Within the last 12 hours Apple has modified the App Store to prevent users running "prerelease" software from leaving app reviews on the App Store. Now when a user running a beta version of iOS 9 tries to leave an app review, they will get the following error message:
This feature isn't available.
You can't write reviews while using a pre-release version of iOS.
However it appears that the change only applies to iOS 9, because users running OS X El Capitan can still post reviews on the Mac App Store.
The change should help end the annual frustration experienced by app developers when users running beta versions of iOS discovered a third party app wasn't compatible with the beta software and then left a 1-star rating on the App Store. Poor reviews on the App Store can hurt sales, and developers often can't do anything to fix the problem because they can't submit software built for the new versions of iOS whilst it remains in beta, and the bug could be one for Apple to fix, not the developer.
As Federico wrote earlier this month:
In this day and age of high competition and over 1.5 million apps available, having negative reviews displayed on the app's product page is a problem for developers. But it gets worse when those negative reviews cite problems that developers can't fix yet. At that point, developers feel that it's not fair to receive a negative review for something that's completely out of their control. And when the livelihood of independent app markers is at stake, it's hard to argue aganst their sentiment of frustration and disappointment. There's nothing they can do to fix their app issues on betas of iOS and OS X and they can't respond directly to reviews on the App Store – and yet they're taking all the blame. This, every year, repeatedly for every beta of iOS and OS X, and it's possibly becoming more of a problem now that Apple has two public betas.
The problem of permitting app reviews from users on beta software was always a problem, but it risked being a much bigger issue this year because it is the first year that Apple has begun offering public betas of a major iOS release.
The free version of popular puzzle game Threes has doubled its developers' profits, as reported by Eurogamer and as Threes developer Asher Vollmer shared in a series of tweets (full collection here).
It's interesting to look at the stats for the platform split of iOS vs. Android. The majority of free users also comes from iOS.
Making a free version of a paid game with ads may not be the most elegant decision, but it's a practical one when you want to attract an audience that doesn't have disposable income to spend on games.
Earlier this week, Apple released the first public betas of iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, and, knowing that would be the case, I cautioned MacStories readers against leaving negative reviews on the App Store for third-party apps that developers can't update with new features and fixes yet.
It's worth pointing out that, at this stage, third-party apps from the App Store can't be updated to take advantage of the new features in iOS 9 and OS X 10.11, which could limit the potential benefit of trying a public beta for some users. On iPad, for instance, only Apple's pre-installed apps can use the new multitasking features in iOS 9. For this reason, users interested in installing the public betas should also keep in mind that developers can't submit apps and updates with iOS 9 and El Capitan features to the App Store – therefore, it'd be best not to leave negative reviews for features missing in apps that can't be updated to take advantage of them yet.
Unfortunately, since yesterday I've already seen tweets from the developers of two excellent iOS apps – Screens and Day One – post screenshots of negative reviews they've received by users who are unsurprisingly running into problems when using their apps on the iOS 9 beta.
What's even more unfortunate is that this happens annually for every single iOS and OS X developer seed, but I fear the problem will be exacerbated this year by the availability of public betas anyone can try. Therefore, this bears repeating.
In his look at human curation in the age of algorithms following the launch of Apple Music, Jean-Louis Gassée makes an interesting point about the App Store:
For a while now, music downloads have paled when compared to apps – hence Apple’s move to a streaming service. But there’s another idea lurking in there: If it’s a good idea to use human curators to navigate 30 million “songs”, how about applying human curation to help the customer find his or her way through the 1.5M apps in the Apple App Store? Apple bought Beats for $3B and spent a good chunk more to build its Music product. Why not take another look at the App Store jungle and make customers and developers even happier?
Apple has been featuring curated collections of apps on the App Store for a few years now, notably revamping the front page with best new apps, games, updates, and handpicked sections over the past year.
But I do wonder what a “For You” curated and personalized front page would be like for apps. I'm not sure 1.5 million apps have the cultural and social heritage that sustains the curation efforts of Apple Music, but it's fun to imagine how app experts and design tastemakers could make the App Store even more personal, showcasing great software that usually doesn't make it to the top charts.
