Sun Seeker Sizzles!

The Sun Seeker app has continued to be enhanced and honed in a series of updates, the most recent being v2.8, which includes a modernised interface – yep, those are indeed flat button faces. 😉

Sun Seeker v2.8 compass screen
Sun Seeker v2.8 Compass Screen

These updates seem to have attracted a bit of positive attention resulting in several new blog reviews, culminating in the following fabulous review from top-notch reviewer John Martellaro (@jmartellaro) of The Mac Observer. This is a must-read review, not just because it is positively glowing, but also because John saw fit to include my detailed answers to his probing questions, including some inside information on how the app works, and especially importantly on how to ensure optimum compass calibration of your device.

Just to show a little more of the app here, my own favorite feature update is the ability to select date and time on the map view via a scroller.

Sun Seeker Map View

 

App Not Doing So Well? Here’s Some Solace.

I am assuming that most of the readers of this blog are iPhone app developers, but if you are not, can I perhaps just invite you to imagine for a few moments what it would be like if you were…? Great! Here we go.

As an app developer, have you ever found yourself saying anything along the following lines?

  • I’ve just dropped out of  the top 100 list.
  • I didn’t do so well today – my downloads were down 25% from the weekend.
  • My sales have decreased for 3 days in a row.
  • My review ratings have been dragged down by those pesky uninstall review prompts.

If so (and I suspect this would be especially so for many independent developers), then you may well be suffering from over-identification with your app or apps – because if you examine those statements, you will see that the “I” and “My” parts should really be “My app”, or even less personally “The app I have created”, or “The app called <insert_name_here>”.

Obviously, the simple fact of the matter is that we are not our apps. Rather, apps are abstract entities that we have created. And even then we have only been responsible for part of the act of creating them – especially bearing in mind the whole infrastructure that was built by Apple and others over the years which provided the basis from which apps such as these could emerge at all.

But a basic human emotional tendency is to mistakenly attach a significant portion of our self-worth to what we have created anyway, and then suffer a mental and emotional roller coaster as our creation rises or falls within the metrics that we apply for judging its success or failure in the marketplace.

Perhaps you are thinking “as an app developer, I’m not an especially emotional person”, but the truth of the matter becomes evident if you can stand back a little and examine your own use of language. You might be surprised to see what it reveals about what you identify yourself with! And along a similar line, do you exhibit any of the following behaviours?

  • Attempting to obtain the most recent app sales data only moments after it becomes available each day
  • Keeping detailed daily statistics of all aspects of your app sales, reviews, ratings and performance
  • Being moody or distracted whenever your app sales or reviews have been worse than the day before
  • Being jubilant or cocky whenever your app sales or reviews have been better than the day before

Again, although there may sometimes be sound business reasons for doing some of things, they are potentially also signs that you are over-anxious about your app’s performance, and hence somewhat a victim of the highly impersonal and generally uncontrollable characteristics of the app store ecosystem.

So what can you do to ease this over-attachment, lessen irrational anxiety, and generally find a greater sense of peace? Here are some tested and proven things to try:

  • Meditate – even taking just 10 to 20 minutes a day of quiet time during which you allow your mind to settle can have an effect which endures throughout the day.
  • Spend some time in nature – nature is generally peaceful and timeless, and inspires a similar feeling in those who spend time in it.
  • Exercise energetically – quite apart from taking your mind off work, this has major physiological and psychological benefits as well, including a greater sense of peace and well-being, and an enhanced ability both to focus and to think more holistically.

In addition to the above – you could also try using the “Solace and Courage” app as needed (iTunes link). I am giving away 10 free copies (promotional codes) to the first 10 people to email me at gpdawson on the gmail.com domain or follow me and then message me on twitter @gpdawson (so I can direct message you back with the code).

I’ll leave a note here when I run out – if you are reading this, you still have a good chance. Sorry! No longer available – but it still only costs US$0.99. 🙂

But please note these promotional codes work only in the US iTunes store!

