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App Store Roundtable: User Review System

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For our next installment of the App Store Roundtable, we asked developers what they liked and/or disliked about the iTunes review system. It should be noted that the review system for the App Store has seen a few updates since these comments were made, but concerns voiced by these developers are still valid.

For me there’s a few things I’ve seen in my small amount of time in the store. One being the inability to respond to negative ratings. I’ve got some that say “Doesn’t work” or “its garbage” but nobody sent a support request. Developers need a way to respond and put these “reviews” where they belong.

— Brandon Steili, developer of gCalWall

An area which needs looking at is the review system on iTunes — it would be great to have more control over this, to stop people posting 1 star reviews + a bad word. Objective reviews are great, but not silly stuff. Also — there needs to be a feedback loop for the publishers/developers to respond to individual reviews (where an update has been posted which fixes a particular issue.)

— Chris Byatte, director of Chillingo

It’s great that Apple gives people a way to provide a star rating for applications, but users should be able to do this for any application at any time; not just for the ones they’re deleting. Why? Well, this approach clearly skews the ratings low. (Users delete the applications they dislike and not the ones they like.) Apple needs to provide a way for users rate an application they like without deleting it or writing a review for it.

— Adam Talcott of Atomic Powered, developer of Napkin Genius

There’s a lack of standardization among reviews and ratings. A 5 Star Farting app isn’t actually better than a 4 star RPG that offers hours of combat, items, quests and amazing 3D graphics. Not enough people look into what a game offers. It needs to be accepted that not all games are equal, so maybe it’s time to rethink how you the consumer are rating a game.

— Bruce Morrison, producer at Freeverse

Join us next time?

If you are an iPhone developer with experience of the App Store and would like to participate by sharing some opinions in future App Store Roundtables, please get in touch via our contact form.

12 Responses to “App Store Roundtable: User Review System”

  1. I have to say our biggest gripe is the “quick try and delete” culture with negative reviews.

    Our app is a version of our online takeaway ordering system that allows users to order fast food from a large number of UK stores – as you can imagine we can only offer service to users that have stores in their area. Whilst we can try and ensure we sign every store in the UK, we can only do so much!

    We added code to ‘pester’ our users who use the app a few times to review it and this does work to an extent. We have also added some code to ask users with no stores to make a recommendation (with a voucher code if we manage to add that store too) but we still have a large amount of negative bounces.

    As developers we can only do so much to sway results for service based apps. We could never compete with the awesomeness of “Angry Birds” or “PvZ” for ratings; all we can do is keep trying to make our app better!

  2. It may be true that the rating system has little, or no, effect. It is however an utter pain in the arse. Take this example. I have a new app in the store with 4,000 downloads and 20 ratings. The average is 2 stars. There are 2 5 stars, 8 4 stars, and 10 1 stars. That averages out – rounded down – to 2 stars.

    But the reviews are good. In fact the reviews with text ( as opposed to ratings without text) average 4.5 ( ish).

    So what is going on. My app is not for everyone. People download it , its free. About 50% dont like it. We can tell that 50% are still using it after a week which is quite sticky.

    Of the 50% who dont like it most probably delete it. When they delete it they get the option to rate it. Thats a trivial exercise for them. I imagine that zero% of people delete an application they give 5, 4, 3 ( or in most cases) 2 stars to. So some people – and not that many relative to the number of people not using the app ( which is probably either equal to the number of deletions, or very close) give the app 1 star.

    What about our fans? Well they have to remember they use the app a lot. Then they have to be very nice. They have to go to the App Store. Wait a bit. Search for our application. Wait a bit. Then rate us. Probably with a comment.

    Given that reality, it is amazing that most applications are not 1-2 stars on average. Many top sellers are in fact 2-3 starts.

    Now lets say the rate on delete was gone. I am sure that the average star rating for my app would be 4.5 stars, as that is what the people who actually turned up to the site said. ( There are some anonymous commentless 4 – 5 stars – but surely they also turned up to the App store to rate, they didnt delte a 4-5 star app as rated by themselves).

    In fact most app store previous to Apple ( and yes they existed Virginia) like MacUpdate, or VersionTracker force a comment with the rating. You might get some people with the 0ne star, but viewers can discount it if they argument is spurious, or has one word. As most do.

    And this should be obvious. I mean the goober in Apple who came up with this system must have known the consequences.

    So roll on the day we make it big on Android. Apple is evil. That design is either evil , or incompetent, or both. Along with the arbitrary wait to get on the store, it makes programming for this platform an utter pain. I am in there for the money. When Android goes large, i am out of it.

  3. That’s a good point Noel, thanks for adding that. I think most App Store developers do come to terms with the way the review system works after a week or two. It can be frustrating, but it doesn’t seem to have a massive impact on sales. I’m definitely not a fan of the Rate on Delete feature though :).

