On Windows Store "crap apps"

By | June 13, 2015

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Yes, Dear Reader, this actually happened.

Now, I as much as the next dev will not beat around the bush when it comes to acknowledging there’s a problem with “crap apps” on the Windows (Phone) Store. But is there a platform that doesn’t have this problem? I doubt it. Shall we have a look?

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Yes. 189 weather apps.

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(notice the scrollbar on the right)

Now for the purposes of framing this discussion, let’s have a look at Windows Store Policy Requirement 10.1:

Distinct Function & Value; Accurate Representation
10.1

Your app and its associated metadata must accurately and clearly reflect the source, functionality, and features of your app.

  • The screenshots, app name, developer name, tile, category and app description, and any other related metadata you provide with your app, should make it easy for a user to understand the functions, features, and any important limitations of your app.
  • Your app must be fully functional and offer customers unique, creative value or utility, and your app may not use a name or icon similar to that of other apps.
  • You should not represent your app to be from a company, government body, or other entity if you do not have permission to make that representation.
  • If your app contains content or features restricted to certain languages, markets or geographies or has other important limitations, they should be clearly described.
  • If your app declares an association with a given file type or extensibility point, it must provide the functionality that a customer would expect, given that association. For example, if your app declares an association with the .jpg file type, the app should be able to open the image for viewing or editing.
  • On its face this seems pretty innocuous right? So how did Upload to YouTube get yanked due to this? If you’ve followed my development of the app, it was the first YouTube uploader to upload videos from a user’s camera roll. I then added background uploading and Cortana integration. I’d say it checks all the boxes.

    In full disclosure, I was fully prepared for the day The Evil One came knocking and asked for a name change based on trademark; that I would have understood, no problem.

    So as one might expect, I responded to this initial e-mail with an attempt at voicing my confusion and concern for what had just taken place:

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    Trying to give them an “out” by saying “oh, yeah. Yup that’s why we yanked it.” but nope:

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    the “blog” link takes us to the 5/27 post by the Windows team outlining how they’re taking a more strict approach toward policy 10.1. I want to cite what is, to me, a particularly troubling piece of verbiage in this blog post:

    For example when there are many apps that do not provide differentiated value (e.g. many flashlight apps with the same look and feel and functionality), some may be removed from the Store.

    Here’s the question we should all be asking as developers: “which ‘some’ get removed?”

    Walk with me here. UtY has been published for almost a year now. Let’s say Dev X comes along and publishes an app with a similar name and copies my icon. What do you think would happen given what we’ve seen here? Would they kill mine? Would they kill the new one? Perhaps some other app that maybe says it uploads videos to YouTube as well, but provides a subset of features relative to mine? How fair is that to devs? To users?

    The bottom line here is we just don’t know what is going to be happening to our *legitimate* apps. And we have no recourse when it happens to us.

    On to the last sentence of the blog post:

    make sure your account contact email is accurate in Dev Center, as this is the email the Store uses to begin a dialog with you if we locate any problems with your apps.

    That seems fair. If they locate a problem w/ my app, they’ll start a dialog with me. One would presume this means before they take it down, right?

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    wrong. What you’ve seen in the screenshots I’ve posted is the entire extent of the “dialog” I had with the Windows Store team.

    Now let’s talk real numbers here. UtY, at the time of this writing, has 32,500 downloads. It’s about a 3.9/5 rating in the store with over 200 reviews. In full disclosure, it nets me ~$130/mo in store and ad revenue. It’s not a lot, but it is something I’m proud of. It’s my most well-received app, and I spent quite a bit of time getting it to a good spot to where it could be something I’m proud of. It’s on my résumé. I talk about it at interviews.

    I started developing for Windows Phone in November 2010 when the SDK was launched. I’ve been in this since the start. I have supported this platform. Evangelized this platform. Invested in this platform.

    I am fortunate enough to have a kick-ass circle of friends that are also devs. One of whom is even an MVP for the platform. I also have a bunch of awesome twitter followers.
    Now I didn’t make a stink about this publicly because I was honestly in shock. Microsoft picked the absolutely perfect time to pull this on me as I was in the middle of changing jobs and had way more things to think about than this, so I just did not have the time to deal with it.
    So, I just told my buddies. They were equally in shock. We talked about it quite a bit on episode 25 of the 25.4 Podcast. It was there that my good friend Robert suggested I consider taking it to the media – especially after getting shut down the way I did in the last e-mail from the Store team.

