iOS5: There’s a reason it’s called ‘beta’ software.

7 days ago Apple announced iOS5 & released it to those with an Apple developer account. We now have 1 & 2 star reviews turning up in the app store like this…

2 star review for NextBuses for not working on iOS5

1 star review for Agant's UK Train Times not working in iOS5

I’m not out to demonise individuals, which is why I have blanked out the user names. However, I do want to highlight why leaving reviews like this is utterly misguided and what it means to install beta releases of iOS.

Firstly. The review system is not for leaving bug or support related questions, for example, ‘How do I add a favourite?’ or ‘Your app just crashes’. Users are much better off emailing the developer in question so they can help resolve the problem. By all means if they don’t respond, tell people in reviews. All too often I see support issues in the review system. Developers have no way whatsoever to respond to these, both sides loose out when support problems end up as 1 star reviews. Dev’s get a bad rep & have no idea how to reproduce the problem and the user still has no way to resolve the issue.

Secondly. I can understand users are very eager to get their hands on the latest & greatest iOS shown off at WWDC. So they sign up for developer accounts for £59…with a few clicks, an alternative restore through iTunes, voilà, latest iOS is installed on your shinny iPhone. Problem is, this is beta software and there’s a very good reason it’s called beta software. It’s not finished.

Downloading & installing beta versions of iOS is akin to moving into a near-new house with missing windows, no carpet & some furnishing. In other words, it’s a building site. If you don’t understand this distinction, then you have no business installing it. You may not even be able to roll back to a prior iOS because of the firmware (software written directly to internal chip-sets) updates that will occur. You could brick your phone.

Right now…iOS5 eats battery life, transition animations need optimisation and many applications (including Apple ones) will crash. Through no fault of the developer, some third party apps will not work at all, we are not clairvoyant. There is no point in dev’s releasing fixes for these issues yet because this is just beta 1, there could be 6 or more beta rounds to go. All the while these problems will be ironed out (by Apple, dev’s or both), altered or maybe even others introduced. The end goal of this process is to release a stable iOS, along with working & performant applications that we are all happy with.

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13 Responses to iOS5: There’s a reason it’s called ‘beta’ software.

  1. Rich2k says:

    Amen to that. I’ve discovered a nasty bug with long lived url connections with an authorisation header killing all subsequent http connections.

    Of course I’ve submitted reproducable code to Apple for their review but it doesn’t stop people moaning that the app is broken on iOS 5 even though there is nothing I can do

  2. PopDigify says:

    Thanks, Malcom! You hit the proverbial nail on the head. Speaking of nails, for many wannabe developers, the only tool they have is a hammer. Pretty soon the whole world looks like a nail to them.

  3. Jeevan Takhar says:

    You took the words right out of my mouth, Malcolm. Developers should not be expected to support prerelease software, especially when they come with a warning like so:

    iOS beta should only be installed on devices dedicated exclusively for iOS beta testing. Do not install this software if you do not have a device dedicated exclusively for iOS beta testing.

    Your favourite apps will support iOS versions when they are publicly available. Until then, use a little bit of sense and make your findings known through the appropriate channels.

  4. andreas says:

    Agreed Malcolm. I’ll be asking my developer to look into iOS5 over the next few months to make necessary upgrades to my apps. Unbelievable some people complain it doesn’t work on iOS5!

  5. Daniel Wood says:

    I had this with iOS 4 beta. A bunch of bad reviews when the beta first came out. What happened? The OS went through it’s iterations and by the time it was done I had no bugs. However, the bad reviews still remained.

  6. Zwilnik says:

    Technically those users are in breach of the pre-release software license agreement by discussing it outside of the closed developer forums. In theory it’s worth reporting a concern on those reviews as in breach of the beta NDA just on the off chance that one day Apple might actually delete an incorrect review.

    The App Store user reviews system is one bit of the software that Apple hasn’t got very Apple yet in that it’s not working without the users knowing all the rules and best ways to do things. If users are going for the review button first to report bugs rather than the support link (which is hidden initially anyway) then Apple should let us respond to the reviewer via iTunes Connect without needing to give away any of their personal details such as email address etc. The system can simply forward our answer/bug info request/compliments on their ability to outwit something thought to be stupid proofed to the user without our ever needing to get access to that information.

    If we can respond to bug reports in reviews, it’s worth a few 1 star reviews just to be able to help our customers get the best experience of our apps and (more importantly to Apple) their iPhones.

  7. zachmarshall says:

    It seems like a simple, logical solution to this problem would be for Apple to simply block reviews from the App Store when the reviewer is running beta software.

  8. SpinThis says:

    Giving developers a chance for a rebuttal is a great idea. One other thing is it might be useful for developers to only let users review software once the developer can certify it works; eg: A simple pop-up from iTunes saying something like “You can’t review this app because it’s not currently supported on your version of iOS.” That would prevent users from jumping the gun on new iOS release until a developer has a chance to fully test it.

