Google is constantly optimizing and tweaking its apps through various A/B tests, and the latest one for the Play Store has us scratching our heads quite a bit. We’ve noticed that the familiar and handy install button is disappearing for some in the Play Store’s search results, which means that you actually have to tap through to the full app listing to install an app. This behavior isn’t in place for all results and apps, though, making the tweak feel arbitrary and random.
In the past, and as is still the case for many people right now, the Google Play Store showed an install button next to every result you would get for any search. While it’s a small convenience, it still makes it easier to quickly install an app you’ve found without having to look at any extra details about it. Recently, Google even added a drop-down menu to this install button, making it possible to choose which of your Android devices to download the new app on.
The install button was available for all regularly listed apps, whether they’re the ad result at the very top, the best result listed right below, or further results farther down the screen. The install button was never available for apps listed in the “Related to your search” and “You might also like” carousels that are usually added between the first result and the rest.
With the latest iteration of search we’ve spotted, things are getting more complicated. When you know exactly what app to search for, like “Adobe Acrobat” to get the familiar PDF reader, the expected “Adobe Acrobat Reader” result will be accompanied by an install button. However, when you scroll down below the carousels, you’ll see that none of the other results have an install button anymore. Instead, there is a chevron that makes it possible to look at the screenshots attached to the listing, but to jump the gun and install the app in question, you have to tap the listing and select the download button there.
If you’re not sure which app you’re looking for, like when you only search for “PDF reader” rather than a specific app, the install buttons are gone altogether, both on the top advertisements and the regular results, forcing you to click through to the app listing for everything.
Interestingly enough, this behavior isn’t 100% consistent across all searches. For example, we get mostly the same behavior when searching for “Chrome Canary” versus only “Canary,” but in the latter search result, the top advertisement is installable with a single tap (see the screenshot below). An even more generic search for “Browser” doesn’t give us any clickable install buttons, though. The only pattern we could identify here across different searches is the number of ads displayed — if it’s more than one, then there is no install button, but if it’s only one, then it will feature a prominent download option.
While Google hasn’t publicly acknowledged this change, we can speculate why the company is testing it. When you search for an app’s specific name, you likely already know what you want to get, and you probably just want a quick way to install it without going through any hassles. However, if you have a more generic term or if you’ve confused one app for another, it might make sense to first take a proper look at the detailed listing in order to avoid installing the wrong app or, worse, a phishing or scamming app (some will always slip through Google’s malware and abuse scanners). In those cases, Google likely wants to enforce this extra tap to make sure to at least give you the chance to read up on the app, its description, and its reviews before you tap that install button.