Ask iMore: How the #@$& do you find anything with App Store search?

Can't find the App Store app you're looking for? Try searching differently!

App Store search is horribly broken. We all know that. So it came as no surprise when a reader asked me how we — the people who write about them all day — find anything on the App Store. The short answer is a little creativity and a lot of tenacity. The long answer is best given in the form of a recent example. Here it is!

I'd been asked to find an iPhone app that could change the resolution of photos. So, I launched the App Store app on iPhone, started looking, and found... nothing. Then I tweaked the search terms and got completely different results.

After launching the App Store I thought to myself about what someone may type in to find that specific type of app. The first thing that came to mind was photo resizer, so I tried that. I wasn't really pleased with the results and after flicking through quite a few of them I realized that some didn't even belong there. I can understand general purpose photo apps showing up, but a running app? Perhaps it's time to try again.

This time I typed in resize photos and found that the results were completely different. I felt like I was getting closer but wasn't quite there yet. I flicked through several of the apps and while some were the same as my previous search, many were not. At least I only got photography related apps this time. Unfortunately most of them dealt with cropping photos, not changing the actual resolution.

For my last search I went with photo resolution. This brought up a mixed bag of photo sharing and transfer apps along with some editing apps. None of the ones I could find specifically dealt with the resolution of photos. I found this the oddest search of all since I searched even more specifically.

It's not unusual for developers to stuff keywords into the titles of their apps, and I believe there is a keyword section developers can fill in as well. I'm not sure how the App Store weighs all of that, and what other factors might be involved, but I've yet to find a pattern. Everything is always hit and miss. That being said, if you're looking for a specific type of app or hunting down something you forgot the name of, try a variety of search terms. In some cases, I've had to search four or five different ways in order to find the app I was looking for. It's a big reminder that the App Store isn't perfect and still needs some work.

Have you run into problems searching for apps in the App Store? Did switching key words help? Let me know in the comments! And if there's any developers out there, have you run into issues getting your app to index the way you want it to? Let me know that too!

Allyson Kazmucha

Help and how to editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Ask iMore: How the #@$& do you find anything with App Store search?

28 Comments

If you are lucky enough to know the developer's name, or company, search that, and you get every app they make. This problem is not just the app store. Try a simple google search. Click images. There will be pictures that have nothing to do with the search at all. Back the the app store, I have gotten the not found message with the search, put the developer/company name in for a search, and found the app the same exact spelling I did for the search. ??? the app store is strange.

^ This. If I can't find any matches with the app name, I try to search using the developer's name. Or you can just try to Google it.

Why not use Google with a search like the following:

site:itunes.apple.com photo resolution

You can then take advantage of other options like looking within that search within the past year and sort by date, versus relevance.

Right, or maybe try googling 'best photo resizing ios apps', then most probably you will see some articles from some good tech sites (maybe by some tech journalists you trust) discussing about the topic. Then you can decide which to install after reading.

I sometimes resort to using the web site "AppExplorer" (appexplorer.com) to help me find what I am looking for.

Sent from the iMore App

This is definitely a serious problem. I've notice I can type the name of the up and it doesn't show up in the search. Maybe the complaints should be addressed with Apple to help get a fix for the problem.

Sent from the iMore App

You shouldn't have to use Google to search Apple's content. Developers (myself included) shouldn't be incentivized to change the name of their app to optimize search results.
App Store search is broken, and we need to keep making noise about it.

Here's your golden opportunity to develop a great Apple app to search the App Store. Unfortunately, Apple might balk at allowing it, even at no cost, since you'd be showing them up. I suspect the folks hired by Apple for their store came from Macy's. When was last time you went there to buy something and actually found anything more than a pretty but useless buying experience?

I prefer the idea of getting Apple to change the store over making ANOTHER app. People would have to know about the app to get a better store experience, but they'll never know about it because the store is so bad.

Wonderful catch-22 there.

Sometimes I put something in the search & it brings up a few hundred results & I'm supposed to search through them one at a time. What is that all about. Results should be listed in groups of 10-20-30 or what you want them up be listed in.

