Developing Perspective

#180: Enduring Features.


00:00:00   Welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing news of

00:00:04   note, iOS development, Apple, and the like. I'm your host, David Smith. I'm an independent

00:00:08   iOS and Mac developer based in Virginia. This is show number 180. Today is Friday, April

00:00:13   11th. Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:17   All right. So first off, I'm probably worth mentioning how I fared in the WWDC lottery.

00:00:23   Unfortunately, it did not go great for me. I was not selected, which makes me a little

00:00:27   bit sad. It makes me a little bit, you know, a little bit down. I think this would have

00:00:32   been my sixth in a row, something like that. I really enjoyed every time I've been out.

00:00:36   I'll still be out in San Francisco this year. And I guess I'm still hopeful that there's

00:00:40   a small chance that there'll be a second round on Monday after the initial round of people

00:00:45   get the opportunity to finalize their ticket. You know, some percentage of those people

00:00:48   probably won't. And so there might be a second round. And if that's the case, you know, fingers

00:00:53   cross, maybe it'll work out for me then, or who knows, either way I'll be out in San Francisco,

00:01:00   you know, ticket ticket or otherwise.

00:01:02   So moving on into probably a more positive topic, or at least a more constructive one

00:01:07   other than me just moping about not getting a ticket, I'm going to wrap up my series on

00:01:13   thoughts for improving the App Store.

00:01:15   And this is I think part five of the series.

00:01:17   And I'll probably be doing kind of a big combination post shortly once I get some feedback back

00:01:23   on this last issue.

00:01:24   My goal for this series-- and I've

00:01:26   gotten a lot of good feedback that

00:01:27   tends to sort of jive with this-- is my goal

00:01:29   is to try and have thoughtful, constructive, actionable things

00:01:33   that could be done to the App Store to make it better.

00:01:36   Better for customers, better for developers, just better

00:01:38   in general.

00:01:39   And by and large, I think a lot of the things

00:01:41   that I've hit on-- I mean, most of them are fairly obvious.

00:01:43   It's not like I'm coming up with these incredibly

00:01:45   novel and genius things.

00:01:47   A lot of it's just sort of these obvious things that areas

00:01:50   where the store just hasn't scaled gracefully, hasn't gone from something that was relatively

00:01:57   small five, six years ago to something that it is today where it's millions of applications.

00:02:02   And these are some of these areas where I think it could really be improved.

00:02:05   And today I'm going to be closing that series out by talking about ratings, by talking about

00:02:10   the editorial coverage that we get in the app, and about categories.

00:02:13   All right, so let's get going.

00:02:15   Let's dive into this and start off with talking about ratings.

00:02:18   So ratings I'm talking about are obviously

00:02:20   mostly the star ratings that we see in an application.

00:02:22   And to some degree, the customer reviews--

00:02:25   though honestly, I don't find those quite as important

00:02:27   or relevant in my own experience.

00:02:28   They're useful for me sometimes to read and get

00:02:30   kind of general ideas about my application.

00:02:32   But the thing that really is important,

00:02:34   probably more than in some ways, probably

00:02:36   is the most important aspect of your application sales

00:02:38   experience that's outside of your direct control

00:02:40   as a developer, is how many stars you have in the App Store.

00:02:44   It's shown everywhere in the App Store.

00:02:46   Everywhere you go, you're looking at an application.

00:02:48   It's going to have the number of stars next to it.

00:02:50   And it's just pervasive.

00:02:52   And I think as a result of it being so pervasive,

00:02:54   I think customers probably put a lot of value on that.

00:02:58   And fair enough, because it is one

00:02:59   of the few things that isn't controlled

00:03:01   by Apple or the developer.

00:03:03   It's controlled by customers.

00:03:04   It's a reasonable expectation that that's

00:03:06   an accurate representation of the quality of the application.

00:03:09   And that's great insofar as it's potentially

00:03:13   communicating useful information to our customers.

00:03:15   But where things, of course, get problematic

00:03:17   is how we as developers seek to take control of that experience.

00:03:21   Because it's the only thing that we don't have direct control

00:03:24   over, we seem to dive into that and try and find

00:03:26   ways to improve our star ranking in the hopes of improving

00:03:29   our sales.

00:03:30   And some of these can get potentially dubious and tricky.

00:03:32   And I'm not to bring up the whole sort of tempest

00:03:35   we had a couple of months ago about ratings prompt dialogues.

00:03:38   But there's a lot of things that really aren't great

00:03:40   for customer experiences, really can get kind of dubious

00:03:44   in terms of the experience and the psychology

00:03:46   that we're applying to our customers.

00:03:48   On the flip side, there are also some really solid, positive,

00:03:51   thoughtful things that you can do to accomplish the same goal.

