Most of the time, developers know it's probably their fault when their app gets a bad review. Sure, there are always a few cranks and people so out of touch with reality that the comments they make may well invalidate whatever number of stars they give a particular app or mobile game. The recent problems involving iOS 9 beta, however, show that there are some times when even a developer's best work can't truly stand on its own.
According to stories on The Verge and elsewhere, Apple recently made a quiet but important fix to its App Store by removing the ability of those running iOS 9's fourth beta to post any reviews. Business Insider actually collected a few tweets from developers who were frustrated to find what may have once been a top-rated app plummeting to one-star status.
AppleInsider probably summed up the situation best: "The problem has existed for some time, but with previous beta programs the impact was slight because access was limited to a rather small pool of users. And those users were, for the most part, developers. Issues became increasingly pronounced after Apple opened wide access to early iOS and OS X builds through its 'public beta' program, entry into which is as easy as signing up."
When I wrote about Apple's first public beta a few months back, I had actually thought it could serve as a useful feedback mechanism for developers in addition to Apple itself. Suffice it to say I didn't see this one coming, and perhaps Apple didn't either. Although this latest move may fix the immediate problem, it also suggests developers need to think through future OS transitions a little differently than they had before.
Even if they can't post reviews, for example, iOS 9 beta users can still try apps out. With proper education and context, how might those users interpret stalls, crashes or otherwise buggy performance that's more related to the platform than the actual app? Reviews sometimes seem like one-way conversations, but at least they give developers insight into what they should do next. Silencing unfair reviewers makes sense, but shouldn't there be a way for developers to become aware of their experiences and somehow seek a way to win them back?
Feel free to offer your suggestions in the comments below, but the only thing I can think of is to suggest developers get out in front of this issue in whatever channels are open to them. This could include their description on the App Store, perhaps, their social media channels, their web site and (if they have one) user email list. As we wait for iOS 9 to exit its public beta, there may be no such thing as over-communicating. And let's face it, in some cases silence can be the worst review of all. --Shane