frequently marketed towards the tech illiterate

This becomes a vicious self-justifying cycle that is profitable for Apple but harmful to those consumers, who are kept tech illiterate when they're denied the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and learn something new.


Gmail on iOS will open Google Chrome if you have it installed. I don't know how they do it, but they definitely are doing it.


They simply use the Chrome app URL scheme instead of the generic URL. Similar to how you go to an app’s website and it redirects you to the app itself. There’s an app called Opener [1] that uses this and you can do similar with the Shortcuts app.

Other apps can take advantage of this too. Apps like Reddit and Outlook have similar settings to do the same. They even offer options for other browsers like Firefox. But, developers would need to add each browser option themselves, instead of relying on a defaults system from Apple.

1: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/opener-open-links-in-apps/id98...


I believe the app itself (Gmail) is requesting to use Chrome.

So each individual app would need to request Chrome, something I'm sure Google's apps can do, but [insert random app here] won't.


Do you know if you can shut that off? I'm sick of being asked if I want to open a link in some other application.


Every time you update the app it'll start asking again. It's the worst part about using Google's iPhone apps IMO.


I don't personally know - but it would have to be a setting within the Gmail app itself AFAIK.


I see it differently. Way back when Microsoft shipped Internet Explorer with Windows it ruined companies. We see companies being arbitrarily ruined by Apple's actions every month. This platform abuse triggered massive antitrust actions in the US and EU that Microsoft lost quite spectacularly, costing them a fortune and forcing many changes to their software.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Browser_wars


Microsoft shipping IE in Windows did not ruin companies.

What ruined companies (and what MS was actually prosecuted for) was Microsoft telling PC manufacturers "we will only sell you Windows OS if you agree to NOT install any other browsers on your computers." Those agreements were how MS abused their OS monopoly to wrongfully exclude other browsers from the market. Up to that point, Netscape was selling their browser direct to Dell, HP, Gateway, etc. to be preloaded on machines they sold.

Microsoft was a supplier to PC companies and the market they distorted was the software supplier market. Apple themselves are the device manufacturer and have under 50% share in that market; it's not a comparable situation.


The similarity is ruining companies via abuse of their platform position, which doesn't depend on market share or monopoly or replicating Microsoft's particular malfeasance.


Actually, in the US, Microsoft lost, won the appeal, then settled.

Notice this key quote from below, "However, the DOJ did not require Microsoft to change any of its code nor prevent Microsoft from tying other software with Windows in the future."

Not really a loss I would say.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft_Cor....


> Spotify being the 23rd result for a "music" search is absurd

I have hard time believing this was not intentional.

Edit: on Android Spotify is at place 2-4. iTunes is nowhere to be seen but that could be explained with the horrible reviews it has received (some are even legit).


I have a hard time believing it was. iTunes search is wicked bad and has been since day 1. After they started allowing tags for apps it got worse, which is an impressive achievement.


Judging from the sheer number of "ASO" companies that contacted me the week I put out an app on the store, I believe that the main problem is mainly really bad spam control.


Yeah, companies frequently put their competitors' names in their keywords. Not going to name any names, but it's particularly bad in the ride sharing industry.


How can you put iMovie above Spotify in a search results for "music" without putting your thumb on the ranker?


Play Store search is also (still) notoriously bad. Even if it is a 1:1 hit, it does not show that as first entry. And it is full with malware.


The advantage to using Google Play is that apps containing ads are clearly labelled as such. Apple won't tell you this in advance. (This was my biggest surprise, recently switching from Android after the CopperheadOS meltdown)


Honestly I care less about ads and more about trackers.

Google Play says nada about trackers. Exodus project (and therefore F-Droid) does.

If you come from CopperheadOS I can recommend /e/ or LineageOS + microG (/e/ also contains microG). microG does not implement GAds. You will still need to block trackers though.


I agree with you about the trackers, but I just assume ads=tracking. I cannot see any app marketplace saying their apps contain tracking in the main description (it's always buried in the fine print).

My understanding is that GrapheneOS[0] is the successor to CopperheadOS, and I think that's what I'll try next. There isn't an Exodus Privacy or F-Droid for iOS and these are sorely missed.

[0]https://grapheneos.org/


Holy crap, how have I never heard of microG? Thank you!


Does the iOS App Store mention if an app uses trackers?


Nope. I would expect it to be difficult to analyze for that, at least with the amount of effort Apple is currently putting into App Store review.


Note how this doesn't affect apples own apps?


For me, Spotify is the 4th app when searching for "music", but it's the first app that doesn't contain the word "music" as the first or second word in the name.

It goes: 1. Apple Music 2. Music 3. Music> 4. Spotify New music and podcasts


If I search Google for 'music', Spotify dooesn't come up on the first page either.

  YouTube - Music Channel
  music.youtube.com
  play.google.com/music 
  play.google.com/store/music
  Music - Wikipedia
  MusicChoice.com
  Youtube Music on the App Store
  Mtv.com


I don't even get Spotify on the second page of results - but I do get articles from The Verge and TechCrunch about Spotify. Spotify itself shows up on the third page.

For me Google even has a "Related search: Music platforms" box that contains YouTube, Google Play, SoundCloud, iTunes and TIDAL (no Spotify)


According to the article, Apple quietly changed the ranking of Spotify after they complained to European antitrust regulators about it.


>Spotify being the 23rd result for a "music" search is absurd.

That search term is so broad it's difficult to figure out exactly what the users intent is for that. Do they want to listen to music? Do they want to create or record music?

