Under the Radar

Under the Radar 64: App Store Reviews, Redux


  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started so today we

  are going to be talking about reviews in

  the App Store

  again again if you're a an Eagle eared

  listener of the show people realized

  that just two weeks ago and episode 62

  we were talking about reviews in the App

  Store and little did we know that here

  we are a fortnight later we would be

  doing it again not necessarily the plan

  but Apple announced yesterday as a

  recording a bunch of updates

  specifically around iOS 10.3 and

  included in that is a fairly substantial

  pair of changes to the review system in

  the app store and so it seemed and I've

  only appropriate to follow up on that to

  talk about it just because now sort of

  going forward whenever we said two weeks

  ago is going to have to make sense in

  this broader context that Apple is

  changing so the short version is Apple

  introduced introducing two changes the

  first is a standardized way for asking

  for reviews modally within your

  applications with a thing called eske's

  Store review controller and then the

  second thing they're doing is they're

  going to be changing the App Store

  itself to allow developers to respond to

  customer views that are written in the

  App Store

  so we'll kind of work through those

  individually but probably starting off

  by talking about the new modal display

  that we can get it's really worth saying

  this is actually not the first time that

  Apple has had a modal would you like to

  review this application dialog the first

  version of this which you have to have

  been doing iOS development for a while

  to remember there used to be a thing in

  the App Store where when you deleted an

  app only when you deleted it when you

  deleted it it would pop up and say

  before you delete this app would you

  like to leave a review so yeah I'm not

  sure what wire they thought this was a

  great idea that the if you like someone

  who is actively said I no longer want

  this app and then you ask them well what

  did you think about it and that was the

  only time they were ever prompted to

  review apps

  yeah surprising and unsurprisingly there

  were a lot of one-star reviews that came

  through that Mis system yeah so this

  one's better so the new system which

  I'll just kind of briefly overview is

  there's a new method that I said the SK

  Stroh review controller in store kit

  that you can call a method just says

  request review and this method is

  interesting because it doesn't pop up

  necessarily a modal display I'm sorry by

  saying this is always modal this is not

  like a you know sort of a button that

  you can push in the app in your apps in

  your app and then have it bring it up

  this is something where it's always

  going to be slightly an interruption in

  terms of the way they're structuring it

  because you call this method and you say

  this is probably a good time to request

  an app store review you have no

  guarantees as to whether that modal will

  actually pop up then or not that's we'll

  get into reasons a bit later but you

  know Apple is keeping control over

  whether anything is actually shown to

  you but you can say you know this is a

  good time so say for example like the

  usual examples of people will throw

  around is you know a customer completes

  something that would make sense that you

  know like say I have an audiobook app

  which I do and say you have just

  finished a book that may be a good time

  to prompt them to write a review

  you know they've just completed this

  thing hope that they enjoyed it in a

  have a full sense of the app it's not

  really an interruption in the same way

  because they're not you know it's not

  like they're opening up the app to go

  and listen like the app you know they

  just finished listening to all of their

  things and so now may be a reasonable

  time but you can say this is a good time

  and if Apple says it's a good idea that

  will pop up and show it's show this

  alert to them and they're also adding a

  slightly they're tweaking things a

  little bit in terms of giving us a ver

  and explicit URL to link out to the app

  store with sort of deep deep linking if

  we still want to do the setting screen

  version that's that's now sort of sort

  of part of this but it's that's not

  really part of the SDK but that's just

  they're saying in the documentation that

  if you want to do a modal pop-up in the

  app to leave a review use this new

  request review method if you would still

  like to have like a button in your

  settings screen here's the

  query parameter that you can add to the

  end overall I think I mean mostly what I

  love about this is that appleĆ­s is

  taking this seriously and doing

  something about it I think it's been a

  problem for I mean these in years now

  that we've had this situation where

  there is so much ambiguity there's no

  leadership on the AppStore policy side

