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Apple Dominates App Store Search Results, Thwarting Competitors (wsj.com)
54 points by metaphysics on Sept 10, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

The New York Times ran an article yesterday covering the same topic. I don't have a WSJ subscription, so I don't know if they reference the New York Times article.

"How Apple’s Apps Topped Rivals in the App Store It Controls", Sept 9, 2019


The world of atoms is the same as the world of bits: you really want to control the means of distribution. Uncreative product managers at platform companies target the most successful apps first. You can pick the winners of the evolutionary process, take a skim while you're learning and then copy them with something using private APIs. I don't think that's wrong necessarily but people seem shocked every time it happens to them.

My question is, why aren't the folks at the platform companies who do this worried about biting the hand that feeds them? Haven't they seen platforms get pilloried before? Aren't they worried about alienating developers and decreasing the value of the platform?

Or is it the death of a thousand cuts, where each product manager thinks "ah, just this one time won't hurt"?

There are business that must have an mobile app and a website, you can't screw half of your customers and tell them to buy other phone. Developers did not like to develop for IE but the businesses had no choice to support IE because the customers were demanding it.

So as a individual you can decide to buy an Android but as a business sometimes(maybe most of the time ?) you can't decide not to support iOS or Android, you have to support both.

Apple-based developers are especially locked in, sometimes by an entire career of platform-specific experience. Whatever the limit is for how badly Apple can abuse them, it's probably higher on the app store than anywhere else.

> Haven't they seen platforms get pilloried before?

Have you? I haven't.

> Aren't they worried about alienating developers and decreasing the value of the platform?

I think Twitter is a perfect counterexample here; roughly every three years it pulls something that should completely alienate the developers and destroy the platform, but after the first wave of "omg Twitter's new TOS destroys my business" articles falls off the news cycle, developers decide to stay and keep playing that game.

It turns out the allure of making money on someone else's established platform is very strong.

I don't develop for mobile OSs precisely because I don't trust them. But I imagine that if I thought I had to I would feel like there is only one place to go, and they are just as bad.

Then what’s the point of even building an app if it’s going to be ripped off as soon as gets traction?

I sometimes wonder what the iOS ecosystem would look like if Apple took stewardship of the App Store seriously. If developers weren’t constantly under threat of some bogus copycat app or IP theft from Apple, what would that do the app ecosystem? It’s hard to see how it would hurt Apple, but perhaps I’m blind to the downsides.

What's the point of even building a website if Google is just going to scrape the information and put in a SERP? You need to add value and build a relationship with your customer.

It’s kinda hard to do that when the company who controls the platform you’re developing on is also building relationships with your customers, and can add far more lifetime value than you ever could building your app.

How many people do you think ditched their iPhones when Spotify published their antitrust complaint towards Apple? And Spotify is a huge company itself.

Anything you can do, the platform owner can do better, and this is particularly true in Apple’s case.

One obvious downside would be that Apple could no longer copy the most successful apps and make money from them.

They make money from the most successful apps that aren't theirs, though. 30% is admittedly less than 100%, but if the market is 4x, Apple wins more with the former. Also, the 30% doesn't require much developer time (sure, you have to maintain the app store, but that is amortized over many many apps).

100% of $0 is always going to be less than the 30% cut. I seek out Apple apps as they're usually of better quality, and not going to be ridden with cruft and most if not all of their consumer level apps are free.

Sure, and that might affect them short term.

But Android’s App Store isn’t any better IMO, and if Apple put effort into drawing talent towards their mobile ecosystem and letting them flourish without being worried about Apple screwing them, they might be better off overall.

Their strategy of ratcheting up phone prices isn’t sustainable and they’re losing users to cheaper phones with similar specs. The relative parity (and lack of quality) between both app stores doesn’t help them, and improving the app ecosystem could help, but idk.

> if it’s going to be ripped off as soon as gets traction

Isn't this called "competition", and isn't the scope of protections you're seeking covered under trademark law?

This is why distribution should be divorced from creation. From cable boxes to phones.

> You can pick the winners of the evolutionary process, take a skim while you're learning and then copy them with something using private APIs.

Right back to the Microsoft-Windows business model from the 1990s.

Yeah the article is dated I don't know why people are pretending why this is new

And could someone please explain where there's an expectation of equal access and right to appear with a certain preference in a closed app store's search results? Or not to have your app's functionality copied by anyone else?

There are three areas of reasoning of why people might consider this bad: moral, legal, and business. A consumer might be offended by this behavior and take their business elsewhere. A citizen may believe this is against the law and point it out. A vendor might dislike these terms and complain publicly.