FWIW, I just searched for "music" and saw: An ad, a story ("run with music"), apple music, two music players I've never heard of and finally Spotify in position 6.


>That search term is so broad it's difficult to figure out exactly what the users intent is for that

I disagree. It's broad in the sense that that the user could be searching for any number of things. It's not broad in the sense that the user is likely looking for a music listening app.

Think of the real world equivalent. In common conversation when someone says "I like music", do you presume that they enjoy listening to, or making, music?

I'd say the intent is pretty clear for the majority of users.


>That search term is so broad it's difficult to figure out exactly what the users intent is for that.

Search optimization. Determine what most users ultimately end up selecting for specific queries, build up your data set over time, then weigh priorities and determine result order based on that.


... which might explain why Spotify ranks lower than the expectation here. Perhaps more people search for "spotify" when they want Spotify.


When I was new to iOS, I wasn't always looking for alternatives. Sometimes finding out an app was already on my phone related to what I was searching for was genuinely helpful. I didn't realize that "Books" could play Audiobooks, for example. It didn't end up being the best app for me, but it was useful to see Books as a search result so I knew that it could do something I was looking for another app to do.


It's 4th for me, after something called "Playtune" that has a logo that's a ripoff of Youtube, and is placed in the "Photo and Video" category instead of the "Music" category.

That still feels like Apple is penalising Spotify ...


I performed this search and Spotify is the 4th result, following Apple Music and two nearly exact matches (and not counting the ad). Also, the name is too long.


YMMV, I searched "music" and Spotify is the 4th result.


Spotify is 7th place for me. Apple Music is first. Maybe the country you're in makes a difference.


Spotify 23rd was a reference to the article in the NY Times.

It's 5th for me today, not including the Pandora ad at the top.

Quote from the infographic in the article:

"Before Apple Music arrived in the App Store, Spotify was for years the first result in searches for “music.” Shortly after Apple Music was added to the store in June 2016, it took the top spot. By then, Spotify had fallen to fourth place. In Feb. 2018, Apple apps suddenly appeared in the top six results for “music.” By the end of 2018, there were eight, some of which were unrelated to music. At this point, Spotify was the 23rd result. Spotify complained to European regulators in March that Apple was abusing its role as the gatekeeper of the App Store. By April, all but two of Apple’s apps disappeared from the top results for “music.”"


I feel you should be okay with that. It is just an extension of what you have accepted: Apple makes the hardware, software… and owns/controls the App Store.


I think spotify used it's 100characters for keywords mainly for typos.

If I search for "Music" on google (incognito, google.com), spotify is nr 16 (page 2).


FYI, on my phone these are the results for "Music", in order:

* Search ad for Spotify.

* App Store story for "Run With Music".

* Apple Music.

* Some app called "Music".

* Some app called "Music>".

* Spotify.

* YouTube Music.

* SoundCloud.


Spotify was the 2nd result under Apple Music when I searched myself, though I have both installed so it probably came down to that


Spotify was 4th for me searching for "music" and I do not have it installed


>Apple's apps come preinstalled on every iPhone.

Not only that, but the autocreated links to addresses in the messaging app will not work with other map apps. In fact, if you've uninstalled the apple maps app, the address links in messenger are completely useless.

* unless i'm mistaken, but I'm a fairly adept technical user and haven't found a way to make address links work.


You're not mistaken. I'd classify that under "3rd party apps have permission to do things other apps cannot." Yet another example would be how Apple Pay comes up automatically near payment terminals. Or how most of the default actions in the Share Sheet—all of which are for Apple Apps—cannot be turned off.


Did you read the article? If you search for Podcast not only is Apple’s podcast app is first, but so it is follows by their compass app, find my friends, their tips app, their tv app, their watch app, their files app, their iTunes app, Apple Books, their reminders app, their news app, their contacts app, then their voice memos app before any 3rd party podcasts app appears.

Meta comment regarding HN community... looking at the comments here it seems like most people didn’t read the article, and just assumed what is being reported.


Regarding the HN community, the guidelines are pretty specific on the topic of your comment:

> Please don't comment on whether someone read an article. "Did you even read the article? It mentions that" can be shortened to "The article mentions that."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


In this case his comment is appropriate, because the comments here on HN clearly indicate that the commenters had not read the article.


If a strong conviction that others haven't read the article could supersede the guideline, the guideline would be quite useless. Anyone who comments "Did you even read the article?" presumably believes that the parent has not read the article.

(Just for what it's worth, I did read the article in full before commenting, and I don't think the paraphrased portion changes what I wrote.)


I had an Android a few years ago and #2 was a big issue. AT&T installed all types of apps including an automatic WiFi connecting app. I had to flash a google image to get rid of it. I’d be driving down the road and my maps or other apps would lose connections. Turns out I was being forced to connect to AT&T stores and Starbucks at red lights (anywhere attwifi was detected).

Not to mention all the Samsung bloatware.


Two points:

1. Granting more permissions to third party apps won't cause the iPhone to ship with Samsung bloatware.

2. I'm not necessarily advocating for 3rd party app privileges to be significantly expanded. However, Apple's own apps should mostly play by the same rules. If they can't, that's a sign the rules are too restrictive.


New app permissions must be added judiciously, as it’s been proven time and time again that developers can and will abuse them in whatever ways they can, including training and desensitizing users if necessary.

Apple tends to open capabilities up once they’re confident they’ve been able to make them reasonably airtight against abuse. That seems like a very sensible policy to me, even if it means that certain features come at a glacial pace.