  of things about this and so you end up

  with this weird kind of asymmetric

  warfare where you know having five star

  wars in the App Store is an important

  thing for sales the best way to get that

  is to keep bugging your users to give

  you those reviews and if you do that you

  will be rewarded with more downloads and

  that creates this vicious cycle that if

  you don't want to get into that then

  your apps at a disadvantage because you

  don't you know it's like if you're

  comparing my app which has you know 20

  or 30 reviews trap that has 200 or 300

  reviews it looks bad and so at least

  what I like here is that Apple is saying

  this is an important thing for us to

  dive into you this is something that

  they want to have some control over and

  and obviously like I love the way that

  in classic Apple fashion they're

  maintaining a lot of control about it

  you know that it isn't an API that we

  can always pop up a a dialogue for in

  the same way that like when they added

  the mail compose UI ways we can write

  emails within our apps without having to

  go out to the mail app they did that in

  a way that we can always pop that up

  it's not like we're going to request

  that we're going to request a compose

  page and doesn't show up it actually

  isn't true but but you could query it to

  determine whether it was enabled or not

  sure but that would be what you're

  saying there's like the can send mail

  part which is if the does the user have

  mail configured on their on their iPhone

  but assuming they have a mail account

  configured with our iPhone it'll always

  show up is why I guess what I'm getting

  at but here Apple has has the ability to

  do to dial this backwards and forwards

  and so they've initially said through a

  couple of interviews it seemed like they

  gave too daring fireball and Jim Delrin

  thought at the loop they're good

  basically if you're never going to show

  it with a user a prompt more than three

  times a year I believe and if they set a

  if they actually do send us to send a

  review they won't be asked again for a

  year so if you asked you know every time

  the app launched you said hey it's a

  great time to send a review

  after doing that three times it'll stop

  working in a transparent way to you for

  a whole year there's also a master

  switch in the Settings app that a

  customer can say I never want to see

  these and if you flip that switch

  irrespective of how much the developer

  is saying hey review me review me review

  me it'll never actually work which

  overall I think this is a good step

  forward it's I'm not sure if I'm gonna

  use it I think I probably won't

  initially because it's still modal and

  rather just used the deep linking into

  the app store from a button in my

  settings page but I like at the very

  least that Apple is diving into this and

  taking it seriously do you think you're

  gonna use it probably not for the same

  reason if you know it is still modal and

  everything but I really do love like

  it's this is such you know as usually

  this is actually an amazing a very Apple

  II solution to a problem it's so clever

  and it's like you know here was this

  problem of developers having a very

  strong incentive to make the user

  experience worse for people and and you

  know it was extra work for developers to

  have to integrate some library or to

  build their own you know little pop-up

  things and you know so it was like you

  take this this kind of dirty messy

  problem and you apply a really elegant

  combination of solutions to it which is

  we're gonna standardize this we're gonna

  make it easier when people do want to

  leave ratings cuz like have you seen the

  box yet it's like a the one in the bay

  they like it just pops up with a little

  like you know one through five stars and

  submit and so it's actually easier to

  submit ratings this way as a user

  because you don't have to bounce into

  the App Store app and submit something

  there and login type in your password

  you you just have it all in a modal

  dialog right there in the app so it's

  easier for the developer because it's

  one line of code it's easier for the

  user because to actually leave the

  rating and it's faster and everything

  and in the most typical wonderful Apple

  fashion it puts all the control of this

  back on the user so the user can then as

  you said go into that setting go into

  system settings and disable these

  globally if they want to and then the

  developer has no way to tell whether

  they're enabled or not and whether it's

  showing or not so in theory this is an

  amazing solution for both developers and

  for you

  users and for usability the platform

  because it kind of tames this messy

  thing that we all have a very strong

  incentive to do in practice so and again

  in theory the way this works is that at

  a at a future time that is as yet

  unspecified by the way I I kind of say I