00:03:53   I'll link in the show notes to an article by Dan Council, who

00:03:56   is talking about some really thoughtful ways of prompting

00:03:59   for app reviews.

00:04:00   And I think there is a place for that.

00:04:02   There is a way for us as developers

00:04:04   to seek to improve the ratings of our apps.

00:04:06   But the situation as it is right now isn't great.

00:04:09   And I think there's two things that Apple

00:04:11   could do to really kind of improve the situation.

00:04:13   And then the first one is perhaps most straightforward.

00:04:16   I really think Apple needs to provide a clear policy

00:04:18   about where, how, and when applications

00:04:20   can prompt users for reviews.

00:04:22   It seems like the kind of thing that should be part of the app

00:04:24   review guidelines.

00:04:25   I think right now there's just a general statement about you

00:04:28   can't game them or you can't exploit them

00:04:31   in ways that aren't right.

00:04:34   But it's a very vague general statement.

00:04:35   I think it would make sense for there

00:04:37   to be a specific guideline.

00:04:39   And in many ways, I don't care so much

00:04:40   about exactly what that guideline is.

00:04:42   I think generally I'd like to have it be more customer

00:04:45   centric rather than developer centric.

00:04:46   But generally what I would like is

00:04:48   for it to be a very clear policy.

00:04:50   An app will be rejected from the store

00:04:53   if it is found to ask for reviews in a way that

00:04:56   is inconsistent with this policy.

00:04:59   And I think this is important, mostly because what it does

00:05:02   is it puts all developers on an even footing in this regard.

00:05:06   Your star rating is very important for how users

00:05:09   potentially would compare your apps between their peers.

00:05:12   If I'm looking at three or four apps, and one of them's five stars and one of them's

00:05:15   four stars, if they look very similar, I might go with a five star app.

00:05:19   And the reason that they may have gotten those five stars is because they're doing lots of

00:05:22   kind of tricky things to drum up their reviews.

00:05:26   And that's not a great thing.

00:05:28   You're not reinforcing or rewarding, I think, the right behavior there.

00:05:32   What I'd really prefer to see is where all apps are on the same playing field.

00:05:37   They have to abide by the same rules.

00:05:38   They can only prompt users for reviews

00:05:41   and go after them in the same way.

00:05:44   And then whatever those rules are, at least it's fair.

00:05:48   You don't have this situation where-- I remember

00:05:50   I heard from so many developers when we were having

00:05:52   the prompt dialogue discussion.

00:05:54   They were saying, I really hate doing this,

00:05:56   but everyone's doing it.

00:05:58   And so if everyone's doing it, then I need to too.

00:06:00   It's kind of this collective lack of personal responsibility

00:06:04   in that way.

00:06:04   It's like, well, if Johnny down the street's doing it,

00:06:07   then I can do it too because he's doing it.

00:06:10   That's not a great place for us to find ourselves

00:06:12   as a community and as a store.

00:06:14   If I prefer for there to be a clear policy,

00:06:16   this is what we should do.

00:06:17   You may link to the app store for the purpose

00:06:19   of collecting reviews only from static screens that

00:06:22   aren't modal.

00:06:23   And you may only present this to you-- this must always

00:06:26   be as a result of a user action not something you're doing,

00:06:29   for example.

00:06:29   You can imagine those are clumsy words,

00:06:31   but I'm sure you could refine it down

00:06:33   into something where you're saying

00:06:34   it is possible to ask your user if they'd like a review.

00:06:37   Maybe you aren't allowed to do it in a modal way.

00:06:39   Maybe it has to be as a part of another screen.

00:06:41   Or who knows?

00:06:42   There's lots of things that you can apply there and just

00:06:44   make sure everyone's on the same level.

00:06:46   Secondly, I really kind of wish that the rating scale

00:06:49   wasn't just tied to the most recent version

00:06:51   of your application.

00:06:53   And I know this was added probably a couple years ago now

00:06:56   where in the old system, it was just your overall average.

00:06:59   And that could create these really awkward things where

00:07:00   you have one particular version that

00:07:02   has a really bad crashing bug or something that

00:07:05   got through your quality assurance.

00:07:06   It gets out into the store, gets tons of one star reviews,

00:07:09   and your ratings are always held down as a result.

00:07:11   Like that was always kind of awkward.

00:07:13   You wanted it to kind of reset.

00:07:14   You wanted it to kind of clear itself out over time.

00:07:17   The problem with the current system

00:07:18   of only being based on the current app

00:07:22   is that every time you do an update,

00:07:24   it makes your reviews look terrible.

00:07:26   Because suddenly, rather than being

00:07:29   based on a large subset of your users,

00:07:32   they're only based on a very small set.