Okay, but then Apple shouldn't use them in their own apps either.


But then Apple is not only putting themselves at a disadvantage against other platforms for long stretches of time (“iOS can do that with Apple stuff” is better than “iOS can’t do that”), but also giving up their ability to dogfood new APIs and test them in a much larger capacity than even a public beta would allow.

In order to remain competitive, they’d be forced to release half-baked/under-tested APIs, which is never good. That’s exactly how the Android developer story got as bad as it did at its lowest points.


>Apple's apps come preinstalled on every iPhone.

Whose apps should have come preinstalled on iPhones? Samsungs? No apps, let the user install everything from scratch?

The whole value proposition from Apple is that you get something that "Just works".

It might have issues and bugs, like everything has, but the idea behind "just works" => is more or less ready, no fiddling required for the regular Joe.


> Whose apps should have come preinstalled on iPhones?

At Redmond, we believe everyones apps should come pre-installed. Bought a PC for serious work? well f--- you and please enjoy some candy crush!


I never forget the IE war, when everybody complain about the preinstalled browser. And that time they called "monopolistic practices". At apple, they even don't know what these words mean... /s


>I never forget the IE war, when everybody complain about the preinstalled browser. And that time they called "monopolistic practices"

That's because at that time Microsoft had a monopoly.

>At apple, they even don't know what these words mean... /s

That's because Apple never had a monopoly. Their market share was always on the low 10% (desktop), or the mid-40s (mobile).


So preinstalled software is ok, till your market share is below 50 percent?


Apparently if you market share increases you are no longer allowed to make "just works" products.


I can understand new iPhones coming with a Camera, Web Browser, etc preinstalled. However, the Apple Watch app (for instance) really doesn't need to be there.

Permissions are the bigger issue, though.


Agree with this wholeheartedly. What's considered "basic functionality" should be present on the phone.

Pixel 3 lacks a basic pre-installed app which iOS includes: Voice Notes/Recorder. Scouring the Play store for a simple functionality like this seems silly, and it made me appreciate that Apple's pre-installed kit includes this staple feature.

Scrolling a dozen entries to find an alternate Podcast app, however. That's a joke.

While the pre-installed option is a convenience, it should be much easier to find an alternative, when desired.


You don't see a problem with that first scenario where search results for 'podcasts' is filled with completely unrelated apps from Apple?


I do see a problem.

However, if I were Spotify, I wouldn't be too concerned about this particular problem. Apple Music and Apple Podcasts come preinstalled on every iPhone, so Spotify effectively lost the discoverability battle before the user even got to the App Store.

By contrast, I'd be quite concerned that Apple is outright preventing me from making my app as good as their first party offerings. Spotify will not ever be able to open Podcast links shared from Safari, or fully integrate into Siri.


for half a year ago when i searched for "Spotify" in the norwegian appstore the first result was some kind of rip-off app with tons of complaints by users thinking it was the official app. Spotify the real app was number 2.

Apple is abusing its market position, it has been obvious for me long before this article and the lawsuits. But coming from a country not a member of EU or strong enough on its own, its hard to do anything about it.


  The algorithm examines 42 
  different signals, they said, 
  including an app’s relevance
  to a given search, its
  ratings, and its popularity
  based on downloads and user
  clicks.
  [...]
  If you searched for “podcast”
  in May 2018, you would have
  had to scroll through as many
  as 14 Apple apps before
  finding one made by another
  publisher. 
  [...]
  “We make mistakes all the 
  time,” Mr. Cue said.
  “We’re happy to admit when we
  do,” Mr. Schiller said. “This
  wasn’t a mistake.” 
I have to say, it stretches credulity to claim any non-faulty algorithm would put Apple's "compass" app as the second result in a search for "podcast"

It's difficult to make any sense at all of such a result.


Ranking by count the all apps installed by users who have previously searched for <term> might do it.

Not saying that's a good algorithm, but one _might_ be tempted to think that with enough users it should be fine. The 'bug' being that all Apple's users are Apple users, so Apple apps would get pushed high for any search.

I'm certainly not suggesting that's what happeened (or even that it would be something so simplistic), but it gives me an idea at least how something that, when presented only with the symptoms, seems so unbelievable.


Agreed, but the end result is that their algorithm pre-fix was clearly faulty and should be considered a mistake. Their gymnastics to the contrary just come across as either a bad-faith argument or self-delusion.


What comes across as cherry-picking to me is pointing out a single random inconsequential web search and the result it used to have in a previous year.


Not a single search, but many searches done repeatedly over time, proving the result is highly unlikely to be happenstance. Oh, and the results only happened to changed after Spotify launched an official complaint. The WSJ article the NYT links to is even more detailed.


Shouldn't "Facebook" also turn up near the top, in that case?


For those on mobile/small screens, a better formatted quote:

> The algorithm examines 42 different signals, they said, including an app’s relevance to a given search, its ratings, and its popularity based on downloads and user clicks. ...

> If you searched for “podcast” in May 2018, you would have had to scroll through as many as 14 Apple apps before finding one made by another publisher. ...

> “We make mistakes all the time,” Mr. Cue said.

> “We’re happy to admit when we do,” Mr. Schiller said. “This wasn’t a mistake.”

For those on desktop, please stop formatting quotes like code. They’re just impossible to read on anything but a very wide screen.


What gets me is that if you do it now, Overcast is about 9th and Pocket Casts is 25th or something. Those are two very popular podcast apps. I stopped scrolling looking for Castro.