    >I’m not out to demonise individuals
    I’m not sure, maybe you should demonize them. They put themselves out there and if people insist on running around with no pants on, they should be mocked, at least until there’s a rebuttal feature.

  9. markbyrn says:

    I agree with only one aspect here; the beta tester should initially contact developers outside of the review process to know them know of iOS beta incompatibly. However if the developer does not provide valid support contact information, does not respond, or responds with a snarky comment like, “of course it doesn’t work, iOS5 is is in beta, blah blah”, I got not problem leaving a one star review.

    The fact is most apps do continue to work under iOS5 beta and there’s few reasons for a developer not to be ahead of the curve IF a minor compatibly bug can be addressed. Alternatively, the developer can add a note in their product description that the app is not presently compatible with the the iOS5 beta. But the suggestion to disallow reviews by developers is laughable since many continue to use the current iOS release on their primary devices as recommended by Apple or the review has nothing to do with iOS5 – the app might work fine on iOS5 but its still crapware and the developer-reviewer wants to vent.

    If you don’t like unfair or bad reviews and wish to limit them, be proactive, provide responsive support, and manage customer expectations.

  10. Malcolm Barclay says:

    Even after reading this posting, one arm chair programmer with a fundamental misunderstanding of SDLC stills felt the need to leave a one star review for unreleased software. Consider the following review for London Travel Deluxe left a few days ago…

    Poorly Written 1 Star Review

    It seems my 10+ years of professional software development & graphics experience across a multitude of industries & languages has amounted to nothing but ‘poorly written’ software. Apparently I can’t even call an API correctly!

    iOS Beta 4 is most definitely not a ‘future version’. It’s a piece of software that’s not finished; for nearly all users out there, it’s a build that will never see the light of day on their device. Apple are still even working on major features (e.g OTA updates got released in beta 4). Developers are still working out when something stops working is it their bug or Apple’s bug? It could be neither and may just be an innocent change in order to advance the iOS but results in breaking a 3rd party app.

    So why am I so against releasing fixes for each beta?

    Apple are not yet accepting apps that are built against the iOS 5 SDK. I could stop right there, but let me humour you some more…

    It would be the software equivalent of a cat chasing it’s own tail (only far less amusing). What if it’s an Apple bug? Do I hack & work around it? If it’s my bug, could something else change between that particular Beta (especially an early one) and the final release? How will 98%+ of other users feel about being told every 2-3 weeks that there is an update available for an iOS they can’t even download yet? Not to mention the sheer time wasting I’d take up in the approvals process.

    And to really drive this home…

    Assuming one has an Apple Developer account. You will ALWAYS get access to the new iOS at the same time I do, I might not even get to it for a day or two if I am busy on something else. What if the new beta breaks something else? Or simply doesn’t fix an existing problem? Even if I were insane enough to feverishly set about fixing & or providing work arounds, you are still left in the same situation until I can debug problems, determine who’s bug it is, consult documentation, look in forums, code, test, build, QA with test users, submit and approve (times that by every beta).

    I hope this helps. If not, then one might as well get a head start & update their 1 star reviews for crashing on iOS 6.2 beta 1 on the iPad 3 and don’t forget to mention the layout problems on the Retina+ screen.

    Best regards,
    Malcolm

    P.S Zero Journey Plans are being returned due to the way integers are being retrieved from SQLite content stores built using a prior version of the NSPersistentStoreCoordinator. Resulting in an unforeseen truncation for stop identifiers in managed objects, and in turn the API not getting the correct ID; not because the API is being called incorrectly.

    Either way. It will be fixed when iOS 5 nears release along with other issues I have noticed in the app, some of which have already been resolved through the beta cycle.

  11. Sunny says:

    Great article. It needed to be said. My personal motto that has never let me down yet: “Never credit people with intelligence. Assume people are idiots until they prove you wrong. That way, you won’t be disappointed when they prove you right”.

    I’m not a developer and I know nothing about creating apps. But I have never left a poor review unless I had previously contacted the developer at least once. Let’s face it, there are many developers out there who deserve one-star reviews for a variety of reasons. But I will always give them a chance to fix things before blasting them in a review if I get a poor response or no response at all.

    As for those people leaving one-star reviews for BETA software that they probably shouldn’t have installed in the first place…idiots. They are idiots who should not be allowed to own a high-end device like an iPhone.

  12. Batnun says:

    Well, four months later, iOS 5 is no longer a beta, and your app still doesn’t work…

    Any idea when update will be available?

    Batnun

    .

  13. Malcolm Barclay says:

    New iOS 5 compatible version is with Apple for approval now, with any luck should be out mid-late next week.

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