    To us, it was pretty clear this was somebody that didn’t understand what they were doing; just following instructions (or worse, an algorithm) blindly. And they didn’t have the time or knowledge to properly assess the situation.

    Again I’m fortunate. I’ve had great interactions with Brad Sams over at Neowin so I sent him the e-mail and details on my situation along with the stats on UtY. He posted an article this morning, despite the fact he’s prepping for a long vacation! Great guy, that dude. It was also picked up by the folks at WMPowerUser – also another great bunch.

    Roughly 6 hours later, to my amazement honestly, I received this:

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    As I said on twitter, I can’t thank the dev community and other supporters enough for the time they took of their own volition to back this lowly indie dev. It speaks volumes of the community we have built. And while I’m not going to argue whether or not camera roll upload is the defining function of my app, I’m also not going to look a gift horse in the mouth ;)

    But it’s time for a hard conversation.

    Let’s be honest, I got lucky. What if I was a complete newbie to this platform, trying to break through? I get a great idea, publish my app, and enjoy some success. Only to have this happen to me. I can’t get answers, I don’t really have a following, what’s my recourse? Nothing. What would you do if this were you? I know what I’d do. Go learn Swift, or Java, or buy a Xamarin license. Why would you stand for this?

    Furthermore, imagine the havoc this type of process could wreak on somebody who maybe writes that killer app and quits their job (let’s not debate the merits of that decision)? Now what??

    I’m fully convinced that were it not for my friends reaching out on my behalf – being willing to put my story out there – UtY wouldn’t be in the store today. But where does that leave the lesser-known devs? The ones we’re trying to get on our platform? What does this say to them?

    Another thought: what’s the goal here, Microsoft? Are we trying to clean up the 50+ fart apps in our store? The 200 weather apps? Or the 5 YouTube uploaders? Which would you, Dear Reader, tell them to go after first?

    I would even go so far as to argue if the search algorithm were better, we wouldn’t need such a drastic culling of the herd. To illustrate, let’s use UtY as an example. As I search “Upload to YouTube” in the store on my Windows Phone right now, UtY is listed #13 – the 3rd page of listings on my Lumia Icon. And the search exactly matches the app title. It’s listed beneath “GetThemAll”, “Video” (from Microsoft), and even “Google” (from Google).

    To finalize my thoughts on this process I really have to put this out there: can you think of some apps that perhaps filled a gap at one point, but have since been succeeded by an app from the official owner of the service? Which app should be killed? Why? Should both be allowed? Why? Because this policy is, and Microsoft’s actions toward me are, pretty arbitrary. There’s simply no knowing who they’ll pick to stay, who they’ll pick to chop, and what you can do to affect the situation. Or if they’ll even take action in some instances.

    In the meantime, good luck devs. Sound off to your local reps if you’re at all concerned. Many voices may just be the key to getting some real action here. It’s unfortunate it had to come to this, but the first one through the wall always gets the bloodiest.

    • Your app gets pulled, but there are thousands of apps that freely use copyrighted characters from Disney, Hanna Barbera, DC, Marvel, Nintendo, and even Microsoft (not counting the legitimate use that Microsoft allows for some game content) that I’ve complained about time and again and they go on just fine with 250k downloads and 4.7 average ratings (since many people don’t care about intellectual property, they just want free stuff).

      And yes, it’s a problem on every platform. And honestly, most platforms are happy to look the other way. They just want a parent to be happy with their iPhone purchase and don’t care they are playing Tom and Jerry cartoons for their kids illegally and without permission… it was free.

    • Jason Thomas Carter

      Glad your story ended well. Mine still hasn’t, and I’m sure there are many devs suffering in silence.

      This isn’t the first time Microsoft has unpublished one of my apps and allowed others to take my space and money from the store.

      What happens is, Microsoft is picking Winners and Losers in the marketplace and not allowing for competition.

      I consider it like the government told Coca Cola they couldn’t sell anymore, and told Pepsi to go ahead and ramp up production.

      Every day my app is missing leads to more permanent damage to it’s rank in the store and ultimately less $ in my pocket and food in my kids mouth.

      So most recently, one of my phone apps was unpublished.

