I think one of the most interesting things about the whole epic vs. apple trial is that it affords us a quite significant insight on discussions that are happening within Apple, that usually are not at all visible to us.

What makes these insights extra fun is that it’s likely they are actually authentic, since we’re seeing emails that were written in the past in a different context. While we have to be aware of the fact, that obviously we are dealing with professionals here, so they are careful what they write in emails, exactly in preparation for this kind of situation, given that the discussions are internal, we actually can learn a lot about the thought process and decision making process at Apple.

All that being said, there are some fun things that I noticed while reading some of the press on the case, specifically when it comes to advertising on the App Store. There are a couple of things that I’d like to quote here, that really struck a chord with me.

Yes, the ability to pay for promotion would be awesome. We’ve floated it several times as the way to end chart gaming: if people are willing to pay “marketing companies” (bot nets) to gain position, why don’t we just let them pay us to gain position?

So this one is wow. Friedman1 wrote that he’s interested in Ads for one reason and the reason is not that it would make them money, the reason is that it would stop people from gaming the charts. That way they’d actually help people find the things they are looking for more easily.

Quite interestingly, the only reason they had not done it apparently, is appearances:

The devs would love it. The problem is that Tim is telling the world that we make great products without monetizing users. Ads would be weirdly at odds with that.

Super funny, how here their PR was standing in the way of their fixing an issue by introducing Ads.

However, what interests me even more is the question of discovery, that is being raised in the same email:

But in the App Store I don’t only want to know what is popular. I want apps that are high quality, well looked after by engaged developers, and retained (because useful) by other users. Being popular within a category is a nice to have and should mostly correlate with the other values I described.

I actually think they found part of the picture here: A high quality app that is well looked after is definitely something that I care about, however, it seems more like a secondary criteria. Usually an app would have to solve a problem or give me something that I want, even if it’s one I am not even aware of yet. What good is it to me, that the app will be well looked after, if I don’t need it in the first place.

However, I am not really sure how either ads nor a list of popular apps will solve for this discovery problem. Interestingly enough, personalization might actually solve for this problem, just that it’s something else that Apple cannot offer, since it conflicts with their values.

If a lot of people that are similar to me (e.g. by having similar apps), have an app that I don’t have, that will mean there’s a good chance I will want that app as well. I am not sure how this could be solved for technically without ending up like Google’s FLoC, but if it can be solved in a way that does not compromise privcay, it would surely make the App Store significantly more valuable than the current overview of featured apps & games does.

  1. Who’s head of Apple’s Fraud Engineering Algorithms and Risk unit.