Let’s get rid of App Store star ratings

Marco Arment questions the use of App Store’s star ratings.

Matt posted previously about whether we should rate apps when prompted by the app. Developers add prompts to get users to rate the app because having a higher rating would increase the chances of their apps being found and downloaded.

Eliminating the star ratings but leaving the written reviews would eliminate a lot of developer headaches and much of the motivation behind the annoying “Rate This App” epidemic that’s interrupting and annoying iOS customers and infecting, embarrassing, and devaluing almost all modern iOS apps.

Amazon’s review system is a good example of an excellent, peer-reviewed system. Yes, Amazon uses a star rating system as well, but users can also vote whether the reviews are helpful. This allows the system to show the most helpful favourable and critical reviews, providing shoppers with feedback that addresses the pros and cons of the products.

In my opinion, the App store would benefit greatly with a peer-reviewed system. However, I would suggest replacing the star ratings with a choice of whether the reviewer would recommend the app. A star rating system is too arbitrary. What is the difference between a four-star and a five-star rating?

Let’s say there is a good writing app that does not support Markdown. Reviewers A, B and C love the app. Reviewer A relies heavily on Markdown. Reviewer B uses Markdown at times, while Reviewer C has no idea what Markdown is. Reviewer C gives 5 star because the app blew him away. Reviewer B gives 4 stars because he feels the app could be improved with Markdown support. Reviewer A gives 3 stars because of the lack of Markdown support. Three different ratings, even though they agree it is a great app.

Now we look at what the results would be if the reviewers only chose “Recommend” or “Do not recommend”. While they have differing views of how good the app is, all three reviewers agree they would recommend the app. Instead of an average of four stars, the app gets three recommends. To me, three recommends is more meaningful than a score of four stars.

This along with peer-reviewing of the feedback would certainly transform the App Store reviews into something useful for shoppers.

iA drops Syntax Control patent, internet silent

Collin Donnell writes about many people failing to acknowledge iA for dropping its patent application.

Matt wrote about the controversy on BakingPixel. Long story short, iA tried to patent their idea that was using a linguistic-tagger API that has been available for years, and they threatened other develops that were developing something similar. Many people did not like that and protested vocally. In the end, iA caved under the pressure and dropped the patent application.

Donnell points out how iA does not receive any acknowledgement for backing off:

If a company does something you don’t like, you speak out, and they correct it, that means what you did worked. It means you got what you wanted. Isn’t the right thing to acknowledge them for it? If you don’t, why would anyone listen to you the next time?

Macro Arment writes in response to Donnell’s article:

Filing a patent application was an action that they undid, but thinking they deserved one in the first place and threatening other developers (prematurely, at that) are offensive to me in ways that are harder to just cancel and sweep under the rug.

I was silent about their update because it didn’t change anything for me.

That is the point that Donnell misses. It is not just about what iA did. Hence, a reversal of their action does not warrant acknowledgement. It is a matter of principle and how the company believed that they are entitled to threaten other developers even before they were awarded the patent.

The company simply tweeted about their decision and left it as that.

I have yet to come across an apology from iA regarding the whole incident. This is a sign that they caved in under pressure from the backlash but they do not believe they are at fault. The least the company could do is to post a blog entry regarding the incident to share their perspective on the issue.

Until then, I won’t be surprised if most people stayed silent on the issue.

HTC explains why its devices have not been updated to Android 4.4

HTC has published a webpage to show the Android 4.4 upgrade status of its HTC One phones.

They even have a large diagram depicting the complicated process of an Android update as an excuse for not having the latest Android version on their flagship devices. This means that the other Android makers are blindingly efficient to be able to roll out KitKat on their devices then!

About Quartz’s view that 2013 was a lost year for tech

Quartz wrote about how 2013 was a lost year for tech.

John Gruber has commented about the article:

What a sad pile of piss-on-everything cynicism.

Om Malik gave an equally scathing response:

So, next time when someone says, “2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it: Silicon Valley,” remind them to actually do research before making that statement.

Obviously, the hyperbolic headline was meant to catch the attention of readers and draw traffic. But it also reminded me of how often I have been hearing similar lines from people around me. Especially those who claim to have a keen interest in technology.

Consumers want to be wowed. Consumers want the “next big thing”. When the iPhone 5s, the new iPads and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 came out, people yawned and said these were just the same devices with minor improvements. There were not striking changes.

The iPhone 5s only got a better camera and a fingerprint sensor. It also came with iOS 7 but other iPhones got that too. The iPad Air was just slimmer and lighter. The new iPad mini got a Retina display and a better processor. The Galaxy Note 3 had upgraded internals and some slight changes. All these are no big deals.

To a consumer who is more likely to compare produces based on the specs, these changes do not matter much. Oh, that’s just a few milligrams lighter or millimetres thinner compared to the older model. When it comes to more technical aspects such as comparing the cameras, processors or even screen resolutions, they go with the bigger number, the better.

You want to impress this crowd? Go crazy with the numbers. Just ask Nokia with its 41 megapixel cameras on the Lumia 1020. I heard a lot of praises from people who have no idea what megapixels mean. Bigger is better. When I ask them about sensor size and whether the images will be grainy, they stare at me blankly.

Quartz’s article works to reinforce the layperson’s perception that 2013 was a bad year in technology. That is lazy journalism. As Gruber and Malik pointed out in their articles, there were many reasons to celebrate technology in 2013.

Quartz was in a position to educate its readers about the achievements in the past year. But it chose not to conduct an in-depth research and merely echo the voices of the average consumers.

Samsung Electronics’ market value plunges by almost $9 billion

WSJ.com reports that Samsung Electronics’ market value drops by almost $9 billion.

