There is trouble brewing in the iTunes App Store, thanks to the combination of two App Store features. The first is the pre-existing Rate It If You Hate It ratings prompt system, where they prompt for ratings when you uninstall. The second is the recent change that allows free applications to use In App Purchasing to expand functionality, effectively creating a trial version system for the store.
I’m not a fan of how they’ve implemented either of these, but more importantly, when you combine these two it creates a perfect storm of trouble! Read on after the jump for the entire story about the problem Apple has created…
Rate It If You Hate It
When you uninstall an application from your iPhone, Apple prompts you to rate it. One of the main reasons people uninstall is that they don’t like the application. This encourages everyone who hates an application to rate it and makes it VERY easy to do so – a single button push at the end of an unisntall.
Unfortunately Apple doesn’t do anything to encourage people who like an application to rate it. If you like the app, use it every day, and never uninstall, Apple never prompts you to rate it.
The end result is what I call the Rate It If You Hate It rating system. It’s an ugly system, and its effects are best seen in free applications where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of negative reviews get posted. Paid apps are protected from this (slightly) since you have to own an application to rate it – if you paid for the app there is a good chance you wanted it and like it.
But since anyone can download a free app, lots of people try it, find it doesn’t suit them, uninstall, and give it a bad rating. In many cases it isn’t that the application is bad – it’s just that this isn’t the right app for that person, wasn’t quite what they were looking for, or some other knee jerk response.
There are hundreds of amazing free applications with tens of thousands of happy users and two star ratings for this very reason.
In App Purchasing
The next issue is the decision to allow free applications to use In App Purchasing. With In App Purchasing you can download a free, limited version of an application, and if you like it you pay a set amount to unlock full functionality. On the surface this sounds great – in reality there are some serious pitfalls.
With this system, it encourages every developer to build their apps this way. The result is an app store where everything is free and you can’t tell how much applications actually cost. In addition, paid (via In App Purchasing) applications get stacked in the same lists as free applications making it tough to tell what is actually free!
There are other challenges as well but these are a couple of the big ones for customers.
A Deadly Combination
By themselves these two issues are pretty serious. Combine them and it could spell disaster. Suddenly every amazing paid application in the app store is getting its star rating tanked by the Rate It If You Hate It system. How are users supposed to gauge the actual quality of an application when they all have 2 stars or less thanks to this misguided “feature?”
It also opens up the rating system for tampering. Requiring ownership of an application helped protect paid applications from underhanded competitive practices. Few competitors are going to go out and pay people to buy your application for $10 a pop just to give it bad ratings.
But what happens when it is free, and they can get anyone and everyone who is willing to download it, uninstall, and give it a one star rating? I’d like to say that I’m just being overly paranoid but we aren’t new to the mobile software market. This is a very real danger.
Hey, Apple! I Hope You’re Listening!
I sure hope Apple is listening. It isn’t too late to avoid this problem. By making a few small changes, such as categorizing free applications that use In App Purchasing as “Paid Apps”, and only allowing people to review a free application that uses In App Purchasing after they’ve made the In App Purchase, they could prevent this. It won’t solve all the problems these two policies create, but it will certainly help to avoid a much, much larger problem.