Given the number of transactions conducted in Apple’s App Store, it should come as no surprise that any change, however slight, in the algorithm Apple uses to rank apps is likely to draw considerable attention from the tech media.
Last April, for example, Apple shook things up when it altered its ranking system to account for active use of certain mobile apps, rather than relying merely on the number of total downloads (a metric that is somewhat difficult to interpret). Apparently, the idea was to acknowledge apps that don’t seek, and don’t need to seek, the flavor-of-the-month status that propels a great many apps to the top and makes instant millionaires of their developers. Once the change in the algorithm went live, for example, Facebook’s mobile app shot to the top spot in its category, after lingering previously between tenth and twentieth places. It makes sense, really; most people with mobile devices use Facebook every day, and Apple’s new system correctly reflected its popularity.
Oddly, however, Apple made another change recently that seems to have escaped much of the usual media scrutiny. According to 148Apps, “about a month ago Apple quietly changed the ordering of its mobile app categories on the iPhone and iPad to be alphabetical.” “Quietly” is right. Few of the other tech blogs seem to have registered the change, but it appears as though it’s having a not insignificant effect on total sales. Prior to the change, Apple ranked the categories by popularity, and it was no surprise that games were comfortably at the tippy-top of the list on everyone’s iPhones. (The effect is less dramatic for the iPad, where nearly all categories fit on the single screen.) App downloads are heavily influenced by popularity. While the App Store ordering change has had no effect in terms of inter-category volumes, this slight alteration does appear to have had an effect on intra-category popularity and mobile app sales as well. Of course, coming up with a catchy and memorable name for your mobile app is important, but keeping an eye out for the category in which it appears looks to be just as important.