Category Archives: Android

Android Rating Ranges

As a developer with a variety of apps in the store my ratings are super important to me.  But even more important than the actual ratings of my apps are the perceived ratings of my apps.  What exactly do I mean?  Well I think this comic by Randall Munroe sums it up best:


Quite frankly that little sliver of pixels can make a huge difference.  Especially the jump from 3.5 stars to 4.0 stars.  But one of the things I’ve always found interesting is what ‘3.5 stars’ actually means.  Where exactly is the cutoff?  Does 3.5 stars mean 3.5 or lower?  Or does it mean the closest star value (3.25 to 3.75)?  Or does it mean something completely different?

Well it turns out it isn’t really straightforward to answer this question for two big reasons:

1) Stars are different in different locations.  The web shows stars different than the app, and at times different pages have showed them different as well.

Here’s Goofy glass on mobile with 4.5 stars on the left, and 4.0 stars on the right (web).

Goofy Overview Mobile Goofy Overview Web

2) The metric changes from time to time.  Users probably never notice, but what a 4.0 app is today, isn’t necessarily what it was yesterday.

The Old Metric

What was the old metric?  Well it was actually relatively simple compared to how it works now.  The old rule was simple, round to the nearest half star.  So for instance:

4.75 – 5.0   = 5 stars
4.25 – 4.75 = 4.5 stars
3.75 – 4.25 = 4 stars.
And so on…

This meant that from a realistic perspective most of my apps fit into the 4-star rating.  My voice changers (notoriously low rated) fit into the 3.5 stars, and Goofy Glass at one point broke into 4.5 stars.

Then one day tons more reviews started rolling in.  In fact I started getting as many as 5x to 10x more reviews.  What had changed?  The Play Store started prompting users to rate apps with the promise of providing similar apps the user would love.  This had two side effects:  1) Lot’s more ratings were showing up on apps.  2) The ratings were generally lower (though arguably more accurate).  Users often just uninstall an uninteresting app, but now were being prompted for a rating.  They also were asked a slightly different question…  Instead of: “What should this app be rated?” it was: “Would you like us to find apps similar to this one?”  And that question effects ratings significantly.

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Goofy Glass (Used to show a 4.3)


My apps all took a dive after that.  Goofy Glass which had been trending upward for the past few months, started dipping without any indication as to why.  And even worse, the ‘recommendation’ reviews don’t come with comments, so no valid feedback comes through to help improve the app, if they ran into issues, or what they’d like to see to win them back.

The New Metric (Mobile)

I’m guessing Google noticed the dip in ratings.  And since then they’ve played with a few different displays.  The most recent one is particularly interesting.  They’ve effectively gotten ride of whole stars in favor of half-star ratings.  The new ratings are as follows:

5.00 = 5.0 stars
4.01 – 4.99 = 4.5 stars
4.00 = 4 stars (Must be exactly 4.0)
3.01 – 3.99 = 3.5 stars

In my opinion this is really weird.  That means that my painting app, which has generally favorable reviews gets lumped with my voice changers, which have pretty bad reviews.  And if you take a look at the difference in graphs… you’ll notice they really don’t seem to fit into the same category.  Palette Painter (with a 3.9 review) seems to have tons of fans with just a few haters.  While Funny Voice Changer has almost as many haters and fans.  Yet, they both show up with a 3.5 star rating to anyone looking.

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Now admittedly they’ve also made it easier to see the exact number (see the 3.9) on the app page itself.  But of course that is after they click on the app, and if you are like me… 3.5 stars apps just aren’t worth my time (while a 4.0 star app often is).

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The New Metric (Web)

The web on the other hand does something completely different.  They fill in stars as a percentage of the full star.  What that means (in theory) is that if you had a 4.1 star rating it would show up with 10% of the last star filled.

I actually like idea if it can be implemented correctly.  The only problem I see with the current iteration is that the percentage stars don’t start on the left and right side of the star.  They actually start in the space between.  What this effectively means is a 4.2 star looks identical to a 4.0 star and a 3.9 star.  While a 3.3 has a little tiny bit of a sliver being drawn in.

Palette Painter
Palette Painter
Spot the Animals
Spot the Animals
Scary Voice Changer Pro
Scary Voice Changer Pro
Scary Voice Changer
Scary Voice Changer – Hey look: A sliver!

Effectively this means that the difference form web to mobile can be a full visual star.  Anyway, I don’t know if anyone else has noticed these weird ratings.  And I’d be really curious to hear the reasonings behind them, but I just thought I’d call them as I see them.



Honest Development

Through my years of development I have always strived to be an honest developer. I want my users to have a good experience. I want to build fun, new, exciting, polished apps. And I want to play by the rules…

But not everybody plays by the rules.