I use Quixey.com, a search engine for apps. I find it much better than the Apple search. You can also search by platform too.

I'm not saying this to kiss up, but honestly, I never find apps via the App Store anymore: I find them exclusively through articles here and other websites. Reviews and articles now typically have the link to download that specific app on the App Store; in the event they don't I would search for it by name, but that's about it.

The fault is not so much on Apple side, as it is on developers!
Developers always want to "fetch" the more searchs as possible, só they Tag their apps with keywords revelant in searchs!
The same method is used on websites.
What Apple should do is get a way for the search to be done in 3 ways:
1- app name
2- app keywords (should be Apple controled, so its Inside the app spec)
3- app description, so it could search for expressions and phrases!

This issue should really be One of Apple priorities for the App Store!

Sent from the iMore App

If that is the culprit then it is in fact Apple's fault for doing apparently nothing about it. Manufactures frequently add tags to their items to influence the search results of my company's search engine. We look for bogus tags that are not applicable to the items and either have the supplier remove the tags or remove the items from our catalogs. Additionally we continue to tweak the algorithm to keep up with the newest tricks like you mention.

It seems like Apple is content with delivering a crappy product. So crappy that users find it takes less time to Google search apps and review articles for links back to the App Store.

Answer: I don't. I don't use the app store much at all. If I hear of an app on the internet i'm interested in i'll search for the name. If it doesn't come up that's it. I don't ever browse the app store. "It just doesn't work."

Another method is to use apps that help search for apps. In the past I've used AppShopper, AppZapp Pro, Free App Shopper, and AppsGoneFree. None are perfect, but then look at the App Store...it makes anything worth a try.

Also, when on the App Store, click an app you may be interested in. When it opens up there's a 3 tab menu bar across the screen saying Details, Reviews, Related. Touch or click on Related, then scroll thru the selections that are provided. Sometimes there's nothing worth while, other times good apps can be found.

In my experience, there is no one good way to find apps. I've used all the methods listed above, and those in this comment, and maybe a few more. Don't forget to ask the people you know who may be able to help your cause.

the app store sucks. the play store is a million times better. but that's just me. I'll look up an app after reading about it on imore. but i never go trolling on the app store.

As an iOS developer, I found this frustrating as well. Searches that clearly targeted my apps were coming up with completely unrelated apps that ranked above mine. And as an iOS user, of course it was super annoying. So I decided to fix the problem myself. (as someone also suggested in these comments!) It is still a work in progress, but I think it is a big improvement already! (http://appsearch.pw)

usually whatever i'm looking for shows up as the first result. but i'm usually looking for a specific app, i'm never just browsing trying to find something. but from what i've noticed, it seems like it would take a lot of time to sift through results

I used to buy/download tons of apps. I've had an iPhone since the 3G and iPad since the iPad 2 came out, and over time I've gradually slowed my purchases from the App Store because I just can't find what I want, even when I know exactly what I'm looking for.

This past week, I switched from directv to comcast, and I knew that comcast has relevant apps for my service, so I searched for "xfinity" and there were 27 search results of which 10 were not comcast apps and some of which were completely unrelated to comcast, or any possible service they provide.

The App Store leaves me drowning in a sea of too much choice.

I use appcrawlr and google to find specific apps, but find it quite time consuming to browse and check the results. I really like the new appsearch site, especially the feature showing info about the apps just by "mousing over the results". This will save a lot a time. It's in my bookmarks now.
@AppSearch: Thank you for your work.

I came across another useful post today about getting back the lost "power search" in iTunes that I like to share here. You will get it back by using this link http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZSearch.woa/wa/advancedSearch

Search on the App Store is riduculous. I am sure Apple MUST be working on this. How can they not be? It's horrible. They must know.

I mean I don't get it. I see an advertisement for an APP that I know is in the store. Yet when I go and search for it it's no where to be found in the App Store. I. Don't. Get. It. Is a Apple serious? As smart as their products are this sure is dumb!! I have to GOOGLE the app I want to find... How ass backwards is that??