Some iPhone app devs game the system for higher placement

Taking advantage of the way iTunes sorts applications alphabetically, some developers have found loopholes to put their apps at the top of the list.

Spaces, symbols, and numbers are treated alphabetically before letter A in ASCII code. Thus by using these characters, a developer can ensure his or her application a high placement when iTunes sorts the titles alphabetically.

While a look at the App Store indicates that publicity has apparently lessened the number of applications using the practice, some are still there.

Apple blog Macenstein first took notice of the practice on Sunday, pointing out that in the games section, 16 applications appeared to be using the above strategy.

One of the biggest offenders seemed to be Jirbo, Inc., which at one point had at least nine applications using a space to bump their rankings. No doubt the company caught wind of the negative publicity; by Monday all their applications had been renamed.

Others had altered their names, with only six applications now using the loophole, according to an investigation by BetaNews Monday morning.

Putting the price (in USD) of their games was another trick being used: offenders here were Phase2Media, Ubiquitous Entertainment, and TeemSoft.

Silven Studio's Paquet was the only known game still using the space trick, although their were a few other applications using it across other genres. Ubiquitous Entertainment was using both a space and a number "09-" for its business application ZeptoPad; DS Media Labs uses a "!" to put its game FLOverload at the top.

Developers are reportedly a bit peeved: Macenstein quoted one anonymous developer who was "disappointed" by the moves, and said it harmed "the integrity of the store."

Gaming the system like this is nothing new; the trick has been used for many years in phone books. A company proceeds its name with an A, which in turn would list it near the beginning of the phone book.

There are legitimate ways to jump to the front of the line. For example, a developer can work with Apple to have their application featured, or legitimately use a number within the title of the game that is relevant to the game itself.

Some examples of this from the games category would be titles like TheWay's bowling title 300 Bowl or Dan Messing's Connect Four Remake 4 In a Row.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A request for comment from Jirbo had also not been received by press time.

Update ribbon (small)

5:15 pm EDT July 14, 2008 - Two companies involved in the naming fracas have since responded to BetaNews and indicated they were removing the excess characters to put their applications in the correct alphabetical order.

DS Media Labs told BetaNews that the decision to remove the "!" from its FLOOverboard game was made last night. The developer submitted the changes last night. "We realize this is not the right way to go about business," creative director Michael Dasch told BetaNews. "A few of the pages already have it off, we are just waiting for the others."

Phase2 support representative Justin Ross went into detail regarding his company's position: "Our intention with including the application's price in the name was simply to highlight the fact that it's an inexpensive, lightweight alternative to some of the more robust sudoku games out there, for people that enjoy the occasional game of sudoku, but maybe don't need millions of unique puzzles.

"Now, with our other app, Sudoku Unlimited," Ross continued, "we felt that the price wasn't really a selling point, as it was with Sudoku Classic, so we didn't include the price in its name." He said the company has not made a decision on whether or not to remove the price from the title, and asked BetaNews for our readers to weigh in on the subject.

"When you consider that iPhone users tend to be somewhat more discerning than most mobile device users (and probably wouldn't buy an application based simply on its alphabetical order), this could cause us a significant loss of sales," Ross admitted.

Jirbo has still not responded to our requests for comment.

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