(Guest post by MaorBar.com)

We have always been heavy TestFlight users, and the announcement that came right after they were bought by Apple, that they will no longer support Android apps on their platform was a huge blow for us as cross-platform developers. Using Adobe Air as our main environment, we couldn’t implement just any native SDK and were basically left without a real solution for testing and debugging our cross-platform apps. Most of the solutions we did find where Native extensions for TestFlight.

A small fairy whispered in our ears about a new kind of project – a highly advanced and sophisticated yet easy to use and implement, called TestFairy :-)

Having nothing to lose we gave it a shot and were blown away by the amount of vital information presented to us in way that actually made sense, that was easy to understand and analyze. This list of features “killed” TestFlight on all standards.

TestFairy gave us an insight of what’s going on with our apps currently installed on testers and clients’ mobile devices. For the first time we could actually SEE what it means when a client gives you the very specific feedback: “it’s not working”…

testFairy1
testFairy2
testFairy3

So how hard is the implementation?

As easy as it sounds – just upload the APK.

No setup or SDK implementation is needed.

It was all great other than one missing feature: we couldn’t see the AS3 “trace” of caught errors and other information we wanted to trace. In order to deal with this issue we built a small and simple Native Extension that will send the traces to the TestFairy logs.

TestFairy and iOS With TestFairy we do found a solution for android apps but still we wanted both android and iOS in one managed testing platform. As for cross platforms, we have a little secret to share with you, TestFairy is about to support IOS really soon. (already in beta for selected customers)

Here is the Adobe Native Extension for download, documentation can be found here.

We hope you’ll find it as useful as we did and would appreciate your feedback – please share!

Android Police reported last month that Virus Shield became the #1 New Paid and #3 Overall App, but an analysis of its code “confirmed that this app is totally and completely devoid of any security benefit” and was removed from the Google Play Store.  Next, The Guardian reported 50 million Android phones may be exposed to Heartbleed.  A major security breach and a fraudulent anti-virus app collide, and developers and users are left uncomfortable and vulnerable.

What is the best Android anti-virus app?  Does one exist?  How do developers make responsible choices to safeguard themselves and users, but continue to create excellent Android apps?  Even Symantec VP Brian Dye says “that antivirus like Norton catches only 45 percent of cyberattacks today” in a conversation with the Wall Street Journal.  A complex, dynamic picture of Android security is unfolding, and a new direction for anti-virus is on the horizon.

Kaspersky Antivirus Test by TestFairy

The Verge reports an anti-virus app is “often completely unnecessary.”  And, perhaps, they are.  Currently, as Dark Reading explains, an anti-virus app flags problems but cannot remove them.  Without tools to eliminate malware and infections, an anti-virus app is just a virus detection app.

Android anti-virus apps are regularly tested by groups like AV-Test to evaluate their efficacy and chart improvements in functionality.  An analysis of AV-Test results by Security Watch reveals a mixed bag.  Improvements in some areas like preserving battery life indicate progress, but an increase in the number of safe applications flagged as malicious is alarming.  AV-Test CEO Andreas Marx suggests the most important feature for an anti-virus app would be an “on-installation check.”  This tool would prevent users from downloading infected apps to their Android phones.

Kaspersky Antivirus Test by TestFairy

Shouldn’t Google have a better system to prevent do-nothing, bug-infested apps from showing up in the Google Play Store?  Android Police reveals Virus Shield was available on the Google Play store despite the absence of a developer website and an email previously flagged for inappropriate behavior.  It achieved a 4.7 rating, yet, as CSOOnline.com notes, “A raft of allegedly fake reviews and high ratings helped propel Virus Shield to the top of the Play Store.”  Clearly, Deviant Solutions, the developer behind Virus Shield, engages in deviant behavior.  Google’s only tool is the app kill switch, as the Android ecosystem faces the growing threat of mobile hacking.

A team of researchers at Syracuse University, led by Dr. Kevin Du, identifies and examines mobile hacking threats, ranging from scanning an infected bar code to downloading infected apps.  Apps that are particularly vulnerable to hacking are coded with HTML5.  He sees a growing attraction to HTML5, as it works across different platforms.  He says, ”By 2016, it’s estimated that more than fifty percent of the mobile apps will be produced using HTML-5 technology. This is just a disaster waiting to happen.”  The video of Dr. Du and his researchers produced by Syracuse University News Services shows how they easily hack a phone and follow a user’s mobile footprint.

Kaspersky Antivirus Test by TestFairy

Existing anti-virus apps do not currently provide users with all of the tools they need.  If an anti-virus app can’t remove a bug, then it’s not truly effective.  Android app developers who help users organize and manage sensitive data must be diligent with security and permissions.  And, as mobile hacking increases, fully functional apps may be the best resources to protect users’ mobile privacy and security.  There is a need for honest, ethical Android developers to innovate and meet this challenge.

“The mobile space is still new territory for both attackers and defenders. Things can change quickly,” says Security Watch.  Hopefully, the hackers are not a few steps ahead.  We tested one of the best performing anti-virus apps according to AV-Test.  We have tested the Kaspersky in our lab, checkout our detailed test report.

We are impressed by the Kaspersky Anti-Virus Android App and think Android users should check it out.  The free version scans and analyzes your Android device’s OS simply and quickly, while the premium version adds buffers to block intrusions.  In our test, 26,820 files were scanned in less than three minutes.  The progress of the scan appears in a shield that gradually changes color.  At the end of the scan, a list with the number of files scanned, threats detected, neutralized, quarantined, and disinfected is available.  Fortunately, we did not have any threats to address.  ”Everything is OK” appears at the top of the screen and ensures peace of mind.  The premium version scans new apps immediately after download and quickly alerts users who have downloaded a malicious app.  The secure browser and call and text filter blocks phishing from callers, text links, and websites that exploit users’ private information.  If your device is lost or stolen, premium users may disable the device to prevent theft of data.  The tools available in the premium version address the next steps needed to enhance mobile security – prevent phishing, hacking, and malware from finding its way into your Android device’s OS, instead of waiting until infection to remove it.

