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Apple reportedly acquired Ottocat to boost App Store search capabilities

While many iPhone and iPad users might occasionally dip into the App Store’s Top Charts section to discover the popular apps of the moment, those interested in a particular software genre will more than likely head straight for the Explore section to see what’s currently on offer.

Organizing and surfacing relevant content among the more than one million apps in the iOS App Store is a huge challenge for Apple as it seeks to please both users looking for engaging content and developers eager to get there software onto as many devices as possible.

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Indeed, it seems the challenge has been so great that the tech giant sought outside help a while back by acquiring Ottocat, a startup that came to Apple’s attention for its organizing and surfacing technology that let users discover apps more easily via increasingly specific sub-categories.

Although never announced by either party, some recent digging by TechCrunch has apparently revealed that the acquisition took place a while back, possibly as long ago as late 2013, around the time the startup’s website went offline.

Before that, Ottocat CEO Edwin Cooper had commented that the way the App Store was organized made it “nearly impossible to navigate.” As a result, Cooper’s team came up with standalone software to improve the situation for both users and developers.

A few months after Apple apparently acquired Ottocat, the App Store introduced the Explore tab, which likely incorporated the startup’s technology.

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The purchase of Ottocat, if it did indeed happen, won’t have been Apple’s first move to improve search and discoverability for users of its massive App Store. In 2012, for example, the Cupertino company reportedly put down as much as $50 million for Chomp, a San Francisco-based startup that had developed an interactive tool which let users search for apps by function and topic, as well as by name and keywords.

While it may be tricky to tell precisely to what degree search and discoverability have improved in the App Store, the reported acquisitions appear to show that Apple hasn’t taken its eye off the ball when it comes to tweaking its online store, one which continues to grow by the day and is therefore in proper need of careful management.