42 different signals, really? Smacks of trolling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/42_(number)


Can I go a little off-topic and comment how really well done this webpage is? Very mobile optimized and nice the “scroll to discover” kind of behavior. Haven’t noticed how long NYT has been doing this kind of stuff but very well done.


I agree! The graphics is what made me read the rest of the article.

This article has "interactive" in the URL. Note sure, but I think this is some special articles they do with a focus on just that? I believe there have been some other examples posted here previously, like this one: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/03/upshot/a-quic...


Interesting: I feel precisely the opposite: reading text is incredibly efficient and having to mess around to uncover the content is distracting and annoying.

I'm not trying to say "you're right, I'm wrong", or the opposite: different strokes and all that. I found your excitement about the design quite interesting.


I'm in the same boat as you, but in addition I was having trouble with scrolling up and down messing up their presentation.


Jobs' "On Flash" letter seems like aeons ago, (~10 years) but even then people were commenting on the obvious implications. It pointed to Adobe Flash apps as battery-intensive and riddled with security bugs (both correct), and proposed that native apps were the solution.

But it went one step further by providing the casus belli against the distribution of software outside of Apple's walled garden. Create something Apple didn't approve of, and you get booted. A clear break from its desktop programs, which could be freely installed from wherever.

Now the full picture is beginning to emerge. It was good going for app developers when Apple was largely a devices company, but as it moves into software and content creation/delivery, its position as marketplace gatekeeper means that everyone else will have to start paying tributes (in the form of ads, which appear above organic search results) if you don't want to end up relegated to the bottom of its search algorithm.


For anyone who isn't old enough to remember the movie Antitrust.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3TwIJjyjPM


Leaving aside the obvious problems with this, it also is just a shitty user experience. A search for “podcast” should not return a compass app. For a company that is supposed to be at the pinnacle of user experience and usability, the App Store buitin search is pretty unusable.


It's fine, it's their App Store and they can do whatever they want IMO.

What's not fine is not being able to install a third party App Store with different policies so that users can choose whatever they prefer.


Just out of curiosity, how do you imagine that would work in the real world?

Apple's main thing is security, and one important aspect of how they achieve it is by only allowing signed code, which Apple also does some basic tests on, to be installed on the device. Many think this is a valuable service.

In the third party App Store scenario, does the developer still submit an app to Apple for approval? How does Apple then make the approved app available to the third party? How is this different from a website that gives App recommendations?


Apple seems to balance security and freedom in MacOS, by asking if you are sure you want to uninstall unidentified software, outside of the Mac App Store [1]. Why can't they offer that same balance in iOS? Imagine how different the MacOS experience would be (particularly for small developers) if every piece of software had to be installed through the Mac App Store.

[1] https://support.apple.com/guide/mac-help/open-a-mac-app-from...


I think the security expectations for those two platforms are very different, and that's why Apple balances them differently.

MacOS gives up a lot of security for those extra abilities, and on MacOS I don't feel like I ever really had security. For example, I begrudgingly run shell injection attacks on myself every time I download some large codebase, which I am never going to review all of, or run brew, etc. It has been that way since the very beginning. Not so with iOS.


> I think the security expectations for those two platforms are very different, and that's why Apple balances them differently.

Can you elaborate?

Are you arguing that macOS users need less security than iOS users?

> It has been that way since the very beginning. Not so with iOS.

I have to say that "it's this way because it has always been this way" is a very poor argument.


Personally, I think the best outcome for everyone would be if Apple relaxed the restrictions on the App Store. Eg: not blocking an app update because they do not like the screenshots (I have personally suffered from this), letting third party browser engines (all iOS browsers use Safari web views), or even allowing apps that resemble their own apps (see what happened with Windmill recently because it competed with TestFlight).

That said, I would only agree (ideologically speaking) to Apple being as unreasonable as they are now if they allowed third party stores and let users chose which store they prefer. I really don't know how that would work but it would not be my first option.


I wouldn't say I have trouble considering this issue, I know what my opinion is. The ramifications feel uncomfortable because Apple is the Goliath, it feels bizarre their behavior should need defending.

The idea I get hung up on is Apple doesn't control the market, they control access to the customers companies want. And those customers made a free choice to enter apple's ecosystem. They could get an Android, they could get none of the above. The game consoles have had an incredibly locked down marketplace. nintendo had to basically build their brand on it in the wake of atari in the 80s. Why do mobile marketplaces get such additional scrutiny? The orders of magnitude more money? The pervasiveness of mobile devices? The utility of the devices?

The area where I do struggle is the apple tax, they don't pay it while everyone else has to. My reflexive feeling, is that if you can't provide 20% value over what apple can provide, there might be intrinsic issues; your product might be a commodity. But for something like spotify, where the service exists way beyond the iOS platform, it seems wild that apple get 20% of anything that goes through its platform.


How is that any different than Nintendo's first-party games? They don't pay a license fee to themselves (and such an action would be a pointless accounting fiction if they did).

When you buy a Switch it means you can only play games Nintendo has approved. Unlike the app store, the policies are much more restrictive there. Random Joe can't put a game on the Switch. When you develop for the Switch it means if you have a game similar to a Nintendo game _they won't sell you a license and your product is dead in the water_.

People love to forget: The App Store was the first major distribution mechanism where anyone can join the program, no pre-vetting required, and so long as you obey the rules you can sell any app you want. Prior to that every distribution mechanism (sans selling it yourself on the web) was far more discriminatory, restricted, and took a bigger cut of your sales.


