The State of App Store Reviews

While nothing short of a fantastic delivery vehicle for all things iPhone Application, the App Store still has had its share of nuisances. (Even Apple doesn’t nail everything right out of the gate.) But with the unparalleled popularity of the iPhone and the ability to pair it with 3rd party applications, growth is a necessity, and the App Store has already evolved in a very short period of time.

The reviewing process was flawed from the get go. Initially Apple had the idiotic notion that people who had never purchased or used an application should be able give it a review and star rating. Seriously, how could that work out well? The result was people who had no first hand knowledge of a [paid] application or game leaving scathing reviews because they didn’t like the price point. Apple has since fixed this, checking the ability to review an app against the user’s purchase history.

The solution is only partially effective, which is to say, it only works on paid iPhone applications. With the pricepoint of free, the apps that cost nothing are still susceptible of ridicule. Who wants to complain about something that’s free? Well, you’d be surprised. It’s not so much a situation of complaining about the price, but maybe the app, or the social commentary around the app — as was the case with the Barack Obama campaign application. The ‘review’ thread devolved into a Red vs Blue (unfortunately not the Halo machinima Red vs Blue) debacle (before and after the election). Thinking about the silliness of this particular situation, I can’t help but feel like the SNL Weekend Update segment, “Seriously!?!” But I suppose free speech is free speech, be it in a public venue, or an App Store application review thread.

On the brighter side, when Apple released the 2.2 version of the iPhone firmware, they instituted a smart idea to drive more star ratings for apps. If you’ve upgraded to 2.2, when you opt to delete an application from your iPhone directly (rather than removing via a sync with iTunes), you are prompted to give it a rating. It’s similar in feel to the prompt you get from a Customer Service IVR phone system, but with much less fuss — just tap the rating you want to give, and you’re done. If you want to go the extra mile, you can give a wordy review too. But I think the nice part of this feature is that more ratings are rolling in all the time. In fact, if you’ve been keeping score at home, the most popular of apps in the App Store were once maybe around 3000 ratings. Now the in-crowd of apps are surpassing 10000 reviews and beyond. So something Apple’s instituted is driving more people to sound off on the software they use (or don’t use) on their iPhones, which is great, because it only leads to better informed decisions before you click the ‘BUY’ button.

Are there any features of the App Store review process that I’ve missed? Or if you have some interesting ideas on how Apple could further educate potential buyers of App Store software, sound off here.

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