What’s not fair is to completely disengage from someone’s area of reasoning to pick a more favorable ground. I see this all the time.

“This is immoral!” “Who cares? It’s legal.”

“This is illegal!” “Who cares? Take your business elsewhere.”

“These are terrible business terms!” “Who cares? It’s moral.”

Your question is worded to suggest you are not actually open to the answer, but I will try anyway: in antitrust law. You cannot create an open App Store ecosystem, invite in outside developers, and then pivot and kill them all off by steering customers to your own app. Closing off your previously-open ecosystem can be illegal. Read Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Technical Servs.

I am open to explanations. I'm especially interested in how a phone manufacturer that is 3rd place among others can be said to have a monopoly over the market. Or do you mean just for iPhone apps? Because at that point, how fine do you get to dice it to find a monopoly? I'm sure that once you slice it thin enough, almost any company can be said to have a monopoly. Where does it end? Joe's Pizza has a monopoly on the sale of pizza on the 300 block of Main Street, and has been trying to keep out competitors by buying the store next door.

The App store is the de facto access to applications for a large enough part of the public that it should be regulated by the public. Just like you can't sell poisonous food in your "closed" restaurant or can't sell dangerous electrical appliances in your "closed" electronic store.

Applications stores are public markets and should be regulated as such.

Well, there's at least an implicit expectation that a "platform" farming out work to (and taking a cut from) 3rd party developers should be neutral with regard to app ratings and popularity

Apple wants to have its cake and eat it to (have a non-neutral platform that favors only them while implying the platform is neutral to their money cows).

Apple wants to claim the App Store is just a store, that it being closed and no option to install another store does not equal monopolistic tactics. That can only fly if they also don't abuse their privileged position to undercut app competitors.

It's no different than Standard Oil giving itself preferential shipment prices on the rails. This is text-book anti-competitive behavior.

So yes, in a regulated environment where monopolistic tactics are supposed to be verboten, we are supposed to have a right to at least be on equal standing with Apple's own apps.

Not all anti-competitive behavior is illegal, or wrong. What I'm interested in is when does a company's territory become a public right to insist that others have access?

Starbucks coffee shops give preferential treatment to Starbucks products, and not to others. Can you claim a similar right to have access to sell your goods through their stores?

Starbucks doesn't have a monopoly on coffee shops, neither do they have an easy way out preventing their customers from going to other coffee shops. Apple iOS users need to spend hundreds of dollars for a new Android device and new apps to get out of their situation.

You're also moving the goal post. This particular issue isn't about access to the store at all, it's about Apple giving itself preferential treatment.

There's an expectation when your platform is the only option. This wouldn't be a problem at all if Apple allowed alternative app stores. Since that is not allowed, any anticompetitive behavior they exhibit in their store is ripe for a lawsuit. Apple has a 100% monopoly on the distribution of ALL iOS software.

Sure, but as others have pointed out, it depends on what you consider the market. Apple does not have a monopoly on the distribution of phone apps. Just iPhone.

When does the thing someone created become a public good with rights to equal access?

The app store is not only keeping the competition down but is hampering innovation. At the size of this business this is an existential threat to Apple‘s ecosystem as old ideas get tired and new can not get a toehold. They really need to get out of being an abysmal marketing platform and focus on distribution mechanics.

This isn't cool, but it doesn't bother me too much because iOS app store search has been useless from day one. It should almost never be used unless you already know what you're looking for. There are better places to find music or notetaking apps to download.

Serious question: how is this different than a grocery story making their own cheaper versions of products and placing them in better locations throughout their store? Large grocery chains do this on a large scale today, right?

Hmmm, one could choose other grocery stores to distribute their products but developers can only distribute their app in one store.

If you spent months or years developing an app and apple reject it, you have no way to go. You can’t make it android or web without significant rework. Even if it is accepted, it might get sherlocked by Apple in WWDC. Not to mention your app could break every year at this time round when new iOS is released.

This is the risk of an indie iOS developers and the risk have not lessen over the years.

Here one heartbreaking post from an indie developer:


This article is from July, would appreciate a title tag.

This is effectively a re-post from yesterday, a way to take two bites out of the same Apple.

watching a video of bill gates on the indoor toilets project now vs in the 90s giving DOJ depos is like watching xergiok get his eyes back

The DOJ isn't a subtle instrument and there are a lot of up-and-comers gunning for this (yelp, for example, was part of the group that lobbied margrethe vestager to take down G in europe)

The investigations that are coming into the tech cos will going to be like gladiatorial combat. It will be like the microsoft hearings combined with the kavanaugh confirmation combined with the mel brooks passion movie

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