Sarah Perez, reporting on Apple's latest tweak to the App Store curated picks, this time for the Games category:
Apple quietly made a number of changes to the way it features and organizes mobile applications in the iTunes App Store in May that are of particular interest to mobile game developers. Previously, developers relied on algorithmically generated sections highlighting new and trending titles as a way of having their games found, but now many of these lists are gone.
Now missing are lists like “New,” “What’s Hot,” and “All iPhone (Free & Paid),” for example. In their place, including for the first time ever in the Games’ subcategory pages, are editorially curated lists instead.
Games are the App Store's most popular category, with 18 sub-sections for different game genres. I've argued in favor of more human curation on the App Store in the past, and Apple seems to agree that having human editors is the best (and only?) way to highlight good content with taste and thoughtfulness.
Some developers will always find ways to work around a system where apps are highlighted through algorithms; you can't buy your way into a curated list unless you make a good app and Apple thinks it's worth recommending to customers. Apple still has algorithm-based sections on the App Store (Top Charts, 'Popular Games' on the front page), but handpicking the best software is the right thing to do in a store with about 1.5 million apps. I'm glad that we're seeing more of this.
Apple doesn't make a single Android or Windows Phone app, and makes barely anything for Windows. But Apple's reluctance to develop on other platforms hasn't stopped Google and Microsoft from bringing their own apps across to iOS. That shouldn't be any surprise at all, given the different business strategies the three take. But what might be surprising is the extent to which Google and Microsoft have committed to bringing apps to iPhone and iPad users.
You are no doubt aware of the big apps from Microsoft (Word, Outlook and Minecraft) and Google (Gmail, Maps, Calendar), but the reality is that these two companies alone have over 150 apps available on the iOS App Store today. For good measure, I've also taken a look at the iOS development efforts from Adobe and Facebook, which are also significant.
Almost a year after the original announcement at WWDC 2014, Apple has opened access to App Analytics in iTunes Connect today.
Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:
Ahead of its annual WWDC developer conference in June, Apple has opened up beta access to a new mobile app analytics service aimed at iOS developers. Simply called “Apple’s App Analytics,” an announcement inviting developers to request early access to the service appeared today on the iTunes Connect developer portal. Those with an iTunes Connect account can also reach the sign-up page using the direct link analytics.itunes.apple.com.
App Analytics are available for devices running iOS 8 and above, and the usage data part is completely opt-in. Every time you set up a new iOS device (or upgrade to iOS 8), you're asked if you want to share information with app developers to improve their apps through analytics. Other App Store metrics (views, installs, etc.) are returned for all users.
Based on the tweets I saw in my timeline today, first impressions seem positive. Apple can now give developers a level of insight that's unprecedented for any other app analytic platform. Apple's App Analytics can plug directly into the App Store and tell developers how customers find their apps, where traffic is coming from, and how many views an app gets on the Store.
After years of no data about customer behavior on the App Store, it seems like this will be a massive change for how apps are marketed, optimized for international App Stores, and presented to users.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple updated their App Store Review Guidelines to state that Watch apps built primarily to tell time will be rejected.
In the past few weeks, I've heard about a few timezone apps primarily designed to show world clocks that were rejected for unknown reasons, with developers annoyed about the lack of official guidelines. Today's change is better than approving and then rejecting an app, I guess, but maybe Apple could have shared this piece of information sooner. I don't know if those timezone apps ended up being approved or not, and there could be other developers with a different experience from the ones I talked to.
From Apple's standpoint, however, I can see why it makes sense to avoid confusion with apps that replicate a watch face UI – at least initially. It's not too dissimilar from Apple's stance on third-party apps that replicated native functionalities with the original iPhone App Store.
Jeremy Olson on making Hours free and shifting their focus on turning a “simple app” into a business:
How do you break into business and the enterprise? We like Slack’s bottom-up approach. Start by making the best solution for individuals, who in turn advocate adoption for their team, who in turn evangelize to other teams…and up the chain it goes. If startups can make this strategy work in the Enterprise, as Slack has, then they can focus on creating a great experience for the end-user instead of a bloated feature list to pass a corporate approval checklist.
Hours is an excellent time tracker. I'm curious to see if this strategy will work out for them, and if other developers are tweaking their plans to follow a similar route.
See also: Dan Counsell's advice from last year.