Here’s Why Apple Needs to Fix App Store Search

While we all love our iOS devices, there’s a lot that can be improved. We recently highlighted the flawed model of how iCloud documents handles files, but there’s another area that’s been widely criticised since quite some time now and that’s searching the App Store for apps.

The awful search is especially annoying when popular new apps like Letterpress and Gmail are released, and iOS users can’t find the app through the App Store unless they already have a direct link to the app.

Google indexes the entire internet with billions of links, and it doesn’t have any problems in indexing real time content, so why does Apple, which has a fewer than 800,000 apps in its store, suck so much at search? Why does it take so long to index new apps and games? It’s not like the App Store is an insignificant component of the Apple product ecosystem. In fact, it’s one of the major reasons why its ecosystems became so popular, and every other competitor rushed to emulate the model.

Another example of how the App Store search engine fails: Try searching for “time management.” The intention being to find some time management apps that help you maintain a schedule and keep track of it. What you get is simply a list of “time management” games, most of which are from the same developer:

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And the problem’s not just restricted to search itself. As you know, the App Store was revamped as a part of the iOS 6 update with major cosmetic changes. The search interface went from the list layout we’re all familiar with, to an all new swipeable card layout, which includes just one result per-page.

Now even that would have been fine from a user standpoint had Apple’s search accuracy been good, but sadly, as we all know, that’s not the case. You’ll most likely have to swipe through multiple cards to get to an app that you wanted to find.

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List are easier to navigate, so even if an app you wanted to search was at the 100th position, iOS’ momentum scrolling would get you there in less than half a minute, but you certainly won’t reach the 100th position within even a minute in the new layout.

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And we haven’t even gotten into how badly this affects developers; whose apps take a huge hit in terms of search visibility  because of this layout.

Search queries are ambiguous. There’s no single right answer for a certain search term that all iOS users would agree to. By adopting such a layout, and not even giving a list based choice, Apple’s choosing to ignore the possibility of correctness varying from user to user, and thus making the App Store experience frustrating.

Here’s hoping that Apple’s working on a fix for these issues in upcoming releases of iOS, although the search accuracy is really a server side issue rather than an iOS issue.

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