Apple is launching an official way for developers to ask for ratings in the App Store with iOS 10.3. The new system attempts to strike a balance for customer experience and developer incentive, allowing users to leave a rating without leaving the app — but the API enforces that the developer can only display the popup three times a year.
Adoption will not be mandatory with iOS 10.3 but Apple intends to force developers to use the official API in the future, via Daring Fireball.
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Currently, apps can prompt for reviews and ratings in the App Store however they please. This ranges from subtle links in settings pages to full screen modal popups. As ratings contribute so heavily to placement in App Store search rankings, many apps prompt users on a very regular basis — often once per app version.
The high frequency of alerts is a pain point for customers who just want to use the app and get on with their day. The new Apple-sanctioned SKStoreReviewController API can be disabled at a system level by users with a toggle in Settings, if they don’t ever want to see the rating request screen. In addition to the three-per-year limit, once a user leaves a review, the popup will never be shown again.
When Apple finally enforces a rule that says developers can only use the first-party API to request ratings, app makers who are used to prompting for reviews with every new app update are are going to have seriously rethink their strategy regarding soliciting App Store reviews.
It should also cut down on the shady businesses practices many apps employ where they try and bias App Store ratings upwards by only displaying ratings prompts to customers they believe will rate the app highly.
A date for such a policy change was not given which suggests that it is still some ways out and Apple will wait and see community reactions to the iOS 10.3 optional behavior before making it mandatory.
Part of the reason the trend is for apps to ask for reviews so regularly is that the App Store clears out the average star rating with every new update. This means the review page looks blank and empty at the worst times: when developers have just launched a brand new (presumably improved and better) version of their applications.
John Gruber at Daring Fireball asked Apple if they intend to change how this works given the three-per-year limit to the SKStoreReviewController popup: Apple said they have nothing to formally announce but took the comments onboard and recognize that they are part of the problem.
iOS 10.3 includes several new features for iPhone and iPad users, like Find my AirPods, Siri cricket scores, and more. When iOS 10.3 is released to the public, Apple will also launch the ability for developers to be able to reply to reviews left by App Store customers.