Friday, April 12, 2024

Is the Apple App Store Reviewing System Defective by Design?

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For me, reading reviews is an important part of almost any purchasing decision I make.

OK, I don’t usually trawl the Web for reviews of, say, a coffee shop before I sit down, and I’m usually happy to buy a sandwich for lunch without first needing to see what others think of my choice. However, for most other things, having a quick read of a few reviews either gives me the confidence to proceed with the purchase, or it will stop me in my tracks and make me reconsider.

Now, for me, an important part of any review is being able to feel that I can trust the reviewer. After all, this is Web 2.0 and there are a lot of people out there saying a lot of things about a lot of stuff, and you can’t take it all on face value.

A key part to trusting a review is the knowledge that the person who wrote the review actually owned the product they reviewed. Problem is, most online stores don’t limit reviews to people who actually bought the product or service through the online store. I can understand this for most outlets since the reviewer might have bought the product (or come across it) somewhere else.

This is a tradeoff because, while the outlet increases the overall number of reviews that is receives for a particular product, it also opens itself up to review abuse where people who didn’t buy the product (or who have a vested interest in either promoting or trashing the product in question) post fake or worthless reviews. We, as consumers trying to get the best bang for the buck, have to wade through the reviews and sort out the valuable from those that are of no value.

So, given that I can understand why retailers like, for instance,, allows customers who haven’t actually bought the product from the Web site to post a review.

But what about products that are only available from a single outlet? Shouldn’t that outlet restrict the posting of reviews to individuals who are actually listed as having purchased the product?

Enter Apple’s App Store, the one-stop shop for applications for the iPhone and iPod touch. When you visit the App Store you’re seeing products that you can only buy there. You can’t have bought these apps from somewhere else, you can’t have downloaded them from the developer’s site, and you can’t have been given a copy from a friend or family member. The only outlet for Apple App Store Apps is the App Store.

So, if that’s the case, why does Apple allow people who didn’t buy a particular app to review it?

The current situation is like being able to give feedback on eBay auctions or sellers that you never participated in or had contact with. As it currently stands, it makes no sense whatsoever to allow non-customers to post reviews, yet the system allows them to do so.

But is there a problem with allowing people who haven’t bought an app to review it? Surely all the fake reviews (both positive and negative) cancel each other out, right?

Well, in some cases, maybe, but I’ve noticed a few cases where reviews from people who are obviously haven’t bought the app are having a negative effect.

When you look at the paid apps (as opposed to the free ones) many of the negative reviews are based purely on price, or more specifically, the fact that the developer is asking any price, as opposed to giving it away for free. A quick tour of the paid apps will uncover a high proportion of “this app should be free” and “I’ll wait for this app to be free” reviews that have clearly been written by people who didn’t buy the app.

In fact, I’d go further and say that of the top paid apps, otherwise very positive feedback from customers is being diluted by negative feedback from people who obviously didn’t buy the app. People are also quick to criticize paid apps and believe that free alternatives should be made available. Many seem to honestly believe that the App Store should be entirely freeware and that developers who have put time and effort into an application should be giving it away for nothing. That’s an extremely unhealthy attitude, and one that is likely to put off many developers in the future.

That said, I do feel that there should be some method available at the App Store that would allow users to try out applications before they buy – maybe a trial system or some ability to see a demo. I think that people would feel better about spending money on an app if they could see it in action first.

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