The App Store needs more smarts and better search…

– Om Malik in Should Apple Buy Netflix?

A common refrain, but I have yet to see an objective measure of it. Does App Store search really suck, or are developers upset their apps aren’t ranked as highly as they think they should be?

I devised a simple experiment to try to answer this question.

The Setup

Pick Three Apps

I’m looking for apps with similar profiles. Ideally I could find 3 apps in different categories, each paid upfront for the same price, and all updated around the same time.

  1. Popular game that’s not a household name.
  2. Wide-appeal app in a crowded category (not a game).
  3. Obscure app in an obscure niche.

Perform several identical searches in the App Store and on Google. Google searches are prefixed with site: to filter results. Searches are performed on an iPhone 6s running iOS 10 Beta 5.

Queries are from the following categories:

  • Exact name
  • Partial name
  • Misspelled name
  • App topic (not category name)

The Experiment

The Apps

Game: Alto’s Adventure - $3.99 paid upfront. Last updated 2 June 2016.
Crowded Category: Clear - $4.99 paid upfront. Last updated 27 October 2015.
Obscure: The Red Ace - $4.99 paid upfront. Last updated 27 January 2016.


Alto’s Adventure

Query App Store Rank Google Rank Does App Store Search Suck
altos adventure 1 1 No
alto 1 1 No
adventure - 1 Yes
alltos adventure 1 1 No
aldos adventure 1 1 No
ski game 1 1 No


Query App Store Rank Google Rank Does App Store Search Suck
clear 1 1 No
cleer 11 - No
todo app 31 2 Yes

The Red Ace

Query App Store Rank Google Rank Does App Store Search Suck
the red ace 1 1 No
red ace 1 1 No
thered ace - 1 Yes
the read ace - - No
card counting 7 5 No
blackjack trainer 20 15 No

* A ‘-‘ denotes the app was not found in the first 50 results.


App Store search has a few weak spots compared to Google, but not enough to blame your app’s discoverability issues on “the App Store needs better search.” Even as Apple improves search, increases discoverability, and better curates lists, you can’t rely on it to generate all of your customers.