Thoughtful comments, Fredrick.
We don’t show the What’s New screen for new installations. It won’t be shown until the next update. We usually have 4–6 weeks between releases so most people will have had time to use the app. It’s true the customer hasn’t had a chance to try the new features but it’s still better than interruptions at an arbitrary time.
Your deeper question is interesting. The App Store ratings system is not very good or helpful to people. If I could decide everything in the world, the App Store would be closer to Amazon in how it does searches and promotes a culture of writing useful reviews. (I would also outlaw celery.) Apple obviously wants it to be more like buying 99 cent songs — discardable, low friction, impulse. It’s not an accident they used the same storefront.
I don’t know what the reviews and ratings really mean. It’s a few things, like you say. But it is the app’s face to the world and people intuitively feel when something seems unloved.
The feedback from Jason Fried on my first draft of this article was that I should make it clear we aren’t trying put lipstick on a pig. The app is well liked and heavily used. The goal was to make it’s listing in the App Store a better reflection of the total picture. That, more than anything, was the motivation for us.