  really am NOT crazy about the way Apple

  has very minimally documented this on

  the page and then has given additional

  documentation through PR channels to a

  couple of blogs like that I think is odd

  I I know I can see why they do it I I

  assume they do it so that way they can

  be a little bit fuzzy and squishy with

  the rules and change them later as they

  evolve and as the situation evolves as

  they learn how do you think you're used

  in practice but I don't like the idea

  that you have to be monitoring different

  blogs from people who are you know PR

  friendly with Apple in order to get the

  whole picture of what the rules are and

  what the mechanics are I think it would

  be a lot more effective for Apple to

  choose to expand the documentation

  upfront make that part of the official

  statement and then we worry about later

  you know the process of changing that as

  as policies evolved because App Store

  policy changes it's a thing like hiding

  the information between different blogs

  and PR channels to try to like obfuscate

  it so most people don't hear it is not

  the right solution anyway so one of the

  bits of information out that is kind of

  unclear and told through PR channels in

  various ways is that it will be required

  at some point in the future that all

  review prompts use this API and that

  other types of review prompt will be

  prohibited that data is not yet been set

  but at some point that would be the case

  the requirement of these things be only

  sent in this way and to to disallow

  other types of prompting is required for

  this to be a good user experience

  because without that part you're gonna

  have no incentive for a lot of

  developers to use it it is faster yes

  but developers are gonna find especially

  like big data driven corporations like

  you know Twitter Instagram stuff like

  that they're gonna find well we get more

  reviews if we just ask the old way

  because that can't be disabled or

  throttled by the system so and yet the

  other the other interesting part of core

  like all the different office keishon

  the developers put in front of these

  things often like they'll be like how

  are you liking the app so far and if you

  say you're loving it then they'll ask

  you to review it and if you say I'm not

  living it so much so please contact us

  privately so there's all this office all

  this like mess to have to work through

  but unless developers are forced to only

  use this system it's not going to get

  better for users and Apple has said yes

  they intend to do that in the future

  they intend to make that a requirement

  my question is how are they gonna

  enforce that because already today you

  have clear rules against using push

  notifications for spam marketing

  promotion things like that like and you

  look around like every game uses it for

  it for promotion every news app it like

  every big company app Twitter the App

  Store uses notifications sometimes for

  promotional purposes and marketing

  purposes like Apple can't even follow

  that rule they break it all the time

  everyone breaks that rule all the time

  and even though there's a preview rules

  against it I assume one of the reasons

  why that rule goes almost completely

  unenforced even unfollowed by Apple is

  that it's really hard to actually

  enforce that in practice without adding

  like a report mechanism in the UI

  because the only way apples gonna catch

  people sending spam notifications or

  marketing however they define it is if

  it happens during like the five minutes

  they're reviewing it during app review

  and that's very unlikely and so in

  practice that just goes effectively

  unenforced and spam slash promotional

  push notifications are rampant and with

  this system this new review system I

  wonder if that's going to like how is it

  gonna be any different because if the

  rule starts if it starts to become well

  you have to use this mechanism only to

  ask people to review you in the App

  Store when are they gonna actually

  enforce that aren't gonna have people

  like using every app on the App Store

  for three days to see if they get

  prompted or not and so the only way to

  enforce that is you that is to have some

  kind of reporting system after the fact

  but I can't possibly see Apple gumming

  up the UI of iOS like where would it be

  like the 3d touch menu like with a share

  thing is like III can't see them going

  up the

  the iOS UI anywhere with like a report

  bad behavior of this app button I mean

  it'd be interesting if they did I'm not

  sure if that would be overall good or

  not for the system but for the purpose

  of like enforcement of tricky rules like

  this I don't see any other way to do it

  and without that enforcement of that

  rule without very strict enforcement of

  that rule I don't see how the system is

  going to actually fix the problem for

  developers who have a company and big

  data behind them saying they still to do

