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Dr. Touch #006 – "And the Winner is…"

Appsfire Award 2009 Winners announced and the problem with fake reviews.

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My script (aka “Show Notes”) after the fold below.

News

Apple’s Developer News are now available also as RSS feed. In a feeble attempt to appear more open and communicative Apple had previously implemented a News section on their developer portal. Now the latest news blurp announces that these news are also available as RSS. Unfortunately only the first part of each article. So to get the whole content you still have to click through to the site. But at least now you know if there is some important announcement.

Like for example that iTunes Connect will be closed from December 23rd until December 28th. This means that you will not be able to manage any aspect of your applications or even submit new ones. So if you are planning a Christmas promotion on your apps make sure drop your prices no later than the 22nd.  Also bear in mind that even though it is a separate site on Apple’s server the announcement also specifically states that you will not get sales reports during this period. So I recommend that you use your favorite downloading tool as long as possible so that you also get the daily reports right up to the 22nd. If availability resumes on the 29th you should not have a gap in daily reports.

What could be the reason for such a long outage? I am keeping my fingers crossed that Apple will finally give us developers an API to download our reports the official way instead of having to scrape iTunes Connect as we are doing now. I’ve been lobbying other developers to put in a feature request into RADAR, Apple’s bug tracker, to request that Apple provides such an API. I had gotten a response from Apple that they would consider doing that if there is enough demand.

So please put your Christmas wishes into RADAR reports addressed to Santa Jobs, the location is http://bugreport.apple.com. Usually you would put gripes in there that you have with Apple software and APIs, but it’s also the best and only place where you can request features, like – for example – a report download API. My original reature request, which I entered April 20th 2009, bears the number 6807195. You should mention this number to basically vote for this feature.

I’ve just opened the site myself, let me read you report number 6807195 so that you know what you’d be supporting:

20-Apr-2009 10:16 AM Oliver Drobnik: Many people are looking for ways to download their iTunes Sales reports which are more convenient than going to the website. There are half a dozen apps both in open-source as well as commercial that scrape the site to allow for automatic downloading. At the same time Apple rejects apps that are doing this in a mobile way and cites 3.3.7 of the SDK agreement.

Providing a secure Web API would make all your developers very much happy because then they could create their own tools or could choose between competing mobile downloading tools.

Also waiting for the previous day’s report to arrive is an ideal case for push notifications.

In the very least I urge Apple to create a mobile report downloading app themselves if they absolutely won’t let users access the data they desperately want to have.

By not taking the lead on report downloading Apple causes hundreds of thousands of unnecessary accesses to the report site when people or their scripts are checking if the report is now available. Lots of unnecessary HTTPS/HTML traffic could be prevented if there whas an XML based secure API.

Though bear in mind that this is only a Christmas wish we tool developers have. In reality the only thing that will probably happen during the outage is that Apple will run their annual financial reports for their bookkeeping and they don’t people to go changing the inventory while they count the money. But you know what they say: Hope will die last.

Apple has finally clarified what they want the matter of dates in iTunes to work like. In an e-mail to a confused user they explain:

“The released date displayed on an application page is the date the latest version of that application went live on the App Store. This date will allow customers to be aware of the date this version was released.

On category pages on the App Store, when you choose to sort by Release Date, applications are sorted according to the date the first version of the app went live on the App Store. Sorting by the original app released date creates a list where customers can easily find the most recent additions to the App Store.

Both of these dates are automatically set in the iTunes system and cannot be edited in iTunes Connect.”

Get it? Clear as mud I should say. The point is that they finally fixed the bug to be able to reset the release date every time you did an update. Too many developers where abusing this loophole to make their apps appear as fresh and new to gather additional attention and sales.

Since we now lost release date manipulation as a marketing too, here are a couple of strategies to make most of this situation:

  • Make sure you leave the best possible impression for the very short time you are in front
  • Do frequent updates so that you app looks cared for
  • Have good keywords so people searching for these will find your app
  • Sponsor an Ad on the Dr. Touch Podcast
  • Make new apps. Take what you learned from your previous apps and repackage this knowledge as new.
  • Get people to blog and tweet about your app while it is visible

By the way, you can still the the availability date in iTunes Connect to a future date to prevent availability before this time even though the app is already approved. But who in his right mind would do such a thing? Especially if the review process is still taking too long as it is.

Apple removes apps with fake reviews from the store. The developer “Molinker” has been accused of gaming the reviews for his 1011 apps to drive sales. He had organized a tad too many fake 5-star reviews for his apps. Responding to the outrage Apple removed the developer and all his produce from the store. The same might happen for you if you try to push your own apps by such clandestine means. So please don’t. User your brain power to polish your apps instead of trying to think of a lubricant to shove them more easily down the customers throats.

Proving the fakedness of reviews is relatively easy. In general reviews will cluster around a certain number of stars in the form of a bell curve or at least be uniformly distributed. Now we are aware of a couple of developers who use sort of a review Mafia to purchase hundreds of reviews in certain key markets. I know of one example where you can look through the various big markets and you will see in which of these the developer has clearly purchased a couple of hundred five star reviews. The same app would have like no stars in Austria, but 900 times 5 stars in German or twohundred times 5 stars in France.

One thing puzzles me though There are two riddles: How do I get hundreds of fake positive reviews in markets that don’t have promo codes? And: how much did the developer pay for these reviews? Do we think that this guy has 800 friends who would buy the app? Can a crook be THAT well connected and persuasive?

Only time will tell. Even one major company got recently accused of gaming the reviews: Gameloft. There was a problem with their new app “Modern Combat: Sandstorm” which seemingly prompted a lot of one star reviews. Shortly after the fix became available suddenly lots of 5 star reviews appeared. Gameloft naturally denies being part of this practise, though the author of this article on The Unofficial Apple Weblog found it odd that all the positive reviews had been voted up. By people clicking on “Was this review helpful?” YES.

That’s the other loophole in the process. You essentially get multiple votes with just one purchase. You can set stars, you can write a text and you can find all positive reviews helpful and all negative reviews unhelpful.

Finally there is yet another problem: Fake reviews for competitor’s apps. I know of a shady character who purchases his competitor’s app, leaves a 1 star review with accusations and allegations of bugs and then actually calls Apple to request his money back. Which Apple seems to be rather happy to oblige.

This morning Appsfire announced the Winners of the 2009 Appsfire Awards at the LeWeb which where given to this years greatest new yet unreleased apps.

Winner in the Category Games is Sketch Nation Shooter. Sketch Nation Shooter allows users to create their own games by drawing a player, enemies and a level on a piece of paper and taking a picture of the drawing with their iPhone camera.

Runner Up in the Games Category: Extreme Sheepdog Trials, where you steer your sheepdog by whistling the commands.

Winner in the Utility Category is Here File File. Here, File File! lets you access your Macs’ files (yes – all of your files from all of your Macs!) from your iPhone wherever you are. Browse files and folders, attached storage, network drives, view your files, stream media, and email your files all from your iPhone. Don’t worry about forgetting a file ever again – access your Mac whenever you need to wherever you are!

Runner Up in the Utility Category is Baby Bubbles. An App that helps you log your baby’s every move.

Winner in the Entertainment Category is Cookmate. Ever had a fridge full of food and nothing to eat? Misc items that you’re just not sure how to bring together into a spontaneous and delicious meal? There’s an app for that! And you have found it!

Runner Up in the Entertainment Category is ISSUU Mobile. A magazine reader app.


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