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ICv2 has news that the iTunes search engine now reaches all the way in to in-app purchases. That should make life a lot easier comics readers, especially those new to the system who haven’t yet internalized which comics are on comiXology and which are on Comics+ or Graphicly — or only in a single-publisher app.
This solves the problem I pointed out in December, that with no universal search engine, digital comics were becoming a walled kingdom. However, the search function has a ways to go. Searching on Stan Lee’s Starborn, which seemed like a good test case, returned six different apps that include the comic. However, the search results only lead to the app, not to the comic itself. The user still has to exit the iTunes store, go to the app, and search within the app to find the comic. Extra steps? That is not the sort of elegant user interface we iPad users are accustomed to. In a case like Starborn, where the comic is in multiple apps, readers who are new to comics may be confused by the multiplicity of choices. And it did occur to me to wonder what the logic is behind the order of the search results — why is comiXology first and Stan Lee’s own app in the last row?
Beyond that, the double search means that bad results are a bigger headache. Checking to see if scanlations linked to by bootleg manga apps were included in the search results (they aren’t), I searched for “Fairy Tail,” the name of a Kodansha manga, knowing that it is not available digitally. ComiXology turned up as the first search result, but of course (I double-checked), Fairy Tail isn’t included in comiXology. I’m sure there are comics with the words “fairy” and “tail” in their titles in the comiXology roster, and the result is that the user is led on a frustrating wild goose chase. One obvious way to reduce the incidence of bad results would be for the iTunes search engine to allow users to search on an exact phrase by enclosing it in quotes, as Google does, but that doesn’t seem to be the case (at least, I got the same funny results when I put “Fairy Tail” in quotes).
The new capability has the obvious benefit of drawing in readers who are new to comics. This wasn’t really possible before, but now if someone searches on, say, “Green Lantern,” they get the comics apps. The dedicated Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead apps were created precisely to address this problem, and while apps like that will still have some value, the new capability means they will no longer be necessary.