  it the old way sure I mean I see where

  you're coming from but I I kind of maybe

  I have more slightly more hope for the

  future because I see this thing and I

  see what like I like when they say

  that's at some point in the future this

  will be the only sanctioned way to do

  this my I tend to read this as in iOS

  10.3 it'll be fine but in iOS 11 it

  probably won't like if I had a guess at

  what that timeline will be is that this

  you know this June ish at WDC they'll be

  unveiling whatever it is they're going

  to be doing for iOS 11 and as part of

  the rules that will go into effect for

  this fall the you know this will be one

  of the new rules that if you want to you

  know in a modally prompt user for a

  review you must do it using the Bree

  approved API the enforcement question is

  I mean it's always been it's always

  rough but just to serve to say that it's

  incredibly difficult to enforce or

  police doesn't mean that it's not a good

  policy and I mean I think there's ways

  that Apple can enforce it

  programmatically both in terms of

  obviously they know if people when

  people are leaving reviews they know

  where they're coming from what they were

  doing before that like there's a certain

  amount of exposure that they have on the

  data side that if an app is seeming to

  send users to the App Store to leave

  reviews in a at a pace that seems

  inconsistent with the install base for

  example like my guess is they have a

  fairly good sense of you know what the

  you know what the typical rate for a

  reviews for an app based on how many

  people are using it is and things like I

  think they have tools from the data side

  on the back end using many many ways

  they could sort of piggyback on what

  they've done iTunes Connect analytics

  which like have their drawbacks but at

  least give them a starting point that I

  imagine you with a little bit of math

  you could work out this app is clearly

  getting way more reviews than it should

  for you know if for use for using via

  the approaches that we expect and from

  that perspective can sort of chase that

  down and kind of work work that out but

  ultimately like exactly how they police

  it I think is you know that's an

  enforcement problem that's something

  that we deal with a lot in the App Store

  and I think I mean what and the

  unfortunate thing is what Apple often

  seems to do is they'll fight they'll

  pick a few like examples the land to be

  made of and I'll have all some app is

  going to get pulled out of the App Store

  for a week because they prompted for

  review after the policy goes to effect

  and that kind of 10 you can kind of

  scare people into compliance down the

  road which it's not great if that if you

  if you're that app but you know as

  you're saying like it's a really hard

  thing to perforce it also doesn't work

  like that only works if all iOS

  developers are part of the same

  community and everyone follows the rules

  and neither of those things are true

  sure but I mean it's I mean I think it's

  one of these things if they're never

  going to get a hundred percent

  compliance but if they can get eighty

  percent compliance that's still probably

  good enough and so I like that it says

  that's this is their policy this is

  where they're heading down the road

  there'll be a world where most of the

  time if you're a user who just doesn't

  want to leave reviews you can flip a

  master switch otherwise you'll be

  prompted three times a year to do it

  in a standardized way with this you know

  a non sort of scammy interaction and I

  like that but I'm sorry I mean I just

  have more hope for that that if they've

  invested all this effort in building out

  building this API and taking this

  problem seriously if they're also going

  to be serious about the enforcement side

  and do their best to make that work yeah

  I hope so I guess we'll see also a point

  of clarification you you breeze by it

  earlier but I do want to clarify

  a lot of people are getting this wrong

  on Twitter that linking people out with

  a thing with like a page like in your in

  your settings like like what you and I

  do like you know I have like my little

  thing and overcast setting and saying

  this many people review you know have

  you read this version click here to go

  leave a review that's still both

  possible and allowed Apple has clarified

  that in some of these PR statements that

  you can still do that that will still

  work it just won't use this API you can

  use his API additionally if you want to

  but leaking out to the page via an

  explicit user action is still permitted

  as long as you didn't do a modal dialog

  box which again is it's like the

  distinctions here are gonna make this

  harder and hard to enforce but anyway

  hopefully we'll cross that bridge when

  we get there anyway we're a sponsor this

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  connect with opportunity so the other

