I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send promotions, unless you’re Apple or anyone else

From Apple’s App Store rules:

5.6 Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind

In practice, this rule is blatantly disregarded by thousands of apps that routinely violate it by sending promotional push notifications. It has become a widespread standard practice, even among small developers with lapses in judgment.

It’s not hard to figure out why this rule isn’t enforced — it’s mostly unenforceable. A violation isn’t likely to be caught by Apple’s reviewers in the few minutes they spend with each app.

Apple would need some sort of violation-reporting mechanism on each notification, which would add ugly clutter to the UI and would require a staff at Apple to go through each report and reliably act on abuses, neither of which Apple is ever likely to do.

And this afternoon, Apple itself violated this rule:

Regardless of the cause, this is clearly a promotion, will annoy thousands or millions of people, and is in direct violation of the least-enforced rule in the App Store.

If Apple won’t enforce its own standards against spamming and annoying customers — which really isn’t good enough — the least they can do is practice the rules themselves and be a good example.

Humidifier update, 2014

I wrote this update almost two years ago for the humidifiers I bought three years ago, and I still stand by those decisions and opinions.

The big Honeywell is fantastic for an entire house’s worth of humidification, but it’s big, loud, harder to clean, and gets more expensive over time with filters.

The little Venta is fantastic for a bedroom, with much quieter operation, cheaper consumables, and easier cleaning (take it apart and put most of its pieces in the dishwasher with a bowl of white vinegar), but it evaporates much less water and is more expensive up front.

And both are far better than ultrasonic and steam humidifiers. Cool-air evaporative humidifiers with fans blowing through wick filters are the way to go. For more on that, see the original.

How Overcast asks for reviews

Matt Galligan of Circa News made a lot of great points with useful data in The Right Way to Ask Users to Review Your App. In short, they still ask, but with inline prompts in the content rather than modal dialogs to be less disruptive.

But they use the increasingly popular two-step process of first asking a question along the lines of “Do you like us?”, then funneling the app-haters into sending private feedback emails and only asking the app-lovers to proceed with a review.

That’s fine if it works for you, but I find these two-step prompts disingenuous and don’t feel comfortable using them:

When we all started complaining about “Rate this app” dialogs in 2011, and then reignited the discussion last year, the most common developer excuse for leaving them in was that the prompts worked, and the developers needed them to get enough ratings. Like most assumptions about what app developers “need” to do, I couldn’t wait to challenge that with Overcast, and I think the results are now worth sharing.

My strategy to get good App Store reviews is simple:

  1. Make an app good enough for some people to love it. By nature, you’ll lose some people along the way, but that’s OK: an app that strives to satisfy as many people as possible will usually only get people to kinda like it, not love it.
  2. Accumulate a huge surplus of goodwill from those customers with a combination of step 1, usefulness, delight, and adding more functionality over time.
  3. Make it easy to rate the app with a button that’s never annoying or in the way, like in the Settings screen.

Overcast barely “asks” for reviews at all — it simply includes this section in the Settings screen, and not even on top:

Screenshot: Feedback header, Send Feedback, Please Rate Overcast: 96 people have rated this version. Overcast will never interrupt you for ratings.

I get and cache the review count server-side from the iTunes Search API, and if the number is below 50, it prepends “Only” to the count.

That’s it. I have never asked anyone to rate Overcast except with that screen. The results speak for themselves:

3,341 ratings, 4.5-star average

Granted, that’s the “All Versions” count. The “Current Version” count is substantially lower:

99 ratings, 5-star average

…but the current version is only three days old. If a method of asking for reviews is getting 99 reviews in the first three days after a minor bugfix update, without annoying anyone, I’d call that a huge success.1

Sometimes it’s worth challenging assumptions.

  1. For those wanting percentages, Overcast currently has about 100,000 monthly active users and 37,000 daily active users, according to Crashlytics Answers. ↩︎