I still get asked frequently if the App Store review system bothers me. I try to play it off, “Nah, we’re used to it,” or, “We can’t do anything about it so why stress?” But there are times when it drives me absolutely batshit crazy. Allow me to rant for a minute here.
These are recent reviews for Scratch. We released an all-new UI when iOS 7 came out and the response has been amazing and flattering. We also added a bunch of features over the past few months, one of the biggest being Dropbox sync. Look at this list of recent reviews/ratings… they’re amazing. 5-stars nearly across the board. Nothing makes us want to further develop Scratch more than reviews like these.
But then, wait, what is that 1-star review in the middle there, amongst the other perfect reviews? Oh, it’s from Peter in Germany and he has a complaint: “No Dropbox Syncing.” That sounds like a real problem we should—hey, wait a second! I just said we have Dropbox sync. And it launched on August 16, more than a month before Peter wrote that negative review. In fact, Scratch prompts you to enable Dropbox sync on first launch, so there’s no way if Peter had used the app that he’d think we don’t have it. There his review sits, for any user of the German app store, telling potential customers that we don’t have Dropbox sync, even though we certainly do.
Now let’s look at the most recent review from Jorge: Two stars with complaints that we don’t have support for exporting to Omnifocus (we do), no options for bigger fonts (we support the iOS 7 Dynamic Text setting so you can change your font size to whatever you want), no TextExpander support (but of course we have TE support), not worth the money. Every single bit of this review is inaccurate, but there it is in the US store, telling potential customers the app doesn’t do a bunch of stuff it does.
What are our options here as developers, you ask? They must have improved since 2008—five whole years ago—when the store first launched, right? Unfortunately, we’re still in the same black hole. We can’t respond, we can’t flag, we can’t even contact people who leave reviews (technically, anyone can flag a review, but it doesn’t seem to do anything with Apple and developers don’t have any special flagging ability). Anyone could say anything about any app and there’s nothing the developers can do about it.
How do we handle this? Generally, we try to find the person who left the review via Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc. In the case of Peter from Germany, we couldn’t—that review will forever exist to taunt us with its inaccuracy. Thankfully, we were able to find Jorge and give him support and let him know how to find the various things he thought was missing, after which he agreed to update his review to be more accurate. But that’s only because Jorge Ledesma has a Twitter account using his real name and he came up in our Google search. Most of the time, we can’t find these folks anywhere.
We’re beating a dead horse by complaining about this, sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a constant problem for us and thousands of other developers every single day. Reviews can directly impact revenue and yet they’re still a complete disaster for developers.