Apple recently “handicapped” its own apps so that they won’t rank highest in App Store search results following a report from the New York Times.

According to a study conducted by The Times, users who made common search queries in the App Store in years past will be steered towards getting Apple’s own apps, even if they were totally unrelated to the search word.

For example, users who search for the term “podcast” during May of 2018 will find an ad at the top spot, followed by Apple Podcasts, an Apple app. This is then followed by other things Apple but unrelated to the search word: the Compass app, Find My Friends app, Tips app, Apple TV, Watch, Files, iTunes Store, Home app, Apple Books, Reminders, Apple News, Contacts and Voice Memo.

Those apps aren’t related to “podcast” but they are displayed before the user sees other relevant apps like The Podcast App, Audible Audiobooks, Overcast and so on. The Times noted that at times, users will have “to scroll through as many as 14 Apple apps before finding one made by a different publisher.”

The Wall Street Journal also conducted a similar study and also found that Apple’s own apps were given more priority over third-party apps made or published by other publishers.

GettyImages-Apps store This picture of an illustration of apps was taken on April 19, 2018 in Paris and has tablet and smart phone apps for Google, Amazon, Facebook and the Apple Store. Photo: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Algorithm

In its defense, Apple said there’s nothing wrong with the App Store’s search algorithm, and that the tech giant didn’t design it to benefit its own apps.  

Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president who oversees the App Store, said Apple’s apps rank higher compared to those made by competitors because of their popularity and because the apps’ names closely match the words used for queries.

The Cupertino tech giant added that sometimes, the App Store search engine lumps search results by maker, which is why searching the word “music” results in seeing Apple Music lumped with irrelevant but Apple-made apps.

Red-handed

The Times also found that between 2016 and 2018, apps from big names like Spotify and Pandora appeared far beneath Apple’s own apps such as Apple Music, iTunes Remote and Clips. This, according to the study, only changed after Spotify complained to European regulators in March this year. In July, many of Apple’s own apps dropped in search rankings.

Schiller and Eddy Cue, the senior vice president in charge of the apps that earned top ranks in the search results, said the change wasn’t because the algorithm was wrong. They said they decided to “handicap” the apps to “help” other developers.