That's the point, the behavior doesn't seem different, but the levels of scrutiny aren't even comparable, that's the question. Does the behavior matter as much as the size of the market in which the actor is in. Do people care because, apple is large, because the addressable app market is large, because politicians have iphones but don't give a toss about a mario game?


> they don't pay it

There's not much they can do in this regard; they might actually pay the Apple Tax in the accounting sense, but the tax taken goes into the same bank account. They can't take less money from the $10 Apple Music charge since the tax has to go somewhere, and they can't just charge less money for their services since that would just be changing the price for the users, making competition even angrier about Apple undercutting them.

The Apple tax is 30% by the way.


IMHO, It should be more than that.

Apple does not control a market, but it controls a marketplace. Perhaps the fact that Apple's marketplace isn't the largest by most measures allows it to set rather market-fixing terms to the stalls it allows others to put in it, perhaps that's ok.

But once the other stalls paid their legal due to the marketplace owner (i.e. assented to the various terms, as unfair they may be), they and the customers have a justified expectation that competition would be fair from now on - the default is fair and free competition, and inasmuch as the other stalls haven't signed their rights off, these must be respected.

Now if the marketplace owner would then put in further roadblocks to make the other stalls hard to find and his stalls easy to find, despite that not being in the original terms, that should be not legal. As far as I know, nowhere did Apple reserve the 'right' to hide other due-paying apps and promote its own in searches.

For that alone, Apple's behaviour should be banned outright, even if it is their marketplace. If Apple can constantly alter the deal, than no stall or customer can be safe. The long term process would then be in favour of eliminating competition, both internally in Apple's marketplace, and in general as vendors flee to the largest marketplace since it is regulated by law. That's not in the public interest at all.


Good job answering your own question! Mobile platforms deserve more scrutiny precisely for the reasons you mentioned — the utility, the power, the importance.


Note that the article links to a previous WSJ expose, which was posted here in the past[0] (without comments). The WSJ story has more detail, and is IMHO pretty damning when it comes to the podcast app.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20535129


Quick observation from the data presented in article (very well done, by the way): Beginning iOS 11, if I remember correctly, Apple finally added the ability to delete stock apps. Deleted apps could be downloaded from App Store later. Perhaps the « boost » in search rankings for the stock apps was related to that ? If the dates match, I assume they would have wanted these to be found easily and screwed up in scoring. This is assuming good faith, of course.

Edit: I did not remember correctly! This feature was added in iOS 10, released in September 2016.


I don't mind that at all. What bugs me much more is the complete lack of useful search and filter options in the AppStore and the resulting nonexistent discoverability. You basically only find those apps you know exist beforehand or that pop up by happenstance (if you're lucky). What point is there in boasting about how many million apps you have in your store when 99.99% are invisible for all practical purposes?


I appreciate Apple offering its own apps, as I don't trust anyone else with my data.


The story isn't particularly about Apple offering its own apps -- it's about it throwing lots of its apps into the top of search results when they're questionably relevant, and then doing its best to avoid saying there might have ever been anything suspect about the correctness of that behavior.


Apple is definitely better than most, but don't hand them a blank check. They recently stopped a Siri "grading" program after it was discovered that they were sending voice recordings to employees of a third-party contractor without users' consent: https://www.theverge.com/2019/8/2/20751270/apple-stops-contr...


You should not be trusting anyone, including Apple with your data.

The same company that won't admit hardware flaws won't admit they use your Data.


If there was an easier way for me that didn't involve a third party, I would. Unfortunately, it's the best option I have given my circumstances.


> The same company that won't admit hardware flaws won't admit they use your Data.

Although I agree that one shouldn't trust anyone, there's a difference here: certain uses of personal data come with reporting requirements, or are outright forbidden, whereas I think that there are no such requirements around hardware flaws.


That's crazy talk! Haven't you seen how Apple has ignored iOS security flaws that allow China to oppress some of its minority populations?

https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/09/apple...


Apple just made a mistake handling its own app store data, so that should at least put a little crack in that trust.


Search relevancy != data being sent to 3rd party analytic firms. Let's be serious, those are 2 separate issues.


The executives said the company did not manually alter search results to benefit itself. Instead, they said, Apple apps generally rank higher than competitors because of their popularity and because their generic names are often a close match to broad search terms.

No need to if the algorithm includes to artificially normalize having some of their apps syroketing their raning value.


Does this feel like a scramble to make up for lack of innovation lately? Apple is taking away from the community that builds them up which seems like a play to make quick profits. It would be too much to hope for an open platform that was curated by some decentralized voting mechanism via community / contributors.


the app store is such a mess. Even finding something as simple as a good running app that stores and shows your weekly mileage is a huge challenge. All the top apps are terrible or missing the crucial weekly mileage feature or aren't free. Google search is equally terrible because they only show reviews from sites with super high "domain authority", or whatever, all i know is i get the same damn site results over and over and just gets worse after 3 pages, and I can never find the reviews I'm really looking for.

Am I the only one having these sorts of problems over and over again? or I am i just an outlier?


> All the top apps are terrible or missing the crucial weekly mileage feature or aren't free.

Have you looked for a non-free option?


> shows your weekly mileage

Health shows this, so if your app integrates with that you may not need to see it in-app.


Remember when the EU banned MS from shipping a web browser with their OS? Why is iOS allowed to do the same sorts of things?


Supposedly there are other smart phones than the iPhone that have significant market share (even more than the iPhone sometimes) in Europe.

The same wasn’t true for desktop OSes (at the time), Microsoft Windows had an overwhelming chunk of Europe’s market share.


