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Finally Catching Up, iOS Coders Can Soon Respond to App Store Reviews

Catching up to functionality that Android -- and even Windows Phone -- developers have long enjoyed, iOS coders will soon be able to respond to reviews of their mobile apps posted on the App Store.

This ability has been a sore point for iOS developers for years. For example, a September 2013 post on Apple's discussion site asked: "Does Apple allow developers to respond to customer comments about the application I developed?"

An answer to that question reads: "Developers can only report iTunes App Store reviews directly to Apple via a supplied 'Report a Concern' link in iTunes. Developers don't have any way of responding directly to a review. Apple rarely divulges future plans. If they change this policy, you'll find out when the rest of us do."

The questioner and the "rest of us" found out in a typically terse release note for the beta of iOS 10.3, just released this week. "With iOS 10.3, you can use a new API to ask users to provide App Store ratings and reviews without leaving your app," Apple said in a Tuesday announcement about the release note. "You can also publicly respond to customer reviews on the App Store and Mac App Store."

The release note, titled "Managing App Store Ratings and Reviews," states:

iOS 10.3 introduces a new way to ask customers to provide App Store ratings and reviews for your app. Using the SKStoreReviewController API, you can ask users to rate or review your app while they're using it, without sending them to the App Store. You determine the points in the user experience at which it makes sense to call the API and the system takes care of the rest.

When iOS 10.3 ships to customers, you will be able to respond to customer reviews on the App Store in a way that is available for all customers to see. (This feature will also be available on the Mac App Store.)

The SKStoreReviewController API documentation states it "controls the process of requesting App Store ratings and reviews from users" with a class func requestReview() method that "tells StoreKit to ask the user to rate or review your app, if appropriate."

As we reported, Windows Phone developers received the ability to respond to user reviews in August 2014. As noted at the time, Android developers already had that capability. "You can write one public reply on each user review of your app. You can edit your reply to a review at any time," the Android documentation states.

According to a post from Jim Dalrymple on The Loop, the Apple way will operate differently.

"When you are prompted to leave a review, customers will stay inside the app, where the rating or review can be left for the developer," said Dalrymple, who reported he had talked to Apple about the feature. "It's easier for customers and the developers still get their reviews.

"Apple is also limiting the amount of times developers can ask customers for reviews. Developers will only be able to bring up the review dialog three times a year. If a customer has rated the app, they will not be prompted again. If a customer has dismissed the review prompt three times, they will not be asked to review the app for another year."

The iOS 10.3 beta, following standard Apple procedure, was this week first released to members of the Apple Developer Program ($99 per year), and then to members of the company's Beta Software Program, which is free but requires registration via an Apple ID.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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