Apple boosted Podcasts App Store score by prompting users to review it

Apple hasn't fixed any of the myriad issues with Podcasts, and most of the reviews aren't about the app

Apple’s revamped Podcasts app arrived to significant criticism from users. For a while, it sat on the App Store with a low score — a measly 1.8 stars out of five. At least, that’s what it was about a month ago before Podcasts began its ascension to a more impressive 4.6 stars (and it’s still climbing). However, Apple didn’t change things around by fixing Podcasts — instead, it simply added a prompt to review the app.

App Store watchdog Kosta Eleftheriou first spotted the change, citing data from ‘AppFigures‘ that shows a sudden surge in positive reviews starting in early November. Additionally, the majority of the new reviews include a five-star score.

So, is Apple manipulating the reviews for its own app? Well, no, not exactly. Both Eleftheriou and The Verge point out that many of the reviews appear to be about specific podcasts, not about the Podcasts app itself. The Verge digs into the reviews a little more, noting that other podcasting apps don’t have reviews for specific podcasts — or at least, not to the same extent as Apple Podcasts.

Apple did confirm to The Verge that it added a prompt to review Podcasts in iOS 15.1, but the company says it used the standard ‘Rating & Review’ prompt that’s “available to all developers.” Apple does offer review prompts as a standard feature of the App Store (and it’s one users can turn off by heading to Settings > App Store > In-App Ratings & Reviews).

Whether Apple used the standard review prompt isn’t really the issue here, however. As The Verge points out, the Podcasts app reviews highlight a larger problem with the star system: it’s hard to tell if a five-star score is legitimate. Plenty of App Store apps game the star score system by buying high ratings or even more scummy practices like blocking an app from launching until users submit a high-score review.

Now, it’s highly unlikely that Apple’s doing anything like that with the Podcasts app, but that doesn’t rule out other things. The Verge pointed out that Apple could use an algorithm to target dedicated users with review prompts or issue a prompt in a way that misleads users into thinking they’re reviewing the podcast. We don’t know what’s going on with the Podcasts prompt — The Verge was unable to get a copy of Podcasts’ review prompt and despite my best efforts, I haven’t gotten one either.

Whatever the underlying reason, it’s worth keeping in mind that Apple managed to boost its Podcasts app to the top of the App Store charts by using review prompts to gather tons of high-score reviews without changing any of the many underlying issues that got the app its original low score.

Source: Kosta Eleftheriou (Twitter), The Verge