Ok? I feel like Apple is free to promote whatever they damn please on their own platform. Are we seriously criticizing a company for promoting their products ahead of 3rd party products on their own platform? and I mean, how much money do you think Apple is making from someone having their compass app downloaded? Seems like an inflammatory and in-genuine story.


It's an antitrust issue. If I own the market and some of the fruit, I'll clearly put myself in a better position to attract customers, and thus make sales. The rest of the fruit vendors are 2nd class.

Not to mention Apple employees are banned from making apps outside of company time, since they are aware of the issue with insiders having power to make apps that out compete the rest.


How can it possibly be an anti-trust issue for a minority player in a competitive market to choose which products to display in their own retail store?

This is markedly different then, for example, Google altering search results to promote their own products, because Google owns something like 90% of Search.


The app store is not a retail store. That's one of the major factors in the antitrust analysis.

In the retail/wholesale model, the retail store buys the third party products and their own store brand products, and sells them both. It might favor the store brand with more promotion or better shelf placement, but both products appear on the shelves, and the third-party has generally already been compensated for their goods (or is contractually owed compensation). In uncommon situations, such as with new products, compensation may be contingent on products sold through (to end customers), but that is not the norm.

In the appstore model, third-party app makers sell apps in Apple's store. Apple sells apps in Apple's store and promotes its own apps ahead of competing apps. It even promotes unrelated apps ahead of competing apps in a blatant attempt to push competitors off the first 2 pages of search results (i.e., off the shelf). Apple also frequently bans apps that compete with Apple's own apps or features, even if such competing apps existed for years before Apple's own apps.

Any one of the aforementioned acts by Apple could be treated as an antitrust issue. And that's not even a comprehensive list.


>The app store is not a retail store. That's one of the major factors in the antitrust analysis.

Well no. What you cited was related to the Supreme Court's analysis of the App Store case, but that was only related to the issue of standing.

How it differs from brick and mortar stores buying inventory isn't relevant to the actual merits of the case, which hasn't been in court yet.


An Android app and an iPhone app are not compatible goods. You cannot replace one with the other. Try installing an APK on the iphone and let me know how that goes.

The "market" is smaller than you think. A classic way to determine alternatives to a product is by asking "if I raise the price of all apps, how many people will buy something else?" Iphone owners are kinda stuck eating the increase, aren't they?

Apple controls 100% of the iPhone app market. An iPhone owner made a $1000 investment into their phone and cannot just switch to Android. Apple takes advantage of that fact for their own benefit.


Every manufacturer controls their own supply chain, and can choose what to put in or take out of their own product.

And everyone makes a choice when they purchase a product— you could say invest in a product—if they want to buy into that.

Of course it costs money to buy something different. The salient point is that there is a obvious and competitive choice before you buy, that Apple does nothing to restrict you from making that choice before you buy, and that you can switch if you feel like it, which makes it not a monopoly.

Monopoly is not defined as the lack of compatibility between two competing products. Monopoly is also not defined as having a closed ecosystem.

I think it’s fair to argue if you think it should be illegal to have closed ecosystems. Personally I strongly disagree because there are clear trade-offs involved and the market should be able to decide if it wants a closed ecosystem product offering from Vendor A or an open ecosystem offering from Vendor B.

The problem with a closed ecosystem is when it is combined with a monopolistic market. In this discussion I believed the two points have become conflated, but while Apple certainly has a walled garden, there is compelling evidence the smartphone market is highly competitive.


I don't agree with this notion that you can't engage in anticompetitive behavior without 80%+ marketshare.

Imagine a world where Apple continues to clamp down on 3rd party services that compete with their own offerings, like Spotify. Apple could completely ban Spotify from selling subscriptions outside the App Store, and raise their fee to 70%. Google, wanting to push their own Google Play Music service, eventually adopts similar rules on Android, or perhaps implements them in a theoretical successor like Fuchsia.

This would basically mean you cannot build a music streaming service without also building your own mobile platform. That in turn would effectively mean we can only ever have as many streaming services as we do mobile platforms.

Even though neither Google nor Apple have 80%+ marketshare, this behavior strikes me as deeply anti-competive. It's not a world I want to live in.


The Venn diagram of things that you are capable of doing, and things that are legal to do, changes when you either are or are not a monopoly.

Offering rebates for using your product and not using someone else’s, for example, may be illegal if you are a monopoly but not illegal if you are not.

There are innumerable things a given company could do that harms its competition. Up to a point, that’s kinda the whole idea! It doesn’t become illegal unless it is done by leveraging a monopoly market position.


I'm arguing the law (or our interpretation of it?) should be stricter than it currently is, in light of how much power modern technology gives platform holders, and the situation I outlined above.


I think as long as Apple does not have a monopoly, history has shown us that competition will take care of this.

If Apple clamps down on 3rd party apps to the point where it is no longer serving its user-base, the user base has many good alternatives, and Apple would lose business.

I think the Spotify example is a good one; if Apple kicked off Spotify, there could be millions of people switching to Android just because of that. Apple might love the idea that only Apple Music should exist on their iPhone (in fact they was kinda Steve’s original vision) but they can’t get away with it specifically because they would be clobbered by the competition if they tried.

Even as (if) Apple’s reputation shifts away from “walled garden that protects you from junk and malware and spyware” toward “overlord trying to control what you can buy” this causes some users to leave.

As long as there’s viable competitors, I’d rather let users vote with their wallets. This is actually the best way to give people the choice of which system you would prefer using. If the fully open system is preferred by most users then most users will choose that product. But because there are actually huge trade-offs and very hard unsolved problems with a fully open system, it’s important to provide consumers both options.