      It was first published in early 2012 before Windows 8 was even released.
      I’ve created about 200 apps for the Windows Phone and Windows Stores.
      Some are complex, some are simple, some are cool, some are stupid. But they all have their place. Nothing says they have to be at the top of the list, but let me get these scraps!

      Not every app needs to be complex, especially on phone. I make simple things, and complex ones… But whatever… http://channel9.msdn.com/Blogs/Every-dev-has-a-story/Jason-Carter

      My app Mosquito had 141k downloads, a 4 star rating, and 160+ reviews.

      Microsoft sent me an email telling me it was pulled from the store, the only thing they will tell me is 10.1

      “Microsoft has unpublished one or more of the apps registered to your account as they do not comply with Windows Store Policy Requirement 10.1. ”

      So I ask – What criteria of 10.1 does it fail?

      “The app is not fully functional and/or does not provide unique, creative value or utility.”

      Which is just the text of 10.1 which I read already. It is ambiguous. So I wrote a page long response asking further for detail. Which part of the this or that and or this/that is it?!?!?!

      I got no response.

      So I sent another email, to which they responded with a one liner.

      “Hello Jason,We will not be reinstating the app to the Store. Thank you, Windows Store Team”

      So there you have it, 141 thousand downloads, 4 stars, 160+ Reviews and it is either not functional or provides no creative utility/value.

      I’ve developed about 200 apps for the platforms, I supported them when nobody cared. I think I deserve to be treated with respect and like a human, I deserve an actual response as to why my product and part of my livelihood are being removed from the store.

      There are other apps out there that do what mine does, but I was first in this space on Windows Phone, I thought that was supposed to give me an advantage. I see Windows Phone MVP’s with basically the same type app functionality published and they are held up as hero’s and I and others are treated like a piece of dirt by Microsoft. But it’s fine, they should be able to publish simple apps too, I just want to be able to compete with them. Hopefully they will show their value as representatives of the community, I don’t have much faith in them or the direct MS representatives though given my experiences of the past 2 years.

      I bet it I ported the iOS version of my app they’d be thrilled about it! Other platforms have this type of app, I guess if folks want that utility on their phone they will go to Android and iOS.

      My users found it 4 stars useful…

      Why won’t Microsoft listen to the users?

      Who fixes search and discovery by deleting the data???

      I agree get rid of IP issues, but other than that I don’t understand the reason to remove apps from the store. If you remove an app from the store, the developer deserves a human response specifically stating what the issue is, you can’t just reference 10.1 and slam the door in my face.

      Find a need and fill it. Not everyone will want my app on their phone, but 140k did in this instance and once they did they seemed to like it as shown by the reviews. I was able to capture some small share of the market and earn a little bit of money, until Microsoft came along one day and squashed this portion of my business and won’t explain why. Instead of making apps, I’ve been thinking about this. Shouting out onto the internet with continued SILENCE from Microsofts social media accounts who suggest I take it up with support, who already slammed the door in my face and is no longer responding to my emails.

      Who really cares if there are 600 fart apps in the store. Let them compete, figure out your search problem so the best one shows first and all 600 fart apps don’t show when someone searches for ‘art’ and start talking to your developers like they are humans with feelings and emotions and a lot of effort and time invested in your platform. When you guys stand me up for design consultations, I get angry, when you give $3000 prizes out in hackathons to someone who updated an app and didn’t create a new one, I get angry, when you give an App Studio app a Design and Innovation award, I get angry, when you repetitively pull my apps from the store and let other people publish the same apps and take my money I get angry.

      I am angry.

      • Jason Thomas Carter

        I lost another app. This one listed all the Developers in the Windows Store by name and displayed all their apps. Was published for 2 years and had a 3.5 star rating.

        I got no details from microsoft.

        I got no email notification, and all it says in the dashboard is:
        “we removed the listing from the Windows Store and we will no longer let customers download it because we found a problem.”

        Support says so far:

        “I understand that you have questions about your “Windows Store Developers” app that was removed from the Windows Store. You should have received an email indicating why the app were removed, and instructions on what to do once you have corrected the issue.

        For any additional information regarding the removal you will need to respond to that email, as they are the only ones that can comment or provide any additional information regarding the removal. Just in case you did not receive the emails, I will reach out to the team that handles the app removals, on your behalf. Once the review has been completed either I or one of my colleagues will reach out to you with an update.”