What Apple’s App Store Changes Mean for Users

Apple appears to be changing up the criteria for how apps are ranked in the App Store, and seems to be blocking content that tries to “game” or artificially alter rankings by offering users in-game credits or other virtual rewards for installing other apps. The changes will make the App Store a better place, especially for shoppers.

The new App Store rankings now account for things like frequency of use and ratings, according to a report Monday. That appears to be the case because popular, frequently used apps like Facebook, Pandora Radio and Skype experienced significant ranking bumps late last week. That means that apps that people use most, and enjoy most, will be surfaced more effectively in the App Store, versus ones that just get more downloads. Many apps are downloaded and then promptly deleted or seldom used after that, which is not what users new to the platform are looking for when they first open the App Store.
Localmind developer Lenny Rachitsky suggests that the new ranking system, if it really is predicated upon app use and ratings, will be good for developers, which will in turn make for a much better experience for all iOS users:

The discovery experience in the App Store has historically been a rough experience. You either shoot up the rankings and make your own gravy, or you are selected from on-high to be featured. The more opportunity Apple gives to apps to gain exposure and to catch on, the better for everyone. Especially if that push up the rankings is based on engagement, which is the key metric in determining the quality of an app.

Better rankings will have a positive effect on user experience, as should blocking apps that offer pay-per-install reward systems. Such campaigns not only artificially boost the App Store rankings of apps whose quality doesn’t necessarily back up their position, they also directly interfere with the user experience of the App Store itself. Says Rachitsky:

Apple is looking to block anything that circumvents the model they’ve created. They saw what happened on the Facebook platform and the trouble they had forcing everyone over to Facebook Credits after-the-fact. In the end this should lead to a better user experience, something Apple takes extremely seriously, as anything that separates the user from their money will flow through a unified Apple process. No doubt this will hurt companies like Tapjoy that count on the existing model, but they had to know this was possible from the start.

The end result? Apps that are surfaced for iOS shoppers will be better designed and more useful to consumers than those that have occupied top spots in the past. That doesn’t necessarily mean users won’t encounter poorly made apps or that all of Apple’s app discovery issues are resolved. In fact, good titles with a small devoted following will still have trouble getting recognition, perhaps even more so if bigger name apps like Facebook and the others mentioned above zoom to the top. But it does mean that users new to the platform will be far less likely to have a negative first experience with the App Store. And first impressions are going to become much more important as the Android Market continues to catch up to the App Store in terms of reach, selling power and software library size.