Did Apple Just Fiddle With ‘Top App’ Ranking?

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Consider this speculative, but it sounds like Apple may have twiddled a key App Store ranking algorithm to favor “usage” over “total downloads.” If true, the move could be upending for developers uses to banking raw download figures over the actual time spent using or playing with an app.

Word is several iOS developers saw their apps undergo a tectonic rankings shift last week, leading some to suspect Apple’s invisible hand on the wheel. Inside Mobile Apps broke the story, speculating the “new weights” have to do with measuring “active usage” and shifting the emphasis away from simple download counts.

“We’ve been noticing changes in the Top Free rankings for at least three days now,” Flurry VP of marketing Peter Farago told the site. “From our point of view, Apple is absolutely considering more than just downloads, which we believe is the right direction to go in to measure the true popularity of an app.”

So what’s actually changed? See for yourself, if you have an iPhone (just bring up ‘Top Free’ apps, under the App Store’s ‘Top 25’ category). It looks like Facebook’s mobile app suddenly leapt to top 10 standing, after hanging between 10th and 20th place the past 18 months. Inside Mobile reasons that’s because the app has high daily usage (it cites AppData’s figure claiming 39.5 million daily users) and that this indicates Apple’s new algorithm favors “usage” over “downloads.” Other apps experiencing a jump include Netflix (up to 19th from between 30th and 50th), Pandora (up to 6th from in the 20s, though as of this post, it’s listing 22nd), and Glu Mobile (up to an astonishing 32nd place after wallowing between 75th and 100th).

What’s that mean for you and me? If IM’s speculation proves accurate, only that we’ll have a better sense of what people are actually using (and thereby enjoying or preferring) and not just their download clicks. For developers accustomed to profiting based on clicks alone, it’s a reminder that getting customers to stick around is just as important as nudging them through the door.