00:07:33   Or even worse, when the update first comes out,

00:07:37   before it gets a certain number of reviews,

00:07:39   your app shows up as zero stars, essentially.

00:07:41   It has a blank rating.

00:07:43   And that's even worse.

00:07:44   I'd prefer to have it be some kind of a weighted average

00:07:47   of your last few versions.

00:07:48   I think that would give a good representation

00:07:51   to your customers of what it is.

00:07:53   And it can move over time.

00:07:54   It's like it could just be, rather than based on versions,

00:07:57   it's based on time.

00:07:59   So for example, it's based on the last 30 days

00:08:02   worth of reviews.

00:08:03   And so if you have a bad crashing bug

00:08:05   and it has all these problems, fair enough.

00:08:07   Your ratings are going to take a bit of a dive

00:08:12   for that little period.

00:08:13   But over time, they'll work their way back up

00:08:16   if you've improved the app, if you're getting better.

00:08:18   I think that would be much more representative to our customers.

00:08:20   And I think that would be better optimized for the right things

00:08:23   for doing as a developer.

00:08:24   Because the thing that I don't like

00:08:25   is that it discourages me to do updates.

00:08:28   And it encourages me to annoy my users with review prompts.

00:08:31   because every time I do an update, my reviews reset.

00:08:35   And so I have to work on getting them back up.

00:08:37   And unfortunately, one of the ways

00:08:38   that I can get them back up is by spaying my user with prompts

00:08:42   to do that.

00:08:42   And neither of those are encouraging the right behavior.

00:08:44   So I think we could do better.

00:08:46   All right, next, I was going to talk

00:08:47   a little bit about the editorial parts of the App Store.

00:08:49   And when I say editorial, I'm talking about really

00:08:52   the feature pages.

00:08:53   I'm being a bit highfalutin and calling it editorial.

00:08:55   But it's the parts of the App Store

00:08:57   that aren't algorithmically generated.

00:08:59   the parts of the store that are curated by people at Apple who

00:09:04   are looking at applications and saying, this is a great app.

00:09:06   This is a great app.

00:09:07   I want this to be front and center.

00:09:09   And it's a very important part of your--

00:09:11   I think as a developer, it's a very important part

00:09:13   of the store.

00:09:14   It isn't as important as I think it used to be.

00:09:16   There used to be, if you got featured, it was a huge deal.

00:09:19   You got 100 times the downloads that you would otherwise.

00:09:22   It doesn't seem to have been quite the same thing

00:09:24   in recent years for me.

00:09:26   Generally speaking, featured is still being awesome.

00:09:29   And the best part of being featured

00:09:31   is that it incentivizes quality, thoughtful, and relevant app

00:09:35   creation.

00:09:35   It incentivizes the things that I

00:09:37   think Apple would want developers to be focused on.

00:09:40   Because you're not rewarding somebody

00:09:42   for being able to zoom up the charts.

00:09:45   You're rewarding quality in its truest sense.

00:09:48   And so I like that.

00:09:49   I like that there's editorial coverage.

00:09:51   I like that it is part of the store, and it's very prominent,

00:09:54   and it's the first page you go to when you first

00:09:56   launch the app store.

00:09:57   So awesome.

00:09:58   But I think it could do better.

00:10:00   And the first thing I think it could do better in

00:10:02   is I really think they need to expand

00:10:04   the scope and the frequency of editorial coverage

00:10:07   in the store.

00:10:08   It seems very odd that features are only updated once a week.

00:10:12   They're usually updated Thursday afternoons.

00:10:14   And it seems strange when apps are being constantly updated,

00:10:17   apps are constantly being released.

00:10:19   There's this stagnation that I think

00:10:21   that comes along with that, where

00:10:23   they're only refreshing that list once a week.

00:10:26   customers are really only going to look at it once a week.

00:10:28   And that kind of disincentivizes an engagement

00:10:30   into the app store.

00:10:31   Whereas if there's a constantly kind of rotating, like, hey,

00:10:34   what's new, what's new, what's new,

00:10:36   you can create that type of a behavior in somebody

00:10:39   where maybe once a day they're going and looking

00:10:41   for apps, which me as an app developer would love.

00:10:44   And I think the Apple itself would do well there,

00:10:48   because in the current system, that page is really

00:10:51   only useful to a user once a week.

00:10:54   And that seems strange.

00:10:56   And also, it seems like the scope of that

00:10:58   could be expanded.

00:10:59   I would love to see more done there,

00:11:01   beyond just one little tab in the App Store.

00:11:03   You could imagine all kinds of things.

00:11:05   You could have, you know, [INAUDIBLE]

00:11:06   picks and hire little columnists, essentially,

00:11:10   to be writing things about applications,

00:11:12   have mini reviews inside the App Store.

