Apple may have tweaked its App Store ranking algorithm to rank its top apps beyond their traditionally-measured download numbers, according to an online report.
Citing research from Flurry Analytics, Inside Mobile Apps reports a number of dramatic placement shifts in the App Store's Top Free section over the past three days, notably Facebook jumping to the number one slot from its usual placement in the bottom half of the top twenty.
Inside Mobile Apps theorizes that Apple may be weighing active usage in its ranking system now, citing AppData metrics that show Facebook has over 39 million daily active users.
"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," Flurry's Peter Farago told the site.
Additional placement fluctuations reported include Netflix jumping from the 30-50 range to 19, Pandora from the 20s to number 6, and Glu Mobile's game Gun Bros jumping from the 75-100 range to number 32.
"It looks like itís daily actives and monthly actives," said Glu's marketing head Mike Breslin. "Basically, how much is the product used? Is it just sitting there on the handset or is it being actively used?"
As the report notes, such a change could have a dramatic impact on the mobile industry. Typically, a developer could hire a company like W3i, Tapjoy or Flurry to literally pay for downloads to get an app ranked on the App Store. If downloads are no longer the lone deciding factor, those who depended on this strategy will have to dramatically change how they approach user acquisition.
Apple has not made a statement regarding these changes at press time.
[UPDATE: In what appears to be a further move to target rank manipulators, Apple also seems to be cracking down on apps that incentivize users to install other apps in exchange for in-game currency.
According to another report on Inside Mobile Apps, a number of developers have been receiving rejection notices over the past week when attempting to submit updates to apps with such offer walls, citing clause 3.10 in its developer agreement which states that "Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program."
"This is something new from Apple and we, along with every partner weíve talked to, were unaware of this prior to these notices of rejection," said app installation firm Tapjoy in a statement.
"To be clear, there is no new Apple policy that we are aware of," the statement continued. "It seems there may be a new interpretation of the existing 3.10 clause, which is a bit surprising, as Tapjoy, AdMob, iAd, Flurry, W3i and others all power various forms of app install advertising."
As with its alleged ranking algorithm changes, Apple has not issued a statement in regards to a potential change to its interpretation of its developer agreement.]