iPhone App Developers Gaming The System

If you are an Apple iPhone or iPod touch owner, you've likely noticed that nearly every time you check out the App Store, there are several updates available for applications you've downloaded. At first, this makes sense, as the iPhone/iPod touch is still a relatively new platform for developers, which puts them still early on the learning curve--bugs needs to be squashed and new features added. But many users are finding that these "updated apps" neither fix bugs nor add new features. So then what is the purpose of the updates? As TouchMeme developer, Krishna Vegesna, points out in his blog, developers have been "gaming the system" in order to get their apps to show up as "new applications":

"In AppStore, all the applications are categorized based on 'released date' by default. But in the previous versions, the 'Release Date' was actually the last updated date... When an application was listed on the first page in a category, the sales of that application immediately jumped up (because it is displayed on top in iTunes and even on iPhone for that category)... Because the sales jump up high for every update (because the app shows up on the first page) the developers focused on updating existing apps (and improve their sales) rather than invonation [sic] with new apps... As the developers push the updates frequently to keep their sales high, the users are often fed-up with updating their apps frequently."

As evidence of the phenomenon of peak sales for apps appearing on the first page because of updates, Vegesna provided the following chart for the sales of one of his apps (the peaks are from where the app appeared on the first page):

 Credit: Touchmeme's Blog

As a result of the most-recent changes to the App Store, however, it no longer behaves in this fashion. Now the release dates of apps correspond to their original release date and the dates do not change as a result of updates. Vegesna sees the benefits of this change in that app updates will likely contain more "innovation in functionality rather than focusing on who pushes the update first," and that this should allow new apps to remain longer on the first page. Vegesna notes, however, that this change could also motivate developers to spend more time creating new applications instead of spending time improving existing applications that need work.

But even this update to the Apps Store doesn't solve the issues of all developers. Developer Brendan Duddridge added this comment on September 29 to Vegesna's blog:

"My application (Tap Forms) just finally got published on the App Store tonight. I originally submitted on September 16th. Unfortunately, the release date is the date that I first uploaded my app to iTunes Connect. So now I've missed out on having my app show up on the first page sorted by release date. They appear to have used the upload date as the release date instead of the date they released it for sale."

Another significant change to how the App Store behaves that should benefit developers was reported by developer, Matt Legend Gemmell, on his blog:

"Just a small positive note amongst the gloom of NDAs, app rejections and approval delays: Apple have today changed how the customer reviews system works for App Store applications: you now must have downloaded or purchased the app before you're allowed to post a review on it. Here's what it looks like if you try to review an app you’ve not actually used."

 Credit: Matt Legend Gemmell

As a distribution platform, the App Store is still in its infancy, and Apple is obviously making at least some strides towards making it a better system that benefits both developers and users. But it's not all peaches and cream at the App Store, as Apple itself might be the most egregious offender of gaming the App Store system. As reported by OSNews, not only has Apple rejected some application for "dubious" reasons, but Apple also now claims that app "rejections fall under the NDA, prohibiting developers from speaking up about rejections." So not only can Apple reject an app for no reason, the developer has to take his or her lumps in silence. Apple wants the developers to play fair, but is unwilling to do so itself. Gaming the system, in deed.

Additional information for this story from AppleInsider.