I keep getting told that Samsung does not have to worry about profits because it is a conglomerate with businesses in many different industries. And that Samsung can afford to get away with low profit margins.

The reality is far from that. With its mobile devices accounting for more than half of its operating profits, Samsung needs to seriously consider how it can grow its profit in the market.

Perhaps Samsung should look at the $14 billion it spent on advertising last year.

Apple fires back at NSA iPhone spyware claims

After the Snowden leaks regarding the scope of NSA’s spying efforts, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone to hear the recent claims that the NSA is able to install spyware on the iPhone via its DROPOUTJEEP program. Reports claim that the NSA currently needs physical access to the device in order to be able to install the spyware, but a version that can be remotely deployed in currently in the works.

Apple Denies Working with NSA on iPhone Backdoor

Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers’ privacy and security. Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements. Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.

It’s pretty telling that Apple has had to resort to indirectly labeling the NSA as “malicious hackers”, though it’s not the only one calling the spying agency names as Microsoft has also begun to claim that the constant spying is basically an “advanced persistent threat”, something that shouldn’t be used lightly.

Microsoft Was Right To Worry That Government Snooping Constituted An ‘Advanced Persistent Threat’

The term “advanced persistent threat,” by the way, isn’t a casual colloquialism that Redmond invented. According to the Wall Street Journal, the phrase “carries special weight in cybersecurity circles and is often used to describe hacker teams backed by the Chinese government.” That comparison is striking.

Let’s not forget Mark Zuckerberg’s comments regarding this issue too.

Zuckerberg: US government ‘blew it’ on NSA surveillance

He said after the news broke in the Guardian and the Washington Post about Prism, the government surveillance programme that targets major internet companies: “The government response was, ‘Oh don’t worry, we’re not spying on any Americans.’ Oh, wonderful: that’s really helpful to companies trying to serve people around the world, and that’s really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies.”

The disappointing thing about all of this is that despite being a democracy, we’re having to rely on large technology companies who have massive clout and money to hire expensive lawyers in order to fight this. Something definitely isn’t right here.

Why Google does not license Android

Business Insider reports on the correlation between the size of the world’s internet population and Google revenues.

We all known Google depends on its search ads to generate revenue. Now Asymco has a chart to show you how Google’s ad revenue is related to the number of people using the internet.

No wonder Google wants to bring internet to areas with limited or no internet access. Don’t get me wrong. I applaud Google for its efforts to increase internet penetration. But we should keep in mind that it is not without benefit to Google.

HTC Android devices banned in Germany for infringing Nokia patents

Android Central reports that HTC Android devices have been banned for sale in Germany for infringing Nokia patents.

This comes after HTC’s lawsuit wins in the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The patent does not apply on HTC devices alone. Other Android devices that has the Android Beam function will be considered as infringing on the patent as well. It is understood that Google is working to invalidate the patent to prevent bans from being effected on other Android devices.

Twitter adds account favourite to its Android app

Digital Trends reports that Twitter has updated its Android app to allow users to favourite other users.

We can add accounts to a List. So this feature is not just about making it easy for users to keep track of their favourite tweeters. This is probably a way for Twitter to better understand the kind of tweets you want to keep track of to help improve its algorithm to recommend users for you to follow, and to serve you targeted ads.

John Gruber: Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

Whenever John Gruber takes the time to write a long post, it’s definitely worth a read, especially if it’s on the topic of Apple.

I think that he pretty much nails it that when it comes to people who want eye-catching headlines, Apple is never going to win.

It’s a damned if they do, damned if they don’t scenario for Apple. If a three-year-old device doesn’t qualify for an iOS upgrade, one could argue that Apple is excluding it out of spite, to pressure the user to buy a new device just so they can run the latest software. But if Apple does provide an update for a three-year-old phone, and the upgrade proves problematic for some of them, then they’re accused of booby-trapping it, suckering users into upgrading their iPhones to a version of iOS that makes them run worse, so that the users will run out and buy a new iPhone.

I just want to chime in with one of the major misconceptions that I feel keeps being brought up.

Apple products are expensive

This is by far the most common complaint. While it might have been true a while back, I feel I’m actually getting pretty good value here. I’m going to sidestep the fact that the current MacBook Air starts from $999, which is cheaper than a lot of good Windows notebooks out there. Instead, I’m going to use the example of my MacBook Pro which I purchased back in 2010. I can’t recall the exact price, but I paid something in the region of $1,200 for the machine, and I’ve been using it for about four years now. The only hiccup I’ve encountered so far has been a faulty cable inside, which Apple Care took care of pretty quickly.

The thing is, after four years, I constantly forget that I’m using a four year old machine. The battery still holds a reasonable charge; I’ve updated it to Mavericks 10.9.1 and don’t feel that it’s sluggish at all. So aside from a few minor features like AirPlay mirroring and faster speeds, I don’t feel that I need to rush to upgrade to the latest MacBook. If I need a performance bump, I just need to purchase an $80 SSD and it’ll feel like a brand new machine.

On the other hand, my Windows desktops are all on life support, either through failing drivers and crappy hardware quirks here and there.

Planned obsolescence? As I mentioned, my MacBook Pro is going strong. My family members are still rocking the iPhone 4 without any issues. Sure, it’s not as fast as the iPhone 5S, but it works fine. Try using a 3-year old Android phone.

The whole “planned obsolescence” thing — started by New York Times economics columnist Catherine Rampell, but promulgated by Mims himself after the ball got rolling — was a pile of horseshit. No company in the computer/mobile industry makes products that hold their value longer than Apple’s. Used two-year-old iPhone 4S’s can be sold for $300; three-year-old iPhone 4’s still sell for $200 or more. What other companies make cell phones that retain any value at all after two years?

Is Apple right all the time? Hardly, but let’s be fair here and give credit where credit is due.