Apple App Store user review frustration

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No, it’s not another App Store rant

A lot has been said about Apple’s app store, the review process, the whole walled garden stuff, etc… As an iOS developer I feel this pain sometimes, especially when my apps go into that state of “waiting for review”, but I tend to take this as a side effect of a drug that makes more good than harm.

The fact is that Apple’s app store revolutionized the software industry and has changed the lives of a lot of independent developers that can now offer the fruits of their labor to millions of people. I know that I changed a lot in my life and, even if I still can’t rely only on my app sales, I have a firm belief that it will happen soon.

The Problem

But there’s one thing about Apple’s app store that I think needs changing and I have not read about it anywhere before: the user review process.

When something costs money, even when it’s under a dollar, people want some validation before buying it. And in the app store user reviews are a valuable source for this information. A lot of users (me included) read them before buying an app. I even do it for free apps sometimes so I don’t even waste my time on an app that has mostly bad reviews.

I got very lucky with Snap when I first released it. I had a nice review from AppAdvice and got featured by Apple in the new and noteworthy section of both the photography section and on the home page of iTunes in the US and some other countries. This gave me a lot of sales and a lot of happy customers. I had a lot of users asking for support but it was mostly feature suggestions or questions about using the app, but everybody was happy.

But then I received two user reviews that worried me. One said that the app didn’t work, that it was a rip off and the other said that the app locked in a screen with a “done” button (there’s no done button in my app…). I opened an issue using itunesconnect asking them to remove these two reviews, stating that I had more than 3000 sales and no complaints of this nature and NO done button but they replied saying that these reviews didn’t meet their standards for removal.

iTunes reviews

And to make matters worse, these two reviews got to the top of the list because a lot of people found them useful. Meaning two things: first, that people tend to “like” negative reviews more than positive ones; and second, a lot of people wouldn’t buy my app because they didn’t even see the lots of other good reviews I had.

So, at this point, there’s nothing I can do about this. These users could have sent me an email or clicked the support link that leads to a Zendesk site I use to provide support, but they didn’t. They just complained and gave me no way of helping them.

And that’s very frustrating. I really want to make this the best app I can make and I take user support very seriously but in this case there was nothing I could do. So, how can this be solved?

A suggestion

My suggestion would be to implement in itunesconnect a way for developers to reply to their customers. I don’t know exactly why Apple won’t give us these user’s emails, but let’s assume they have some valid reasons for this, like fearing that we can harass their users or try to bribe them to make them change their reviews. So, with an interface like this in itunesconnect we can send a message to these users without ever knowing their email. We write the reply and Apple sends an email to the user. The user can reply to this email and it would go back to itunesconnect without showing any emails.

And, as the whole process gets logged by Apple, they can give us some guidelines we’d have to follow, like never asking for an email or phone number. If a developer breaks these rules he gets banned from the app store or gets a warning about it. To help enforce these rules Apple can build some automated rules that “reads” the emails to try to determine if some rules are getting broken.

They could even give us a way to refund the customer automatically if we can’t resolve the issue for some odd reason. I would rather give a few bucks back to a user who’s unhappy with my app for some reason than have one unsatisfied cusomer giving me bad reviews.

Conclusion

I know that bashing Apple and the app store is very frequent among developers and bloggers but that’s not the case here. I believe Apple is doing a nice job with the whole iOS line and the app store and I’m happy to be able to be a part of it. But I believe the review process can be better and Apple can help us with a way to get in touch with our customers. I think it can even take some work off their own support staff that has to deal with a lot of refund requests and complaints about apps.

What do you guys think? Any other ideas?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000756451169 Eduardo Andrade

    Hi,

    I am currently attending a masters course at USP in Brazil, and I am writing a paper about how to improve the Customer Review Process in the App Store. 
    I’d like to tell you that your post was very inspiring and gave me some great ideas.

    Thanks.
    Eduardo.

    • http://twitter.com/gpambrozio Gustavo

      Thanks Eduardo. I’m actually a former USP graduate on Engineering. Podemos até falar em português se você quiser!

  • http://twitter.com/fotosynimaging Fotosyn

    I hear you. As a dev – I too dread those howler reviews. There’s nothing to be done about them. No means of follow up, reconciliation, consultation. It therefore seems like a cul-de-sac, without and value in the purchase process. I’d be pleased if the App Store at least allowed for the developers to state a case, ask a question in order to help improve their apps.

    A review like “It crashes. Won’t work” says very little and it’s frustrating not being able to follow up with questions about the device used, the scenarios where it happens etc. 

    In turn, without dev feedback I am pretty sure that it becomes a one-way street (with that cul-de-sac) isn’t totally useful for potential buyers!

  • Guest

    The thing that is irritating me is that I think other developers of the same category are giving me the bad ratings. Not a single one star rating that I have been given has had any comment whatsoever. And we all know how much people that give one star ratings like to complain so I find that odd. Not to mention the same app on Android has 1000′s of good ratings with a 4.5+ overall and very few bad ratings and it’s apple counterpart (which is much newer so fewer possible overall ratings) is getting dished plenty of bad ratings with no explanations.

  • Sungwook

    I have the same opinion with you!  Good luck with your apps!

  • Mr Kibernetik

    Or probably to remove text from review, just to leave public stars rating. And the comment (optional) can be sent privately to developer, with ability for developer to reply back.