I hope you fared better in the WWDC lottery than I did, though I’m hopeful for a possibility of a second round on Monday (maybe?). The system and process generally went really well and I think this is likely the process we’ll see going forward. It isn’t perfect but is as good as I could imagine.
Improving the App Store: Part 5
The star rating of an application is the most important aspects of the sale experience that is outside of the developer’s direct control. It is displayed on every page and instance where your app is shown and gives the customer a general cue about the quality of your app. As such developers tend to take whatever actions they can to increase it. If this were just a question of improving the quality of their apps that would be fine but that isn’t where most developers stop off. Not to reopen the tempest about prompt dialogs, but there are a lot of potentially dubious and tricky things developers can do to try and ‘artificially’ boost their ratings. There are also some really solid, thoughtful ways to accomplish the same goal.
My general recommendations about ways this could be improved.
- Define a clear policy about where, how, and when applications may prompt for reviews.
Much of the discussion around the dialog prompts stemmed from a feeling that ‘everyone was doing it’ so ‘I need to too’. The best way to reward earnest developers who are trying to optimize for their users’ experience is to level the playing field by establishing exactly what is permitted.
- Make the rating scale a rolling, weighted average rather than just current, at least soon after updates.
I remember when Apple changed the review score from a global average to only the current version. This was an attempt to make sure that a single buggy version didn’t forever hang around your neck. It also makes the reviews perhaps more reflective of the experience the customer should expect. The challenge though is that immediately after submitting your update your reviews all go to zero which gives the customer a very different perspective about your app. It makes it look unused or low quality. This discourages updates and encourages annoying your users with review prompts immediately after updates. Either show the overall average or a rolling, weighted average, even if only recently after update.
While the role and scope of editorial (feature) coverage of the store has been steadily improving over the years I think there is still a massive amount of room to be done here. Apart from the top lists, the featured area is probably the most visible place your app can be found. Building an app with the goal of being featured incentivizes quality, thoughtful and relevant app creation. Which is great but means that the value of being featured should be less abrupt.
- Expand the scope and frequency of editorial coverage in the Store
It seems very odd that features are only ever updated once a week (typically thursday afternoon). New apps are added to the store constantly, updates are submitted constantly, it seems like features should be updated accordingly. I’d love to see things like ‘daily picks’/promotions or similar. Things that could potentially drive user engagement with the App Store app, checking in on what is new and interesting.
- Make an app’s featured status visible after their initial feature
If an app is featured I’d love to see some kind of badge or notation on its App Store page promoting its selection. Apple has already taken the time and effort to identify apps that are worth the user’s attention, why not communicate that to user’s on the actual product page for the app. Similarly I’d love to see the curated lists that Apple puts together show up as search results. For example, if you search for ‘accounting’ the featured list for “Managing your Money” would seem like a great place to present the user with some apps that might be worth initially considering. This has the added benefit of improving the quality of search results.
- Expand the diversity of categories associated with each app.
Lastly I’d love to see the variety and specificity of categories you could assign to an app be expanded. The current metadata assignment into one of only 24 categories seems paltry when trying to catalog over a million individual apps. I’m sure based on the search data that Apple has at its disposal I’m sure they could subdivide of the existing categories into several useful sub-categories (much like how games are treated). This would also help improve the relevance of the top charts. Being the top app in a more niche sub-category might be genuinely useful for developers and customers alike.
This concludes this series on the App Store.