At Apple’s Mercy

In 2003-4, at the peak of our move into math education, we were at the mercy of the College Board. Everyone was waiting on their decision. We had the states of Georgia and Michigan interested in putting us on approval lists. We had middle schools and high schools across the country ready to shift from traditional calculators to Palm devices. We knew at the time that if the College Board rejected us from trials for the AP Calculus exam, we were pretty much done in education.

Literally millions of dollars were riding on the College Board’s decision.

And we got in. The College Board agreed to do first year trials in a bunch of school districts across the country.

But then the unexpected happened. Palm fired their education team as they shifted focus from handheld computers to smartphones and the College Board decided to not do the trials.

We were done in education.

A similar, deja vu feeling crept over me in the past 48 hours as Apple changed some search criteria, we disappeared from a number of key searches, and our sales plummeted. We are once again beholden to a single company.

According to various reports I have found, Apple decided that there was too much cross-selling going on. For instance, if I wanted people who used iFart to find my application, all I had to do was add the text “iFart” into my application description and I’d show up in the searches for iFart. I completely understand why Apple would want to stop this behavior. It’s too easy to game the system by referencing a completely unrelated — but albeit highly popular — application to raise awareness for your own product.

But this change eliminated a lot of good uses of terms as well. For instance, FastFigures is a financial calculator with innovative template format to make calculation a lot faster, easier and accurate. We include the phrase “financial calculator” in our description so people searching on that term can find us. (We also include “Finance Calculator” in the title but words in the title are exempt from Apple’s new search criteria.)

What happened? Because someone named their application “Financial Calculator” we are now removed from every search that includes that phrase. We are also eliminated from every search that doesn’t include that phrase but where that application appears without using those terms. So we have also been removed from searches for “IRR” and “Time Value of Money”, for instance, because the application titled “Financial Calculator” is there as well.

The effect (and if you were wondering the impact of search), our sales plummeted 80%.

I’m hoping Apple will fix the problem. In the meantime I re-worked the description to make sure that the words “financial” and “calculator” never appear back-to-back, hoping this gets me back into the searches. (I’ll find out tomorrow.)

The queasy feeling in my gizzard, though, is still there. I’m completely beholden to Apple to make my business happen. I vowed I’d never get in a situation again where I am beholden to a single company for my success. It didn’t even take me five years to break that vow.

Update: It looks like Apple fixed the problem this afternoon. My fix didn’t work but that’s fine. Just want to be back in the searches!