Animal Game

When I released Spot Animals a few months back I was very disappointed that I could not even find my app in the store by name.  Or by any other combination of search terms, no matter how much I scrolled down.  Trust me, after lots of development, nothing is worse.  Here’s me searching for it by name.

Originally called ‘Hidden Objects Animals’

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.51.02 PM

While searching for my app I came across a variety of other apps that were high in the ranks, but seemingly poorly built. I was on a quest to figure out why.  Admittedly, many of the apps were generally high quality, and had a lot of downloads to help them keep their high ranking.  After searching for a while I came across this app:

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.49.07 PM

Now, I’m not going say whether this app deserves its ranking or not, I didn’t download or play it. But as I was scouring their reviews I found a really disconcerting trend.  Let’s see how fast you can see the trend…

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I think I can sum up all the above with “Cute cute cute cute cute”. I found page after page of ratings that had exactly the same rating… some number of Cute’s and a high 4 or 5-star rating.

Now it is possible that there are simply a ton of people that just find this app unbearably cute.  But more than likely these were purchased reviews.  Almost none of the reviewers have thumbnails, and they all look awfully similar.  The chances of this being the case sounds particularly low to me.  This really got me wondering… How many apps simply cheat their way to the top?


I’m not certain how many apps do this, but I assume it must be a lot. Since my apps are on the store I am required to provide a public facing email that users can contact me at. Sadly, about half of emails I get are advertisements. And of those there are two main categories. The first are advertising networks:  Our ads will make you way more money! But a close second is: We’ll get you more ratings/downloads.  Here is an example of one such email:

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 4.02.51 PM


Now, I’m not sure how well Google is able to crack down on this, but it actually sounds like an incredible difficult thing to do.  It is a short step from encouraging 100 of your friends to download your app, to paying a 100 of your friends to download and rate it 5-stars.  How does Google distinguish the difference between the two without seeing the money transfer?  I’m not really sure they can.

So if I’m receiving this many requests there must merit behind it.  Which makes me believe the number of apps using this method of deception isn’t small.


So is it tempting to use this with my apps?  Of course!  There’s always that desire boost ones downloads and ratings, who wouldn’t want that?  And there’s always the question of: “If I get the ball rolling, how big could it become?”.

But I got into app development because it is fun.  And I refuse to let the illusion of grandeur dissuade me from doing what I love, and doing it in a way is honest and true to my values.  And of course the fear of getting my apps kicked off the store is always there too.

Anyway, I’m curious if anyone else has seen this kind of trend elsewhere, and what other developers feel about it.  Is there anything honest apps can do to combat it?

Note: Since it has been months since I originally released “Spot!”.  I wondered how it fares now.  The good news is, it is showing up just fine in the rankings, and interestingly enough the other app isn’t in that list anymore.  Who knows the magic behind the store ranking, but one thing is for sure, just because you have a certain rank (or don’t) doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay there.

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Android Isn’t Left-Hand Friendly

While redesigning my app Goofy Glass, I came across this interesting finding.  Android isn’t left-hand friendly!  Now I’m not left-handed, so this has never been a problem for me.  But, I am colorblind so I can relate to the frustration of designs excluding a minority of us and essentially making it unusable for us.

So… What do I mean it isn’t left-handed friendly?

Being Friendly

1) Software home buttons stays right.

If you have a device with software buttons, try it.  You’ll notice, the software buttons always stay on the bottom or the right, depending if it in portrait or landscape.

This get particularly weird when using the Google Camera app.  That app does attempt to support left-handed use.  But this puts you weird position… you now are stuck using two hands in this orientation, where you would have been perfectly fine in the right-hand friendly version.

While it is nice to see Google does try to support it in some apps, the software buttons and the system in general do not.


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2) No easy way for develops to support it on their own. 

While Android as a whole does a marvelous job of designing for any device, they don’t make it easy to define a layout for landscape-left vs landscape-right. You can specify the based on size, density, language, and even orientation (portrait vs landscape)… but not which landscape version you are in.

This puts developers in a strange position of needing to handle all of the effort themselves.  Assuming of course that their apps really need to change based on handedness at all, which admittedly isn’t very common.  But then again, I’m not left-handed, I’d be curious to see what other frustrations those who are have run into while using Android.

Can It Be Done?

Of course it can!  Simply listen to the accelerometer and use that to determine your layout instead of using layout specific folders (as is traditional in Android). But be prepared for a lot more work in code, and a little bit more of a mess with your layouts.

This is exactly what I ended up doing with Goofy Glass.  Since I was essentially creating a camera app similar in some regards to the build in Android camera.  It tricky to do, but it was a bunch of extra effort, of course a lot of that effort was simply redesigning the layouts to look the way they should and making sure that all the lists were reversed in left-hand mode.

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Anyway, I just thought it was interesting and a little disappointing, but overall probably not even important for most apps… as I doubt very few need to be specifically designed with that in mind.