> I think the Spotify example is a good one; if Apple kicked off Spotify, there could be millions of people switching to Android just because of that.

We'll never know unless/until it happens, but I think you are 100% wrong on this point—most would just switch to Apple Music. Phones are much too expensive to switch immediately, and while some users might initially want to switch at their next upgrade cycle, they would need to sign up for Apple Music in the interim, and then they'll become accustomed to it.

iPhone users are a captive market. The costs of switching are too high, both economically and in terms of inertia.


I'd agree if you were searching for a Compass app.

But the take that I got from reading the article is if you say "Podcast" in the search box, you'll see pages and pages of Apple's own apps, unrelated to podcasts, before you start seeing podcast apps.


It wouldn't be a big deal if Apple allowed you to install apps from outside the App Store, like they do with MacOS programs.


Ah, the old, "It's my football so I should always get to be quarterback" argument. I guess that works for a while.


It should work forever, as long you own the field, and people want to use said field because that gives them access to a huge marketplace of devices that you've built and sold.

So there's that...


You lost me with your analogy. Let me extend the pigskin thought exprement a bit.

If I own the football team, and the field, and the city (hell, why not), then sure I can choose who plays QB, so I choose my son. Maybe at the start he's even not that bad of a QB, and our team wins some games. Everyone is happy.

After a little while though, people realize there's no sense trying out for QB on my team. My son, now left without anyone gunning for his job becomes complacent. We start losing games more and more.

With enough control over the market (like Apple has with the App Store), there become less and less QBs to choose from, and it's not just my team that gets worse, but the whole league.


It's more like:

Apple built, run, maintains and owns a stadium. The stadium has a food court with many food stalls.

Some of them, Apple runs themselves, but tons of others are run by people who pay N% of their revenues to Apple to be able to have them.

They still need to supply their own food, branding, marketing, furniture, and pay their staff, Apple gives them access to the stadium crowds and a payment processing system.

Apple is not obligated to advertise those third party stalls over their own.

If they don't like the arrangement they can always go somewhere else (there is an even bigger stadium in town that has available food stalls).


Yes, and that's part of why you pay $10 for a domestic beer, and $5 for a hot dog.

So the argument is going to boil down to this... Is the curation Apple does to the App Store worth market effects of effectively turning it into a stadium for software? Given that I can't easily give my friend the tool I built to run on their phone, and the App Store is filled with "bad" apps (by basically every definition), I'm going to argue it's not worth it.


But what if you’re not selling food, but merchandise targeted at this particular team’s fans. You can’t easily move shop to the other stadium - you have no choice but to suck up the fact that on the vendor map of the stadium, where it says merchandise, is actually Apple’s food court. Nobody is going to find your t’shirt stand.


>You can’t easily move shop to the other stadium

For starters, nobody forces you to sell merchandise for this particular team's fans...

But the analogy breaks down here, because merchandize such as t-shirts is not dependent on the stadium to be used. You could sell it outside the stadium.

Whereas iOS software leverages the fact that the iOS is being sold, maintained, having the necessary APIs, and so on, and that iOS devices are being made and sell decently and lure people willing to pay for apps.

So it's like you want to sell a ware that's inherently dependent on the stadium (hence my stall analogy), but you don't like the terms of the stadium builder/owner/maintainer that allows businessmen to have those stalls on their stadium...


The physical analogy (i.e., stadium) doesn't work at all for the appstore, because aspects of the physical world actually matter in terms of analyzing retail monopolies in ways that are irrelevant to a fully digital marketplace.

So it's like you want to sell a ware that's inherently dependent on the stadium (hence my stall analogy), but you don't like the terms of the stadium builder/owner/maintainer that allows businessmen to have those stalls on their stadium...

A privately owned stadium is not be required to open up its space to third-party sellers. But once it does, it cannot then abuse its position as the landlord to interfere with the market activities of those third parties. That's the part you're missing in your fervent defense of Apple's antitrust activities--Apple didn't have to open up the app store to third parties, but having done so, they must now act in a non-abusive matter.


> it's not just my team that gets worse, but the whole league

I don't understand how you arrived at this conclusion.

I figured that it'd mean nobody tries out for QB on your team, all the best QBs go to other teams, eventually your team starts to suck and lose fans and therefore revenue, and the market forces either force you to get a new QB or your business in the team suffers and maybe folds. Problem solved either way, eventually.


I said "With enough control over the market ...", which is basically a way of saying I'm making these QB choices for not just my team, but some large enough set of the QBs in the NFL.


I think the analogy isn't very good. Let me try.

It's as if you're the one selling all the tickets to the only stadium in town, and you make it so that when your team plays, tickets are cheaper, more abundant, and more visible.

Another local team wants to play too, but their ticket prices are outrageous, there's no promotion of the event either, and they might actually be banned from the stadium unless they use ONLY your equipment.


Your analogy also isn't very good, your town has lots of other stadiums: The Samsung Galaxarium, The Googlplexel, The LG Centre, The Huawei Dome. Sure the Apple one is pretty fancy and the rules are onerous but there are plenty of other places to do business.


Your analogy doesn't work either.

An iOS app/ticket/whatever wouldn't work/get you into the other "stadiums." Ergo, the market for the iOS thing does not include those other "stadiums."

Repeated for emphasis: it's irrelevant that there are other mobile app stores, because you can't sell iOS apps on them. The antitrust issues are related to Apple's actions within the iOS app market. Authorities can and do segment markets based on meaningful distinctions ,like the fact that iOS apps wouldn't work on an Android phone.


