Illustration by Justin Tran

Are app reviews worth reading?

What I learned from reading thousands of app reviews

I recently read thousands of reviews about our Dropbox app. Call me crazy, but it was the most riveting thing I’ve read all year. I laughed, I cried, I got warm fuzzies inside.

Why in the world would anyone read so many app reviews? Well, I was on a mission. I wanted to learn more about our users and what they thought about our product.

Yes, we run user studies at Dropbox, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to hear from people across the globe. I wanted to read their actual words — tirades, triumphs, and all.

Looking back at this experience, I have to say it was incredibly humbling. I learned new things about our users that I never would’ve learned otherwise.

Curious to know what I learned? Below are some of my biggest takeaways from reading these reviews.

1. People just want to be heard

The first thing that jumped out at me while reading these reviews was that people had such strong opinions about our app. As I scrolled from review to review, I noticed people using a whole lot of superlatives—words like most, best, and worst popped up again and again.

To give you a taste, here’s a small sample of the reviews we got:

People love us, people hate us

After crunching the numbers, I found that over 70% of our app reviews were either 5-star or 1-star reviews. Over two-thirds of reviewers either loved or hated our app.

Why is it that people tend to give extreme ratings? There are a few theories that try to explain extreme responding, but I like to think that people on the internet are just passionate about voicing their opinions.

People want to be heard, and giving a 1-star or 5-star rating adds oomph to your opinion.

2. People want to know what’s going on

A little over a year ago, we stopped writing release notes for our iOS and Android apps. Instead, we used a generic message about how we “regularly release updates.” Although we wanted to write release notes, there were a bunch of internal reasons that made it difficult for us to keep writing them.

You might be thinking, “Who the heck reads release notes anyway?” Well, it turns out a lot of people do. After we stopped writing release notes, 12% of reviewers complained about our generic release notes. That’s more than one in every ten reviews!

For months, we kept getting gems like this:

These were sad times :(

That’s right. Hundreds of people gave us 1-star reviews just because of our release notes.

We took this to heart. After working out some kinks in our process, I’m happy to say we now write release notes for every iOS and Android release. We wouldn’t have done this if it hadn’t been for these app reviews.

3. People use apps in novel ways

Human beings are delightfully creative, and you never know how people might use a product out in the wild.

Did you know that Play-Doh was originally designed to be a wallpaper cleaner? But then at some point, the creators discovered that some people were using the product for art projects.

The company decided to tweak the product and market it as a child’s toy. It was a genius move. Sales of Play-Doh took off, and it’s now one of the most famous toys of the 20th century.

Playin’ around with Play-Doh

Thanks to our app reviews, I learned all sorts of interesting ways people use Dropbox. For example, I found that some people use Dropbox as a music player or a note-taking app.

With this in mind, our team could design things to optimize for these use cases, like adding a shuffle button or quicker ways to jot down notes. Who knows? Some of these reviews might just inspire us to build our next big feature.

4. Feedback is motivating

Creating products is hard work. When we’re caught up in the daily grind, it’s easy to lose sight of how we’re impacting people’s lives. User reviews act as a regular reminder that what we’re building matters.

Every now and then, I see a personal note from a user that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside:

And sometimes I see a note that makes me feel all cold and crummy inside:

Whether it’s good or bad, I find notes like this motivating. User feedback is a gift. Sure, sometimes it isn’t the gift we were hoping for, but it’s still valuable.

Feedback keeps us grounded. These notes remind us that we’re designing for real people, not just some random company goal.

5. Ratings differ a lot by country

Our Dropbox app is available in over 100 countries. Except for the UI language, the app is pretty much the same in every country.

Because it’s the same app, you’d expect the ratings to be roughly the same in every country, right? Well, it turns out our ratings are pretty different in each country.

Let’s look at our iOS app, for example. In the United States, we have roughly the same amount of 5-star reviews as 1-star reviews. But in Japan, we have almost twice as many 1-star reviews as 5-star reviews. In Brazil, it’s flipped—we have a lot more 5-star reviews than 1-star reviews.

Our ratings differ from country to country

What’s causing these differences? My best guess is that there are two things at play here:

  • Translation quality: Some languages are harder to translate into than others. If our text sounds less natural in those languages, people will probably give us lower ratings.
  • Cultural bias: Studies have shown there are cultural differences in how people fill out surveys.

A couple of years ago, Dropbox ran a survey asking users across the world to rate the quality of our UI text.

Guess which language had the lowest score? Japanese. That means our translated text might be dragging down our App Store ratings in Japan.

Brazilian Portuguese, on the other hand, had a great score—on par with English. Could it be that Brazilians tend to give higher scores in general? Possibly. The YouTube team found similar results for Brazil in a survey they ran a few years ago.

6. Android users are happier than iOS users

Okay, I admit this one baffles the heck out of me, but for some reason, Android users give us way higher ratings than iOS users.

Here, see for yourself:

Why are Android users so much happier?

I found this shocking because our iOS and Android apps aren’t that different.

So what gives? I don’t have any great theories for this yet, but it’s definitely something I want to explore further. If you have any theories, or if you know of any research on this topic, I’d love to know. Feel free to comment below!

This may be the greatest mystery of our time: Are Android users just happier people in general? Do they have lower expectations of apps? Who knows?

Do you read your app reviews?

In a casual Twitter poll, 37% of app creators said they rarely or never check their app reviews. Are you one of them?

Yeah, I know reading app reviews takes time, but I think it’s totally worth it. If you want to learn more about who’s using your app, read what they’re saying in app reviews. If a user is taking time out of their busy day to share thoughtful feedback, shouldn’t you spend time listening to them?

Oh, and in case you do want to dive into your app reviews, it might help to use a service like Appfigures. It makes it a lot easier to search and sift through your review data.

Whether you’re a developer, designer, writer, or product person, I bet you’ll learn something new from taking a closer look at your app reviews.

Hey, at the very least, it might inspire you to write a whole Medium story about it. ✌️


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