  part that we probably should dive into

  about this whole system is so once

  people have left the reviews in whatever

  mechanism you've used to get them to

  that page whether it's the modal pop-up

  you're linking to them from the settings

  page in your App Store or in your

  Settings app in your screen or they just

  went to the App Store themselves in 10.3

  we're going to also have the ability to

  respond to customer views that are left

  in the App Store exactly how this looks

  is a bit up to debate but I mean this is

  something that the Google Play Store for

  example has had for a while so I imagine

  level have a similar kind of appearance

  where in the you know

  you went to the ratings interview

  section of an app's page a customer

  leaves a review underneath of it there

  may be a little you know it'll be a

  little bubble that says that the

  developer can put some text into and

  they'll probably be some limits on to

  the number of characters or things like

  that but you know the expectation I

  think is that those we're going to be

  going into iTunes Connect and if there's

  already actually I'm not sure if how

  many people actually ever go there but

  in iTunes Connect if you dig around a

  little bit there's actually a ratings

  and reviews area for your app or it

  shows you all the reviews that I've ever

  been left and my guess is they're just

  gonna add a little text box underneath

  all of those where you know we can

  log-in to iTunes Connect and go through

  and respond to this and I think we've

  had a few clear clarifications about

  this where it's not going to be like a

  threaded conversation they're not

  turning the reviews section into like a

  forum but it's going to be you know

  though a customer can write a review and

  a developer can write a response and

  both parties can edit those with you

  know the review or the response as makes


  but it's not like we're gonna have it

  back and forth I like this I think I

  like it mostly just from the perspective

  of one of the most like discouraging

  things who ever run into is when you

  read a review which it granted I don't

  do as much anymore but it's still

  something I do from time to time and you

  you encounter a user who says like they

  like the app but they wish it did X and

  maybe they hold a hostage star about

  that you know it's a four it's a fourth

  give it four stars I would give it a

  five if it could do this you're lucky if

  they only hold one star back for them I

  mean maybe it's a double hostage star

  situation like there's lots of you know

  variables to come into play here but if

  they do that and it turns out the app

  actually does that and they just don't

  know how to do it like this seems like a

  great tool for being able to say hey if

  you you know click on this button you

  are actually able to do this and you can

  hopefully clarify those

  misunderstandings it's obviously not

  going to be a great mechanism to do like

  details customer support my guess is a

  lot of developers responses to these are

  just going to be I'm sorry you're having

  trouble with this please email needs to

  you know to go deeper on this into


  your problem so in that sense like it's

  not gonna be a great venue for that but

  I think there's it's nice though for it

  if a other customer comes around and

  they you know this you know here's this

  this two-star review that says hey the

  app doesn't do this or it didn't do this

  right or something like that and then

  underneath of it it says that you know

  there's a developer response that says

  I'm sorry you have this trouble you

  can't actually do that here's how you do

  it if you need more help you know send

  me an email and I'm happy to walk that

  through like that sets up a great I

  think a better it turns a negative

  customer experience into you potentially

  a positive one I'm not super excited

  though but it's like another inbox that

  we have to manage and another thing that

  we just sorta have to keep up with like

  there's this new bit of busy work but I

  mean the reality is overall I'd rather

  that's something a system like this or

  at least I can do something to respond

  to these like these misunderstandings or

  these bad reviews and hopefully turn

  them around a little bit but you know

  very high days I'm probably just gonna

  end up sorry I haven't hired someone to

  do my customer support for me and this

  will just likely be another inbox that

  he goes through in a regular basis to

  kind of respond and clean up and you

  know hopefully it'll make that the

  section of the app store a little bit

  more useful I suppose like right now

  it's just not yeah I mean I suppose

  it'll depend a lot on what kind of

  uptake this gets and just a lot of

  implementation details you know two

  weeks ago when we talked about reading

  after reviews my position was I almost

  never read them you don't really need to

  I don't think many people do for apps

  that have sufficient star ratings they

  just looked at the star rating average

  and then make a decision for the most

  part and there are a lot of people who

  read their every review so it's not that

  big of a deal

  and of course I can all these problems

  are are shifted and magnified or

  minimized based on whether you have a

  lot of reviews are very few reviews but

  assuming you have like a moderate to

  high amount you know it's these things

  all over again so anyway it depends a

  lot on like how many customers are

  actually reading these things like and

  then also how many developers will be

  responding you know if it's the kind of

