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Google Play Store gives 'star-stuck' app ratings a nudge

Google is changing the way stars are managed in the Play Store rating system to more accurately score the latest app versions.

Published onMay 9, 2019

Changes are afoot for the Google Play Store that should make the app repository a more informative place for both regular people and developers. Google debuted new behaviors for various aspects of the Play Store at its Google I/O developer conference this week.

Here’s what’s on deck and what it means for you.

A star is reborn

App ratings are a vital metric that Android users rely on day in and day out to inform their downloading decisions. Does the app score three stars? Four? What’s your threshold, particularly if the app costs real money?

A photo of the Play Store showing free and paid apps

An issue faced by users and developers alike is that the current star ratings for apps are cumulative. That means if the version 1.0 build of any given app was garbage and scored one million one-star votes, those votes will still impact the app’s overall score years later — even after the app reaches version 20.0 and is flawless. This is about to change.

Google says beginning later this year, app ratings will be weighted to reflect the most current version of the app. Developers can see the new rating via the Google Play Console starting immediately, though end users won’t see the new system until August.

Suggested replies

Any avid Android user has likely taken advantage of suggested replies in Gmail or Android Messages. “You bet!” Thanks!” “I’ll call you later.” Now, developers will be able to send generic responses directly to app reviewers. But don’t get offended.

Rather than offer developers an automated and impersonal way out of interacting with users, the idea is to push developers to respond at all. Google says developers will see three suggested replies to any given bit of user feedback. These replies will be created automatically based on the content of the review. Developers can choose to send one as-is, augment one, or write their own.

This tool is available in English to start with, and other languages will be added in subsequent versions. Google claims reviewers who receive feedback from developers are apt to improve their rating by an average of 0.7 stars.

Fine-tuned landings

Developers’ Google Play Store listings are their home, their castle. They are the central spot where developers can entice Play Store users to download their app. The message matters, and that’s why Google is giving developers more control over this vital space.

Google says app writers will soon be able to create custom listings for apps based on install date or status of the viewer. For example, developers can send surfers to alternate versions of the storefront depending on whether or not they’ve installed the app. These alternate storefronts can offer customized marketing messages tailored to score downloads or re-downloads.

Updates get pushy

Developers and users alike can already take advantage of automatic app updates. The Play Store will signal phones when new app versions are available, and then download them in the background. This is effective, but not effective enough, according to developer feedback.

The new in-app updates API makes it possible for applications to update mid-use. This API has been in testing for several months and Google says developers have created smooth processes for upgrading apps while in use. This improves the overall acceptance rate of app updates by a respectable percentage. The API has reached general availability, so expect to see this in the real world before too long.

In-App Updates for Google Play Store

Stats for nerds

Developers gain some hardcore nerdy stuff to get excited about, starting with the “bundle” of joy.

A photo of Google Play's version number

Android App Bundles are party to some enhancements. Bundles are a way of delivering apps in smaller packages. Now developers can set more parameters for controlling when and how the bundles are sent to phones over the air.

Sharing apps internally is now more seamless, according to Google. Google smoothed over the process of testing new builds to trusted reviewers without the messy overhead of version codes, signing keys, or other validations.

Last, the Google Play Console Data now offers more information at a glance, allowing developers to better ascertain the stats of their apps.

While some of these changes are developer-facing only, others will soon become part of the everyday Google Play Store experience.

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