Ask app developers and most will tell you that good user reviews and high ratings are the keys to selling apps. I'm not going to get into which reviews are real or written by friends. Nor am I going to talk about those nefarious instances where one app maker puts a negative review on a competing app (yes, it happens). But suffice to say the more positive reviews the better, and negative reviews that bring an overall rating down hurt. Bad.
Which brings me to people who post one-star ratings on apps because they simply don't work or frequently crash.
I have one steely friend who thinks it's perfectly fair. "On the most basic level, an app needs to work," he says. "If it doesn't work, you can't use it. The best way to send the developer the message to fix their app is with a bad review."
Part of me agrees. Why wouldn't you ding an app for not working? However, I personally tend to disregard such reviews because I don't think they're a real assessment of the app--especially when it's running fine for me--and often I assume that the complaining user has failed to upgrade his or her OS or is using hardware that's not compatible with the app (another issue is that Apple's updates end up breaking apps). Developers often grumble about how hard it is to test for all hardware and software scenarios and they also lament how users tend not to change their ratings once an app gets fixed. (Disclaimer: My brother-in-law is an app developer and I meet other developers from time to time, so I get to hear their side of the story).
Then, the other week I ran into a problem with The New Yorker magazine app I was running on my iPad. It was working fine for a while until suddenly it started crashing at launch.
I found it very mysterious. The app's version hadn't changed and I hadn't upgraded the OS. So I went and looked at the user opinions and I noticed that literally hundreds of people had stated that they were having the same problem. I also discovered that over at iPadforums.net a thread was devoted to the topic.
The app is quirky. Sometimes it will just fail to stay open, but I'll come back a while later, and it will work just fine. Other times it will quit unexpectedly but after I restart it will remain open and work just fine. There seems to be some relationship with the app seeking to connect to the library online.
As I said, these sentiments were echoed in the user reviews in the App Store, and many of those reviews had one-star ratings attached to them. I understood firsthand people's frustrations and had an urge to slam up a one-star review. Still, a little voice in the back of my head didn't think it'd be totally fair to completely crush it because when it's working it's actually pretty darn good and has apparently been very successful, with more than 100,000 people using it (and 20,000 buying a standalone digital subscription for $59.99 a year).
Anyway, I decided to take the high road and give the folks at Conde Nast a second chance. I clicked on the "App Support" button on the app's product page and was taken to a form to submit my problem. I sent a note saying the app was crashing at launch.
I received the following form message from someone at cdsfulfillment.com:
Thank you for contacting us regarding your iPad app.
At this time you can archive and then download the issues in question. If you still receive an error message, please delete, and reinstall the app at that time.
If you should need further assistance, please be sure to include all previous e-mail correspondence.
The message seemed confusing because I wasn't having a problem archiving and downloading issues. But I knew from reading previous posts that the solution was to delete and reinstall the app. Sure enough it worked after I did that (at least it was working the last time I checked).
The whole process left me wondering what the heck Conde Nast was doing and why it hadn't addressed this obvious problem by writing something at the top of the app description apologizing to users and saying that it was working on a fix (some developers do this as soon as they learn that they have a problem). The one-star urge returned and like many others, I was ready send Conde Nast a blunt message the only way I could think of, settling on the title, "App crashes. Apocalyptic epic fail."
But then I thought, nah, that's not cool, I'll just write this column instead.
What do you guys think? Do one-star ratings for crashes seem overly vindictive or are they totally justified?