>Repeated for emphasis: it's irrelevant that there are other mobile app stores, because you can't sell iOS apps on them.

Repeated for emphasis: it's irrelevant that you can't sell iOS apps on them. Selling iOS apps is not a basic human right, nor a market right. As long as you can still sell apps, there's no judge who cares if you can specifically sell iOS apps.

You can't sell your physical products at Costco either unless they accept them, and even if they do, they are always free to promote and prioritize their own brand over yours...

>Authorities can and do segment markets based on meaningful distinctions ,like the fact that iOS apps wouldn't work on an Android phone.

Only for authorities that's not a meaningful distinction...


For the authorities it's not just a meaningful distinction, it's the basis of their antitrust investigations, namely that Apple is engaging in anticompetitive practices in the iOS app market.


Didn't something similar happen with Microsoft and Internet Explorer?


The EU fined Microsoft six hundred million dollars just for including Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player in Windows by default. Apple's behavior is much worse than that.


How many times this old wives tale will have to be repeated till people understand what went on then, and how it's nothing like it's now?

Microsoft then had a monopoly on desktop OSes at the time, at 95+ (close to 97%, in fact).

Apple has a paltry sub-50% share of mobile OSes.

The "But they have 100% share on their own products" is not an argument, as far as the law is concerned, as monopolies are not judged this way. That's the same reason why you can't legally force McDonalds to also sell Burger King burgers, or GAP to sell Banana Republic clothes...

And even MS monopoly position wasn't the issue (having a monopoly naturally is not illegal). The issue was it used its monopoly position to threaten and bribe OEMs to not work with competitors.


Apple has a monopoly on iOS devices. An iApp only runs on iOS, so it's irrelevant that Apple is a minority of the mobile market because that's not the market being analyzed for the antitrust issues.


This logic makes no sense. Using your reasoning Nintendo is a monopoly because only Nintendo devices will run Nintendo games.


Nintendo is a monopoly with respect to Nintendo games (but not Nintendo devices, since you can buy those all over).

Monopolies aren't inherently illegal. See e.g., patents and copyrights, which are legally granted or protected monopolies.

What is illegal is anti-competitive practices. This doesn't require a dominant or even majority market position--authorities in the US and EU have gone after companies with relatively small market shares that engaged in anti competitive actions (though they haven't done so in many years).


>Nintendo is a monopoly with respect to Nintendo games

That's not what monopoly means legally.

>Monopolies aren't inherently illegal

That's true, but a vendor controlling their own store is not a monopoly.

Monopoly is when the vendor has 100% of the overall market...


Yes it is. Nintendo is a monopoly with respect to licensing games for sale on Nintendo consoles. Monopoly is market-specific under US law, and the regulators can get very specific.

From the DOJ guidance on antitrust law (https://www.justice.gov/atr/competition-and-monopoly-single-...)

Regarding the first element, it is "settled law" that the offense of monopolization requires "the possession of monopoly power in the relevant market."(5) As discussed in chapter 2, monopoly power means substantial market power that is durable rather than fleeting--market power being the ability to raise prices profitability above those that would be charged in a competitive market.(6)


iOS revenue is 2x larger than android. There might be more cheap android phones out there but Apple has the majority of high income individuals.


Which is not relevant. Monopoly is defined on a market, not on income segments (and even if it mattered, still on the high income individuals iOS is hardly above say 70%).

Someone could sell cars for $5K and have 99% of the car market in a small city of 1000 people, while another one sells a single car for 100M and has 20 times the other's revenue. It's still the cheap car guy that has the monopoly.


Revenue based market share is more relevant than unit market share for most businesses. Apple pulls in 2/3 of the revenue in the mobile app ecosystem and gets to act as a gatekeeper between most consumer startups and their potential customers.


>Revenue based market share is more relevant than unit market share for most businesses.

It's not relevant for monopoly law and whether it's a monopoly, which is what's discussed here...


Of course it's relevant. A definition of monopoly that only relies on raw unit numbers is obviously incomplete.

Antitrust is about power, and Apple has a lot of it.


>Of course it's relevant. A definition of monopoly that only relies on raw unit numbers is obviously incomplete.

We don't get to pick our "complete" definition we prefer because "we deserve free money/mobile platform access". There's an actual, legal, one...

>Antitrust is about power, and Apple has a lot of it.

Only in the same sense that McDonalds has power not to sell Burger King burgers, and a shop owner has owner to sell whatever the duck they want.

Not power related to monopoly over the mobile market or the app market in general.


The legal definition of antitrust has changed over time and can change again, especially if Warren becomes president.


So...?


Apple does not have a monopoly in the mobile phone market like Microsoft had in the operating system market.

Microsoft also had a court order to comply with that they forgot about in Windows 7. https://www.engadget.com/2013/03/06/microsoft-european-commi...


Microsoft never had a monopoly in the OS market. Plenty of businesses large and small used competing OSs like Apple, Unix, Linux, Beos, OS/2, DOS, etc.

Microsoft had a dominant market position, and anti-competitively leveraged that market position in operating systems to muscle its way into the internet browser market.


Windows had 97% marketshare. MacOS, BeOS, OS/2, DOS, the various *nixes and Linux were NOTHING in that market.


IMO, that fine is (for lack of a better term) bullshit. Does Android present a browser selection to EU customers?


No, but there are at least three running or finished antitrust cases going against Google from the EU, for Google Shopping, AdSense and Android; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_vs._Google for a summary.


Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: