For iOS app developers, getting positive user reviews on the App Store is crucial to increasing downloads and sales. Generally, the best way to get good reviews is to build a great app.
But sometimes, developers are hammered by 1-Star (out of 5) user reviews through no fault of their own. See, when Apple releases a beta version of iOS, which it's done every June for the past few years, many apps that work just fine on the previous iOS release suddenly break.
This is because Apple tends to update its APIs, the programming hookups that allow apps to plug into different parts of the operating system—and when new APIs come out, sometimes apps break.
Now, this isn't usually a problem. Apple's beta releases are meant to only be used by the developers themselves, on dedicated testing devices. But since Apple typically makes new features available in the betas, many non-developers install it on their personal devices, only to find that many of their favorite apps are broken. It's even more common this year, as Apple has made iOS 9 a public beta, available for nearly anyone to use.
Because many apps have problems or don't work at all on the beta version of the operating system, users express their displeasure by leaving negative reviews on the App Store.
"Some people are nice enough to leave a five-star rating and a note that says 'Just to let you know, it crashes on start on iOS 9'," says Elan Feingold, developer of the popular media server software Plex. "We call those people 'developers'." Feingold says he's seen 20-30 negative reviews pop up over the past few weeks because their app crashes on launch on iOS 9.
This has been a problem for years, but Apple has finally decided to do something about it. With the most recent betas of iOS 9, users running pre-release versions of the operating system can no longer leave reviews on apps.
Negative reviews from users running beta versions of iOS have been a problem for years, so developers are understandably pleased with the change.
"I'm very glad to see Apple improve this," says Fantastical developer Michael Simmons. It allows App Store reviews to remain focused on stable releases rather than beta software, which is specifically meant for testing."
Unfortunately, it's not perfect. Even though users are prevented from leaving negative text reviews, they can leave star ratings, so App Store rankings can still be affected.
"I wouldn't say it's super significant," says Feingold. "But even if it's 5% of reviews, at the lowest rating it can have an impact. It's compounded by the fact that Apple is the only major app store that doesn't allow developers to reply to reviews."
Still, the change should help developers keep their scores (and sales) up as they continue to work on apps and make sure they work on iOS 9, which is expected to launch to the public in September.
Have you installed iOS 9 on your iDevice? Have you had any trouble using apps? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.
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Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.