For those who don’t have US iTunes accounts, here is an extract from “Solace and Courage”, which it might be helpful to ponder, instead.


Greatness arises not from what you do externally, but from who you are internally.

When you get in touch with your inner core of stillness, whatever action ensues is imbued with the special qualities of that space.

You become more powerful, more creative, more compassionate.

Even your smallest acts become subtly more profound and meaningful, and their effects penetrate far beyond their immediate sphere of expression.


I must admit here that, somewhat ironically (or is it fittingly?!), the “Solace & Courage” app that I launched about 10 days ago seems to have peaked and is now declining in sales. After peaking at 33 sales in a day, and reaching 46th in Australia in the Lifestyle category and 61st in the US, it has since declined to about 10 sales per day and dropped out of the Australian and US rankings.

On the other hand, it is still currently ranked 44th in the UK (although this obviously is only on the basis of very few sales), and all three app reviews it has received from users other than myself gave it 5 stars. I suppose they may actually be people who know me, and wanted to help, but I don’t know this for sure and prefer to imagine they are from genuinely appreciative users.

So I will (and have already) been pondering the above text from “Solace & Courage”, and am glad to say that my self-esteem remains unperturbed. Although of course I hoped, I never expected this app to be a big seller. Of course giving away some copies may possibly lead to some extra sales if people like it and spread the word, but whether or not it does, it won’t be bothering me too much. 🙂

Oz Weather v1.4 Released

Sales of Australian weather apps have been quiet recently (more details to come in a future post), and right now Oz Weather is at #17 overall ranking of Australian paid apps. This is a very respectable position by almost any standard, although much less impressive than it has been historically.

I am attributing this mainly to the fact that the weather is now inter-seasonal and hence rather bland, especially when compared to the exceptional heatwave and tragic bush-fires in Victoria two months ago, during which sales peaked quite dramatically. In a previous article I revealed the relationship between interest in weather and Oz Weather sales levels, and this apparently continues to hold true, as weather query rates have been below 1 per app per day recently, indicating an historically low interest level in the weather from app users.

However, Oz Weather development continues never-the-less! Version 1.4 has just been approved by Apple. This approval took 4 working days (6 days elapsed), which seems to be about par for the course.

The main new feature is a much-improved city selection dialog. Although it has been possible since v1.0 to use GPS location via the “Locate Me” crosshairs button on the add city screen, it seems that many users never even noticed it was there, and thus were scrolling through the list of 274 cities in alphabetical order in the hope of finding somewhere nearby by finding familiar place names.

The new screen design has the following improvements

  • Divides cities into separate lists for each state
  • Makes the “Near Me” button much bigger and easier to find
  • Also allows users to view a list of  locations near to any specified location

Add City Dialog Add City Dialog 2

The other changes are a little more subtle. For example I have added grip bars to the current weather views, thus making it more obvious that you can scroll sideways to find observations for other nearby locations within your vicinity. I’ve almost lost count of the number of emails I’ve received from users requesting additional observation locations, and who seemed to be very pleasantly surprised when I told them they could already just scroll sideways to get exactly those locations.

Side Grips

And the least visible change has been a very satisfying one for me, as I believe that I may finally have conquered an obscure problem that could cause a crash. It was a fairly rare crash, but not rare enough to prevent some understandably annoyed users from leaving some bad reviews. Sadly there is no mechanism in place allowing developers to respond to people who report their problem via a review. But here is a suggestion for Apple. When someone submits a review with, say, 2 stars or less, then prompt the user with a message like the following.

If you have experienced problems with this app, then please contact the developers via their supplied contact email address for support. Developers are unable to contact you or respond to you regarding any problem that you report only via a review.

Apple already does prompt users with messages when they leave reviews – why not just add an extra one  like this? It could greatly help users and developers alike.

New Appstore User Review Flaw Emerges

Apple has recently made major improvements to the user review system for apps, making it generally much fairer and more useful to customers.

