How Much Should You Trust App Store Ratings?

App store ratings are meant to tell you if an application is any good at the blink of an eye, but all too often they're gamed for a higher -- or sometimes lower -- score. How much should we trust them? There are essentially three ways to assess any given smartphone or tablet app. You could buy it and test it yourself -- but that's a time and money burning exercise. You could read user reviews -- but they're often either too brief or too tilted one way or the other. Or, finally, you could check the rating given to the app by its many users. A five star app should be excellent, a one star app considerably less so. The rating doesn't give you the whole picture, but it's a starting point.

Except when folks cheat. There's been no shortage of this across all app marketplaces, whether you're talking the current app leader, iOS, or Android, where there's a current fury over Amazon's systems apparently being used to artificially boost app ratings scores.

So I thought I'd throw this over to the court of reader opinion.

Talking points

  • App scores are an easy way to quickly assess apps; it's one of the ways we use to determine our App Deals Of The Day, because time and resources means that there simply isn't a way to test every app that drops in price for a day.
  • Sometimes App rating "gaming" is quite obvious -- if you see a bunch of very short reviews for a brand new app that repeat each other, for example -- but if it's just a score, it's much harder to discern.
  • This isn't a unique problem to Android, or iOS, or WP7, or insert-the-name-of-your-OS-here. There's partially a problem here of human nature and a desire for greater sales, but if you dumped app ratings, what would you replace them with?
  • There's also the quandary that a "popular" app may get many more ratings -- but "popular" doesn't always mean "good". Early on in the iOS App Store's life, fortunes were made from farting apps. Were they actually quality apps?
    What's your view on App ratings? Do you trust them or ignore them?

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    Another problem for Android is the people who write something along the lines of, "It doesn't work on my [insert Android device here]", and consequently give a 1-star rating. This obviously drives down ratings for what may be an awesome application on devices that support it.

    Perhaps the Play store ratings would be better if people could select the device they used to review the app (rather than just typing it in as some people do) so you could filter reviews based on your device. Or even better: if the store allowed you to add a review which was simply, "It doesn't work on my device".

      Having the ratings associated with the device and OS version will also help the developers fix the problems.

        Good point. As it turns out, the Play store goes part of the way towards providing these options, if you look at the "User Reviews" tab.

        On the plus side: Adding a review automatically records the device and application version that the user was using. On the minus side: It doesn't show the O/S version, and the average rating doesn't recalculate based on filters.

    Here's another point related to the "popular doesn't always mean good" point in the original article. The price of an app will influence it's ratings. Free apps will get a bazillion (that's a scientific number, google it) more downloads and hence reviews than paid apps. Also, a $1.19 photo-editing app will have a lower expectation of quality as compared to a $14.99 photo-editing app, which could result in a 4.5-star $1.19 app and a 3-star $14.99 because the expensive app didn't meet the high expectations (even though, objectively, the $14.99 app is a better product than the $1.19 app)

    Negative reviews can also be posted by competitors.

    The Android Market needs a clean up and more functions including a way to report malware. Google play can go to hell.

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