Developers, platform owners responsible for app quality

Both mobile app developers and OS makers equally responsible for ensuring apps are and remain in top condition, which underscores importance of diligence and user feedback, note market observers.

Monitoring, as well as maintaining, the quality of mobile applications is a shared responsibility of both app developers and platform owners, say market watchers and players, who stress the importance of taking user feedback seriously.

Adam Leach, principal analyst at Ovum, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that if developers want to maximize returns and build a sustainable business from their applications, they should take a proactive approach in maintaining and updating them.

App store owners, on the other hand, while not directly responsible for providing app updates, should focus on providing the capabilities developers need to update their apps, Leach said.

Furthermore, platform owners must maintain the overall quality of all applications available in their store including letting users more easily discover the apps they want, he added.

Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, concurred and noted that developers are responsible for addressing any bugs or problems that occur with an app, while platform owners should come up with their own criteria of screening and selecting applications.

Gupta added that platform owners have the right to remove any app that does not meet its criteria.

Microsoft, which operates Windows Phone 7 (WP7) Marketplace, takes a "measured and structured approach" to ensure apps running on its platform are of "high quality", said Chris Chin, marketing director for mobile developer at Microsoft Asia-Pacific. Launched in October, the app store currently has a stable of more than 2,000 apps.

To be eligible, Chin explained that each app submitted must comply with the certification policies and requirements such as content guidelines, support requirements, payment process and technical support contact information for users in order to troubleshoot potential bugs. These measures are to "ensure user confidence" in the quality of apps running on Windows Phone 7 devices, he said in an e-mail interview.

He added that Microsoft reserves the right to remove an app. Chin also noted that while developers are ultimately responsible for looking after their apps on the Windows platform, Redmond "invests heavily" in its developer community by offering support and "as many resources as we can to help developers be successful on our platform".

When contacted, an Apple spokesperson pointed to CEO Steve Jobs' keynote address in June where he described the company's app store as a "curated platform", with 95 percent of an estimated 15,000 apps submitted each week are approved within seven days.

Jobs said the remaining 5 percent are typically rejected due to three reasons: the app does not function as the developer advertised; it crashes; or private APIs (application programming interfaces) were used to build the app, which puts the app at risk of breaking when Apple's iOS platform is changed.

The Apple App store currently has over 300,000 apps.

Rule breakers removed
Unlike the iOS and WP7, developers on Google's Android Market can freely upload their applications to the platform without first going through an approval process but they must abide by the Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement, said a Google spokesperson. The app store currently has a pool of 100,000 free and paid apps.

In an e-mail, she explained that applications are not reviewed before they are uploaded on Android Market in order to reduce friction and remove barriers that make it difficult for developers to make apps available to users.

However, apps can be taken off if they violate various policies such as inappropriate content or malware. Abusive developers that repeatedly or egregiously violate the company's policies can also be blocked from using Android Market.

The Google spokesperson said these steps were put in place to provide a secure experience for consumers.

Take user feedback seriously
According to Sreekumar A.N., director for business solutions at app developer, Zoliotech, user feedback is "valuable" as it gives the companies involved an opportunity to improve. His company appoints one staff member to collect and consolidate all feedbacks from various sources at least once a week.

Karen New, CEO of another app developer Omnitoons, said the company schedules bug fixes every two weeks, during which feedback is consolidated and bugs are resolved.

She told ZDNet Asia it can be "very time-consuming" for developers to fix every issue when it comes, but the company will work on a bug fix "immediately" if it is a major bug that affects and is experienced by a significant number of people.

New also noted the importance of sharing the responsibility with platform owners to ensure app performance since both camps act like a gatekeeper for quality control.

Nicky Wong, founder of Infindo, agreed that bug-fixing and releasing new updates are critical tasks, but noted that it can prove challenging to get new versions of the app out to customers in a timely fashion.

To enhance user experience, he suggested that the approval time required for apps can be further improved by the various platform owners.

According to Wong, fixes for bugs can usually be done within a short time but the app approval process can sometimes take weeks to months to finalize. This lengthy procedure affects both users and developers alike, he said.

Erwan Macé, founder of Bitsmedia, noted that user feedback is also critical in helping companies establish a product roadmap.

In addition, he said in an e-mail that platform owners play a role in guaranteeing the quality of apps available on their app store because of their significant influence on the apps. They have the control and implement the criteria used to screen apps, and this accounts for a huge part of the infrastructure needed to ensure the quality of apps made available on the respective platforms, Macé noted.