    I think the biggest issue for many developers isn’t so much the negative opinions, it’s more disappointing if you can see a user is having a problem with your App, but you have no way to connect with them or respond to their issues via the review system.

  4. All right, I’m going to be the dissenting voice here.

    As an indie iPhone developer, I totally understand where other developers are coming from and why we feel that way. Of course I want to reply to the moron with the incorrect 1-star review. Of course I think it’s unfair to compare 4 stars in one category with 4 stars in another category.

    But frankly, that’s what happens with all other types of media: music, movies, books, etc. We’re all OK listening to a song/movie, thinking it sucks, and panning it with a 1-star rating in iTunes or Amazon. Is there a channel for the artist to contact us and explain to us the true meaning of the song? No, and I wouldn’t want to!

    I think Apple has much bigger fish to fry fixing how the App Store works without worrying about changing the rating system. Leave it alone, I say :-)

    Besides, it pains me to admit it (since I took a lot of pain to provide a quality app that people can really fall in love with), but ratings seem to be pretty much irrelevant to the number of sales. How else can you explain so many apps in the top 100 that horrible, *horrible* ratings… and people keep buying them anyway.

  5. @Rob: I too use AppVee for reviews of apps. When it comes to AppStore reviews, I also take caution with 5 star reviews. I have found that there are people who give developers 5 star reviews of all their apps across the board. All it takes is a click of the user of the 5 star review to see if they have done a blanket 5 star review of the developers apps to tell me that the reviews are bogus. I can’t say if they developers are involved in this, but I suspect they are. I suspect that they are giving these reviewers “Redeem Codes” to allow them to enter reviews without having to actually pay for them. Either that, or the developers themselves add new iTunes accounts and give themselves “Redeem Codes” to enter reviews themselves.

    Either way, when I am getting ready to spend a fair amount of money for something in the AppStore, I take special care to make sure 5 star reviews are as legit as I can.

  6. Gazoobee,
    I agree, your comments/rants do nothing for me or anyone else here. If you don’t like the articles then go somewhere else. PERIOD! YOU HAVEN”T ADDED ANY VALUE.

    I would like to hear from more developers and the issues their having and hopefully Apple will fix the many problems with the app store. Before I download an APP I ignore all of the one liners with “IT SUCKS” and “I don’t like it” (like Gazoobee’s) comments and the 1 stars because for 1) It shows there age and 2) Shows me they really didn’t invest time into the APP to write a descent review in the first place and I believe that most people ignore them as well and use APPVEE or some other way to see if it is indeed a great or poor application. I am not promoting any specific site, I use many websites to check if it’s something I’m interested in and most of my friends and co-workers do the same. If it’s a good app it will get noticed….

  7. I’ve deleted literally hundreds of apps. Not because I don’t like them or don’t want them, but because I don’t have enough room in SpringBoard (the 9 app screens) for all of my apps to fit. I currently have 384 applications in my iTunes Applications section. There are only 148 spaces on the iPhone/iPod touch for applications including Apple’s “locked” apps, for my apps. I currently have 5 Apple apps that I would prefer to remove, but I’m not able to.

    When I delete these apps, I don’t rate them. I just remove them. I don’t remove them from iTunes so that I can re-install them later when I have space or want to use them.

    Apple needs to do two things to correct this. One is to allow more than 9 pages in the SpringBoard. From screenshots of the 3.0 firmware, it looks like this may happen. Second, they need to put the ability to organize apps in iTunes. This could mean categories, but I would prefer a tab that displays all the available pages on the device. Then I could simply move apps around those screens as I see fit. When finished, I could press an update button that would move the app icons on my device to match that of iTunes. Moving apps around the current way is annoying when as you drag from screen to screen, a full screen of 16 apps plus the 4 on the dock, one of those apps slide to the next screen thinking you are going to drop the app you are dragging on that page. I am not, I am scrolling past that screen, but the SpringBoard app doesn’t know how to read my mind. :)

    If Apple made the above changes, I wouldn’t need to delete the apps I have deleted. I have a 16GB iPhone, let me use the memory I have on that device for applications as well as videos, music, etc…

  8. Jakub Foglar

    Actually I like this kind of posts, where you can see what the devs say and that kind of stuff. Sometimes it’s better than to read how the touchscreens suck :P

  9. Gazoobee: I’m going to start tagging articles that you won’t complain about as “gazoobee-will-like-this”.

    Unfortunately I’m afraid there will never be an article with that tag.

    If you don’t find any value from this article, please don’t comment. Constantly adding comments that basically say “I don’t like this” doesn’t add a drop of value and is approaching “troll” level.

  10. Gazoobee

    No offence, but how is three short gripes from developers with no response and no commentary actually an “article,” or even a blog post? What am I supposed to glean from this if anything? What did the author contribute here? Anything at all?

    I get more info from reading the comments on the Apple blog articles than I do the actual articles.