Apple, It’s Time To Block iOS 5 Beta Users From Reviewing Apps

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Yeah, each new iOS announcement is very… bittersweet. We love it because it means new APIs for us to build on, bug fixes for things we’ve had to work around, and, ideally, more people buying the platform we build for. But then we spend months getting slammed by bad reviews, all written by people who just don’t understand: until the release goes gold, beta-specific bugs are not our fault.” — A developer who asked to not be named.

Last night, our sister site TUAW (it’s still sort of weird to write that) wrote a PSA of sorts. The message was simple: if you’re not a developer, but you’ve ignored the warning signs and finagled your way into the pre-release iOS 5 betas, you need to stop. Why? Because people are crushing developers with horribly unfair reviews, sinking their oh-so-important ratings because of bugs they couldn’t possibly have prepared for.

The overall message was fair enough, but their proposed solution — telling non-developers to stop downloading iOS 5 — could never work. But there is a solution (a rather simple one, in fact) that would: just don’t let people running iOS betas review things.

You see, telling people not to download the iOS 5 beta is like putting the world’s tastiest cookies in a jar labeled “FOR AWESOME PEOPLE ONLY”, then telling a kid they can’t have one unless they totally promise that they are, in fact, an awesome person. Everyone would put on their awesome shirt and their awesome hat, then walk on over to that cookie jar with hand extended. And why not? No one’s really checking just how awesome the self-proclaimed awesome people are — plus, the definition of “awesome” (read: the definition of “developer”) is somewhat loose.

It’s just the way it works: we are, as a population, rather self-entitled. If something new is made available to one small group and others outside of that group are made aware of it, they’re going to try to find a way to get it (in this case, that usually means buying a developer seat from someone selling their extra spots for profit.) Apple could theoretically kill off this grey market entirely by opening iOS Beta access to anyone willing to jump through some hoops and void some rights — but that’s a post for another day.

It seems there are at least two ways to fix this, one a bit easier than the other:

      1) Block people running iOS 5 from reviewing any apps they’ve downloaded on iOS 5 (the tricky route): Apple knows which apps you’ve downloaded — if they didn’t, they couldn’t show you your entire purchase history (as they do in the more recent builds of the App Store). Why not detect what platform version users are running on when the download occurs, store that bit of info in the database, and then block them from reviewing that application until the new OS has officially rolled out to everyone?

      They’d have to account for applications that were installed from sync’d backups — but that, while not trivial, seems feasible. Apple already detects installed apps for other reasons (for example, changing the “download” button to be grayed out and read “Installed”)

      2) Just block anyone running iOS 5 from reviewing apps altogether (the easier route): Just like above, but once an iTunes account is detected to be running an iOS 5 beta, that account is temporarily blocked from reviewing apps altogether, whether said apps were downloaded on iOS 5 or not.

      This route is a bit clunkier — but it’s also a bit simpler to implement and easier on Apples servers, as it doesn’t require an additional database call for each and every user for each and every app. This is also somewhat less complicated from a privacy standpoint, as there’s less communication back to the mothership.

Sound harsh? It is, perhaps. But it comes with the territory: pre-release Betas are not meant for day-to-day use (even for developers, Apple recommends only putting Betas on devices dedicated to testing.) If you’re a non-developer and you want to tinker, hell, I wouldn’t try to stop you: you’d just have to hold your rants until it’s reasonable to do otherwise.

There would probably be some maligned outcries that Apple is somehow blocking freedom of speech — which, of course, doesn’t really apply here. These Beta-hungry reviewers are hopping on their soap boxes without any understanding of why things aren’t working, and are maliciously affecting the livelihoods of developers — many of whom, like most of us, are just some dudes looking to ditch the cubicle and do something cool for a living.