July 7, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Read the average comment on apps in the Android Market, and it may seem as though Android users are in a perpetual state of anger. With the overflow of profane rants and trivial gripes, it can appear as though everyone clutching an Android device is filled with rage. But things aren’t always what they seem.
It turns out that Android users are mostly positive, there’s just a very large contingent of users who take their negativity to the extreme. And as we’ve seen in all areas of the internet, extreme negativity speaks at a louder volume than extreme positivity.
Google recently updated the Android Market website to show a per-star breakdown of ratings left by Android users. Rather than list a string of comments and tell visitors that an app has 4.2 out of 5 stars, Google shows a graph illustrating how many users rated that app 1 stars, 2 stars, and so-on. The website doesn’t let users narrow comments by star rating like Amazon does, but the graph shows how Android users measure the worthiness of an app.
If you’ve spent the past few days looking at ratings on the Android Market website, you may have noticed some strange things or trends that confirmed your previous suspicions about Android users. I’ve spent the past week looking at ratings and comments for a few prominent apps, as well as seeing how new apps are received. This was all very informal and completely unscientific, but here are some habits I noticed about my fellow Android users.
Most apps appear to be rated favorably
The Android Market website’s “Top New Free” section lists new apps with the highest combination of downloads and ratings. While there are definitely some low-quality spam apps gaming the market – take your pick of the many “Sexy Asian Girl” apps – the majority are at least halfway decent apps that have warm receptions. During a recent browsing session, I didn’t spot a sub 3.5-star app until the end of Page 16.
Those are just the top apps, though. What about the rest of the Market? I looked at the Android Market “Just In” tab on my phone twice a day for one week and saw pretty much the same results. The majority of apps received ratings 3-5 stars, which can be considered average to great. There were a ton of poorly-rated apps, but more new and updated ones that had favorable results. Google is the only one that can confirm this with any certainty, but it doesn’t seem like the market is over-run by naysayers. If anything, I think there are too many 4-star apps that should be 3′s, and 3-star apps that are lucky to be in the Android Market. There’s a lot of crap out there and more than enough people willing to bathe in it.
Angry users are quick to change ratings
Don’t think you’re safe because you have 1,000 5-star reviews. Half of those users could turn on you after the first mistake. When an app updates and users are not pleased with the changes, it’s common to see a wave of negative ratings. When a recent Facebook update created problems with the News Feed refreshing, a rash of users on June 29 left1-star ratings and vowed not to change it until Facebook went back to the old version. A few others even griped that Android is being ignored in favor of the iOS app and also responded with 1-star.
Qik, which has a 3.4 rating, could be even higher if not for the 2,900+ users who have given it a 1-star. Browse the comments prior to the June 29th update and you’ll see 1-star after 1-star complaining about the inability uninstall it from the EVO. You may also see users complain because an app worked on their previous phone but not their current one.
Many 1-star ratings are “statement” ratings
The WatchESPN app works perfectly for thousands of users. However, there’s a considerable number of people who can’t use the app because ESPN and their cable provider (I’m looking at you, Comcast!) have not reached a broadcast agreement. Those users are quick to give the app a 1-star rating in protest, even though the app clearly states that not all cable providers are available.
Many of these ratings are what I call statement ratings. The user knows there’s a certain flaw or shortcoming that prevents their phone from using it, yet they download it just to leave a 1-star rating in protest. Others do the same for what I previously called rating hi-jacking when an app is missing a feature. “1-star until you support Apps2SD!” they’ll scream, even though it’s a widget and widgets can’t be stored on the SD card. An app wants you to register? An app doesn’t do what you thought it did? You don’t agree with the politics of an app (CNN, Fox, The Times, etc.)? One-star for you!
Negativity leads to a string of positivity
Surprisingly, this also creates a positive backlash. When a number of people make negative comments and rate an app 1-star, others respond by trying to correct the naysayers and delivering 5-star reviews. It’s impossible to discern if that person gave it 5 in direct response, but are sympathetic users bumping up an otherwise 4-star app to 5 in order to counteract the string of harsh reviews?
It happens sometimes. The Google+ Android app has been downloaded more than 250,000 times and rated by nearly 11,000 people. After monitoring comments over the past week, I’d wager that most of the 648 1-star reviews are complaining that the app is invite-only, and many of the 5-star reviews are begging for an invite or telling others not to be so negative.
I’ve seen this happen with Root Manager as well. Almost every time I go to update the app, I see people complaining that something doesn’t work or mistakenly thinking that the app works with non-rooted phones. After that person leaves a 1-star rating, people with knowledge of the app add a 5-star rating and take the n00bs to task or tell them where to get help. The down and up votes are like clockwork.
Yes, there are very negative people in the Android Market who treat it as tech support or attack others. And to my surprise, there are very positive people in the Android Market who are likely to become just as venomous when an app they love is wrongfully defamed. While people definitely deal in extremes of the spectrum, most of the established apps that I saw in my informal survey didn’t seem to be too affected.
Where this likely matters more is the mid-range apps that don’t have a big brand behind them or are competitors to established products. Cut The Rope can rocket to the top of the Android Market because it’s an already-ported title and can rely on tons of positive reviews to keep its average up. Meanwhile, WatchESPN has the same advantage and chance of having its ratings tank because it doesn’t satisify the very vocal detractors.
What about that independent developer who depends heavily on his or her app “going viral” thanks to many downloads and favorable results? That dev needs the initial positivity and downloads to rise up the ranks and become the next Beautiful Widgets. When you browse the ratings and comments from the Android Market website, consider the number of people assigning a star for each rating. If an app has a mediocre average and an abnormally high number of 1-star reviews, don’t write it off as quickly as you might have done in the past.