00:11:14   There's a lot of things you could imagine that would really,

00:11:18   I think, round that experience out.

00:11:19   And we give it a lot more character and a lot more

00:11:22   authority to customers.

00:11:23   And so I really wish they'd updated more frequently

00:11:26   and expand that out.

00:11:26   And exactly what that looked like

00:11:28   would be dependent on what they felt comfortable with.

00:11:30   But I really think it could use a lot of work.

00:11:33   And secondly, I think it would be great

00:11:35   if the App Store made your featured status

00:11:39   visible after your initial feature.

00:11:41   And so this is something where I don't

00:11:43   know exactly the number is.

00:11:44   And I'm not sure anyone actually does.

00:11:46   Or I'm sure there's some analytics company

00:11:48   that could work it out.

00:11:49   But the number of apps that have ever

00:11:51   featured in the App Store is a fairly small subset

00:11:55   of the store at large.

00:11:56   Of the million apps in the App Store,

00:11:58   there are probably only a few thousand, maybe 10,000.

00:12:01   Who knows?

00:12:02   Apps that have ever been featured.

00:12:03   And it seems like that is an important thing

00:12:06   to communicate to customers, that Apple has said,

00:12:10   of the million apps in the store, here's a handful.

00:12:12   Here's a tiny subset of those that we've looked at

00:12:16   and we've said are awesome.

00:12:17   Well, you should tell your customers that rather than just

00:12:20   that one week, one shot banner in the store,

00:12:24   why don't we show that all the time?

00:12:25   If you go to the App Store profile page for that app,

00:12:28   maybe it should say featured on, or have a little badge that

00:12:32   says-- a little thumbs up, like, yeah, Apple

00:12:33   thinks this app is cool.

00:12:35   Because you've said that.

00:12:36   You've said that at some point.

00:12:37   You've had someone take the time to look at it.

00:12:39   Why not communicate that to your customers?

00:12:42   Because I think it would encourage

00:12:45   this right kind of behavior, where

00:12:47   If you make building a feature-worthy app be worthwhile, differentiated perpetually

00:12:53   in the store, or at least for a long period of time, maybe times out after a year or something,

00:12:58   but I think you could really help developers who are focused on quality to have more notoriety

00:13:05   and to be more noticed in the store.

00:13:07   And along those same lines, I think you could do a lot of things in terms of also just showing

00:13:11   up your features, the feature works that Apple is doing inside things like search results.

00:13:16   I wish when you searched for accounting,

00:13:19   it showed you a list of the managing your money featured

00:13:23   sets that Apple puts together.

00:13:24   They love putting together these collections of apps

00:13:26   where they have, here's the best apps for managing your money.

00:13:30   Here's the best apps for checking the ski conditions.

00:13:34   Here's the best apps for platforming games.

00:13:37   So if I'm searching for ski conditions, show me that list.

00:13:39   Don't just have it disappear into the ether

00:13:42   once you've spent all that time and energy to put it together.

00:13:45   show the users on that going forward.

00:13:47   I think you could do a lot to just encourage quality app--

00:13:50   by emphasizing quality in the way that you do features.

00:13:54   And lastly, this is a quick one.

00:13:56   I really think that Apple needs to expand

00:13:58   the diversity of categories that you can attach to an app.

00:14:01   I think it's weird that only games get subcategories.

00:14:04   And everyone else, there's 24 categories in the App Store

00:14:07   trying to categorize a million things.

00:14:08   That just seems like it doesn't scale.

00:14:10   And so I wish you could subcategorize

00:14:12   into further and further things.

00:14:14   And that would, I think, help a lot for a lot of discoverability

00:14:17   for more niche apps.

00:14:18   If I'm looking for VNC clients, and there's

00:14:20   a category of VNC clients, and I'm the number one ranking

00:14:24   app in the VNC client, that's suddenly useful in a way

00:14:27   that being the number 26 app in productivity or Office

00:14:32   or whatever it is, like business tools,

00:14:34   that's not as relevant to a user.

00:14:36   And so I wish there was more categories

00:14:38   that we could apply.

00:14:39   And that's kind of it for the series.

00:14:41   Hopefully that was useful.

00:14:42   Like I said, I'm going to put together a kind of a synthesis post at the end.

00:14:45   But I think these are some things that we could as developers encourage Apple to do

00:14:50   that would make the store a lot better.

00:14:52   Thank you as always if you have questions, comments, concerns, or complaints, I'm on

00:14:54   Twitter @_davidsmith, david@developingperspective.com.

00:14:55   Otherwise, I hope you have a great week.

00:14:56   Happy coding.

00:14:57   Bye.

00:14:57   Otherwise, I hope you have a great week, happy coding, bye.