Apple’s getting its act together on app search, recommendation in iOS 6

At WWDC in June, Apple SVP of iOS Software Scott Forstall briefly mentioned that the App Store would be getting an update in iOS 6, due this fall. On Friday, 9to5Mac posted screenshots from the updated iOS App Store that just became available to developers, and they bring good news: the changes show the results of Apple’s acquisition of app discovery company Chomp earlier this year, and far more emphasis on app recommendations and discovery.

Forstall provided no details at the developer conference and didn’t dwell on the topic, but the lack of emphasis on his part doesn’t accurately reflect how important those changes are going to be for both developers and users.

In the below screenshot grabbed from a developer video of the changes, you can see what a search results page looks like in the new iOS App Store. Instead of the current list-like results page showing just the app name and icon, you will get a series of cards that display much more information about apps your search has turned up: screenshots of the app, name, rating, price. It’s more similar to the results you get when searching the App Store in iTunes on Mac OS X, but designed for touchscreens, with those big, easily tappable buttons. (This, along with some behind-the-scenes search algorithm stuff, is what Chomp brought with it to Apple.)

Screenshot from iPodUplink video

Another really big change is the emphasis Apple is going to place on the Genius function of the App Store. The button has been moved to the middle and is likely going to be central to how users interact with the store from now on. Rather than having it hidden away as one option, Apple is going to take the data it already has about what apps you like based on what you’ve downloaded and use that to recommend other apps.

This has been the App Store’s biggest weakness. Apple has the largest mobile App Store around, and it has added search features, categories and even some human curation, but a huge challenge has remained: surfacing quality apps that are tailored to specific users. Right now, the emphasis in the App Store is on the most-downloaded apps, lists which have been dominated by larger, better known developers, and in the past have been easy to game.

Apple using the wealth of data it has is great for users and for developers who struggle to get their apps recognized or noticed in an App Store of 650,000 apps. However, the new focus on Genius recommendations probably will not be received as good news for the bevy of app discovery apps and services that have cropped up over the last few years designed specifically to solve this problem.