As an iPhone user, one of the things I've found to be increasingly irksome is the customer review system built into Apple's App Store for the iPhones and iPod Touch.
It's as basic as you get, which follows the design ethos found in the many of Apple's hardware products, such as the no-button Mighty Mouse, disappearing MacBook buttons, and I/O ports on its notebook computers and LCD displays.
While simplicity is one of the qualities that makes Apple's products more approachable for the basic user, it's something that doesn't translate well to a crowd-powered review system.
In its current state, the review system lets you very easily rate a software application from one to five stars, along with the option to write in any thoughts or feelings you have about it. This sounds great, in theory, but a good majority of the reviews found on App Store applications seem to prove otherwise.
More often than not, you'll see one-star reviews in which people are raving about the quality of an application. There are also people who give an application five stars, then go on to spend two paragraphs discussing how often it crashes and larger off-topic issues like international pricing and the handset's lack of a copy-and-paste feature. You also get a lot of comments written in ALL CAPS, with lines of Emoji icons, colored stars, and superfluous exclamation marks.
In every sense, it's like the Wild West: untamed and full of interesting characters.
To Apple's credit, on Friday, the company (as promised) removed reviews from customers who had not purchased the application they were reviewing. This may cut down on spam and ill-conceived or written reviews, but it's not a big step in improving how the review system works.
Problematic by design The problem stems from the fact that Apple has treated software reviews with the same level of simplicity it's approached movie and music reviews. These two mediums are not interactive, nor do they have hangups like development schedules and performance issues.
While you can rate an album or music track based on your enjoyment of it, it's not speaking to a truth about frame rate jitters, buggy code, or a developer who has not put out a necessary update in six months--all things you may find in iPhone applications and that can be good to know before plunking down money on a purchase.
One reason there's a lack of these types of clarifications in user reviews is that Apple has fragmented its reviews system based on platform. Mobile users don't get the same quality of review browsing as those using iTunes do. For instance, when viewing user reviews in iTunes, you get the option to flag a bad review and say whether it was helpful. You can also sort by best and worst reviews, along with the most helpful and recent.
On the iPhone, users have none of these options. In fact, there's currently only one way to view reviews--in chronological order. For a device that's slowly gaining independence from having to sync up with a computer (as seen in recent improvements to podcast downloading on the device), this is troubling.
A better system There are a three things Apple could do, explicitly to software application reviews, that would beef up the system and make reviews really matter to the potential customers who read them. All three can be found on Amazon.com, which has done a really fantastic job of creating a single ratings system that works on multiple genres of products:… Read more