A recent app upgrade has caused me to think about something that Apple does on iTunes and Google doesn't on the Play store, namely showing the ratings for the latest version of an app.

So what caused me to think about this? I'll come back to that in a moment, but let me tell you a little story first. Last year I was working on a news app for a company. The app was looking a bit long in the tooth - it still had Gingerbread styling - and the company decided to give it a refresh.

Now one of the features of the app was the ability to read the articles in one of two modes; white text on black background or black text on white background. Now you have to remember this is before the night/day mode stuff was added to the support libraries, and very few other news apps that we looked at had a similar feature.

The company's branding was light colours and when we got the designs the dark/light theme had been canned; we just had dark text on a light background. No amount of protesting could persuade the powers that be that this was a bad move. One of my bosses earlier in my career said something that has stuck with me to this day; once you give your users something, you can't take it away from them.

All this fell on deaf ears and we released the app with the new look. It wasn't long before there were complaints.


Lots of complaints.

It seemed that about 8 out of every 10 reviews was a one star, and 95% of those were complaining about the removal of the light/dark theme switch.

As it happens because the app had been around for so long, the stream of one star reviews only managed to pull our average rating down by 0.1. So if you only looked at the rating it still looked like a highly recommended app. Had Google done what Apple does and also show the rating for the latest version I doubt we would have scraped above 1.3.

Luckily the company listened to the complaints and in the next release we reinstated an alternative theme and the reviews all went back to normal.

I don't know what percentage of our users used the dark theme over the default light theme but I think it was quite small. But it was a very vocal minority. People tend to complain more than they congratulate. When was the last time you called your mobile phone company to say that you're very happy with their service and just wanted to let them know?

So what caused me to think about this event and write this post? Well recently a manufacturer of cameras updated their app. This app is used to both download the pictures and videos taken by the camera, but to also adjust the settings and have a live view; the camera doesn't have a viewfinder or a screen. The problem is that, in doing so, you now have to register with their site and create an account.

There are advantages to having an account. I believe there is cloud storage for your visual creations. However if all you want to do is adjust the settings on your camera or make sure it is looking at the right thing you still have to register an account.

In these days of systems being hacked and usernames and passwords strewn about the dark web I find in incredible that a company forces you to create an account for an app that only one feature of it - cloud storage - relies on.

As with the news app that I worked on, the reviewers have been taking the company to task about it. However as the app in its previous incarnations has had so many installs, its rating is still over 4 stars.

Will this company listen to its users as the news company did and backtrack? Who knows? They might not on the grounds that their rating still looks good to people searching for the app in the Play store. However if Google showed a rating for the latest version only as well as overall they might act where otherwise they might not.

As a user I would love it if Google did this. As an app developer...not so much. Should the users of your app be able to have such power over the developer? Should the developer be able to ride roughshod over the users feelings based on building up good will and not really feeling the pain if they then betray it? On balance, despite the potential pain as a developer, I would prefer that my users (and myself for other apps) have a bigger voice.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Darren @ Æ


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