Reviews are now labeled with the date on which they were written, the version of app being reviewed, and there is a graphical view of the distribution of ratings, making it much easier to see the overall response of users to the app.

But there are still some ways in which the system can be abused or gamed, as I have only just discovered myself, after noticing that despite Oz Weather’s typically high user review scores, the 3 reviews shown to all users on their first view of the app information (in the Australian app store) happened to be 1 and 2 star reviews, with correspondingly negative sentiments. 😦

Oz Weather Reviews

The reason that these unrepresentative reviews are being shown persistently is because Apple considers them to be the “most helpful” ones according to the algorithm that they apply to their peer review system ie. where users rate other users’ reviews.

But closer examination showed that those particular reviews had received feedback from just one other user ie. they were marked with the statement “1 out of 1 customers found this review helpful“. And looking down the list of 31 reviews of the current version it was apparent that the low ranking reviews had all been found “helpful” by 1 out of 1 users, whereas all the high ranking reviews (many more of them of course!) had all been found helpful by 0 out of 1 users (ie. found “unhelpful”).

Given this pattern, what’s to bet that all this was the work of just one person?

Most disappointingly, a review I left myself was similarly marked as unhelpful, thus making it virtually invisible to most users. I had left this for the purpose of trying to help those users who had app problems but not realised they could just email me for support. And in it, I clearly identified myself as the developer. (As I had to leave a star ranking, it had to be 5 stars – what would user’s have thought of the app if it’s own maker had ranked it less?!)

Own Review

This problem with user reviews of reviews has been there since day one of the app store, but due to the fact that numbers of users, their reviews, and their reviews of other reviews was always growing, it wasn’t a big issue for long. Once enough users had been acquired, the chance that a single user’s feedback could affect things this dramatically became negligible.

But with Apple’s new review system in place, whenever any app update is issued, the reviews for the current version only start at a count of zero, and the prospect of this distortion and/or possibility of gaming the review system by just one (or very few people working together) arises again, at least until the number of user reviews has grown enough to drown it out again. Given that many app developers do release updates relatively frequently, this makes it into a real issue – one that happens to have been made much worse as a consequence of the new review system.

So how could this be solved? Well Apple has already solved a similar issue in relation to the average star rating ie. they no longer give a star rating at all until a sufficient number of reviews have been received. So perhaps the solution is simply to ignore the helpful/unhelpful ratings until a sufficient number have accrued – at least several, preferably more.

Another approach would be to limit the number of helpful/unhelpful ratings that any one user can give – thus preventing them from sullying the entire complement of existing reviews in one go, as appears to have happened to Oz Weather in this case.

Yet another would be to look for patterns of user response eg. if a user consistently rated all low star reviews as helpful, and high star reviews as unhelpful (or vice versa), then their ratings are simply ignored. Of course this might require some advanced algorithms to make it work, which may be unrealistic for now, but it doesn’t hurt to think about them!

Appeal

Because a solution to this issue is not going to be implemented or appear overnight (despite Apple’s many other talents!), I would like to appeal to any existing Oz Weather users to go into the Oz Weather app store entry in iTunes (you can use this link) and use the helpful/unhelpful feature to rate some of the existing other reviews. I would ask you to do this with integrity and honesty ie. please don’t just do it for the sake of panning the bad reviews or glorifying the good ones – rather do what feels right and appropriate to make the review rating more realistically representative of your own opinion of the app.

Postscript

By the way, those bad reviews on the front page are no-doubt quite honest. The app can (rarely) start crashing, and the only solution is to delete then re-install the app, and I do believe that it is very important to listen to complaints, and think carefully about what you could do to avoid similar complaints in future.

To this end, I have recently rooted out the likely cause of any crashing, and also put in a crash recovery mechanism just for those 1 in 10,000 type scenarios. Hopefully this will mean that eventually there will be no 1 star reviews at all – and then it wouldn’t be possible for anyone to game the helpfulness of reviews either! What? Me? An idealist? Well maybe. 🙂