  thing that's pretty rare that almost no

  developers end up doing in any kind of

  reasonable quantity and that most

  customers don't end up

  expecting or reading or seeing then it's

  completely optional whether you do it or

  not and you probably don't need to

  because that's you know a lot of time

  and effort for zero to one person to see

  you know but if it ends up being

  something that that is important which

  again it depends on implementation

  details there's a lot of questions like

  you know where do we respond I assume we

  respond to these and iTunes Connect

  somewhere if so that is a massive

  opportunity for third party developer if

  you need an idea for your next Mac app

  or web service make that happen make it

  so that you can like scrape all the

  reviews from all the different languages

  all the different country stores have

  some kind of built-in translation

  function and give us a way to reply

  easily you will set that to every iOS

  developer who cares you can sell that

  for like 10 bucks a month easy anyway so

  anybody can use an idea get on that if

  not app figures that's your next thing

  all right so you know and a lot of you

  nation details matter so for instance is

  the customer notified when you respond

  to their review you know like that like

  that's that's a big question cuz a lot

  of these reviews I think are kind of

  like you know hit and run like they're

  not gonna actually come back and check

  to see if you responded most of the time

  again if that's not done if the customer

  is not notified that you responded and

  preferably with your response in the

  notification email or whatever then it's

  gonna be a lot less valuable for you to

  reply so again this depends a lot on the

  details that we don't know yet but I

  think those are my two big questions is

  like will people see your response

  really in mass and then and and to like

  you know and and then - will the author

  of the comment of the review see your

  response that that will decide whether

  this is worth doing or not this this

  could turn my advice in - yes go read

  your reviews and respond in a reasonable

  amount of time - things that that

  deserve a response it's probably just

  gonna be a whole buncha like form

  responses from like you know you

  mentioned it'll be developer saying oh

  please email me it'll be big companies

  that doing that like it'll be like the

  big companies where they say like where

  every update they say the changes in the

  changelog are bug fixes and improvements

  to make your life better look at our

  full review notes at facebook.com slash

  whatever like

  you're gonna see like Instagram Facebook

  Twitter like they're gonna be responding

  to every single review with some kind of

  useless form response but it's it's

  really up to up in the air whether

  people like us like smaller developers

  who will actually respond in a human

  fashion and might actually give useful

  responses other than please contact us

  so privately you know that remains to be

  seen how that'll go and the the value of

  this system and how much of a support

  burden the system is will all depend on

  those implementation details and how

  many people actually read them what I do

  like though is that it is I think you

  feel like it provides an opportunity for

  a smaller developer to like one of the

  things that I when I was early on to be

  like being independent like I'd always

  you know write things in the third

  person and talk and talk as though I was

  a big company because I thought that's

  like yeah like like we've been working

  hard on this - on this update it's like

  no I've been working hard in this update

  I'm the only one writing code like it's

  just me and it's kind of dishonest to

  project something otherwise and so I do

  like about this though is that it does

  give an opportunity to feel it's like to

  show the world that person that personal

  level that it's like I can respond to

  something directly and in a human

  authentic way and over the long term I

  found that since I stopped trying to do

  that and I made things more personal I

  feel like that has engendered a much

  higher affections a weird word for

  something like this but it's that same

  kind of feeling of like people like me

  and like my software because they like

  me and so I do like that it's going to

  be something that we can kind of react

  and be a bit more personal in yeah

  humanizes us and and I think that will

  make people be less nasty sure and I

  think honestly that's that's another

  example of something that even really

  thought of but I wonder if - if it'll

  improve the quality of reviews that are

  left you know in the same we always joke

  about oh we never read our reviews

  they're all so awful and nasty but if

  customers who leave nasty reviews start

  being responded to by humans and people

  they may be less inclined at least for

  some people may be less inclined to

  leave those reviews than if they and if

  in their mind they're just kind of you

  know it's a big mega horn that a big

  megaphone that they can just shout at

  the world and then run away from if it's

  actually like you know they shout at the

  world and then the person who they were

  shouting at comes back and talks to them

  in a calm collected way

  maybe they'll felt you know second-guess

  that choice next time and it'll improve

  the discord maybe that's just again me

  just me my hopeful wishful thinking but

  you know a man can dream all right and

  with that we're out of time thank you

  everybody for listening and we'll talk

  to you next week bye