Developers, do you consider mobile hacking to be a growing threat?  What resources do you need to create apps that stand up to infection?  We want to hear what you think.  Share your thoughts with us via the comments below.

TestFairy helps Android developers do painless beta testing. Learn more about TestFairy here. Follow TestFairy on TwitterGoogle+, and Facebook.

At TestFairy we absolutely love our developers, and in order to improve communication and make you feel home, we have recently started translating all our marketing material to Klingon, starting with this Youtube video.

We also decided that our next customers annual event will take place in Maranga IV, directions will be sent separately.

Please share the news with your friends by clicking on the buttons at the top of this post, remember: sharing is caring!

Love

Team TestFairy :-)

Where can I find the TestFairy SDK?

TestFairy does not require any integration or any SDK. All you need to do is upload your APK and invite your testers.

 

Does TestFairy have an app?

Yes. TestFairy has an app, you can download it from here.

 

Does TestFairy have an API?

Yes, TestFairy has an API, you can read about it here and see a sample of an upload script here

 

Does TestFairy have a Gradle plugin?

Yes, our Gradle plugin is available on our github.

 

Can I control who has permission to download my app?

Yes. You can set your project to work in ‘strict mode’ which means that only users that were invited to use your app will be able to download it. On the first invitation, the user will need to choose a password for his account, and after that the user will be required to enter his password before downloading new apps. When working in strict mode, users will also be limited to specific versions of your app, as defined by you.

 

How can I migrate my testers from TestFlight to TestFairy?

This is very easy. In your TestFlight account, go to People,  select all users, and on the right side, click on Actions -> Export contact Info

In your TestFairy account, go to Testers, click on the Import button, and upload the file you exported from TestFlight.

 

How do I register a device?

There is no need to register devices in TestFairy. All you need to do is upload your apk and invite your testers. Once your user starts using the app, their device will be registered automatically.

 

Can I have multiple users on my TestFairy account?

Yes. multiple users is part of our enterprise package, you can read more about it here.

 

Is TestFairy really better than TestFlight?

Well, to be honest it is hard to compare. In addition to everything that TestFlight did, TestFairy also provides video capture of every test, cpu and memory tracking, coverage reports, heatmaps, JIRA integration, raw data APIs and a lot more. So, actually it is not so hard to compare. Yes. TestFairy is better. Here is why.

 

Any other answers we should add here?

If you are a product manager that wants to know how your users really use your app, whether they click on the right buttons, and pay attention to the content that you want to them to see, this is for you.
We are proud to announce that the latest feature on TestFairy, Android Heatmaps, is now available for all enterprise customers. Heatmaps are a super powerful tool that allows you to understand how your users really use your product, where exact they touch, and what is the trend on every screen, activity or fragment, on every resolution. Do they click on the right side of the screen or on the left? do they click on the top of the button or at the bottom, to they touch specific areas more than others? Will ads work better this way or they other?
Heatmaps can help you understand your user behavior and improve your app, improve the experience and improve conversion.

Here is an example of TestFairy heatmaps created with our favorite app, Flipboard.

Flipboard heatmap
Flipboard heatmap

Like all other features on TestFairy, Heatmaps for Android does not require any integration or any sdk, all you need to do is upload your app to TestFairy and invite your testers. On the server, we will add all the necessary code so your app will look the same, behave the same, but will have self recording capabilities so that every touch and every screenshot will be uploaded to our cloud automatically, in real time.

We will be very happy to help you get started. Signup to TestFairy, and improve your app today.

Guest post by Tessa Kayser, business development manager at mNectar, a mobile app virtualization platform.

Last month, Burstly was acquired by Apple and it was announced that TestFlight would no longer support Android apps starting March 21st, 2014. Thankfully, our friends at TestFairy have an easy way for the Android developers to migrate their testing service without making any code changes.

Today, Burstly sent out a legal notice informing current clients that the SkyRocket mediation platform will be shut down in 90 days. This announcement probably leaves many developers wondering what mediation alternatives are out there.

For any developers who are looking at the current ad mediation options out there, Here are some things to consider:

Independence and Transparency
The owner of any mediation layer is a very important factor to consider. If the company is more focused on another product such as real-time bidding, support for the ad mediation side may be very limited. If the company is also an ad network, you run the risk of biased ad selection. It’s also important to have a clear explanation of how traffic will be allocated and to have optional manual control.

Networks
The main objective of using a mediation layer is to manage all of your ad networks under one interface. If only a few networks are fully supported, the product is less valuable.

Reporting
Knowing that the mediation layer’s reporting matches your networks’ reporting in a clear and concise way is essential. If you are using an automatic optimization feature and the reporting is inaccurate, your revenue can suffer. It is also becomes difficult to make prioritization decisions when the reporting is unclear, slow, or wrong.

Support
Mediation layers are complicated and problems will arise. Active support forums, responsive account managers, and helpful tech teams are all great resources that will keep things running smoothly.

Server-to-Server Support
SkyRocket is the clear leader in server-to-server support. A mediation layer that supports server-to-server implementation lets you easily try new ad networks without SDK integrations or javascript tags.

As an app developer, you probably want to spend your time working on your products, not integrating SDKs, managing individual network dashboards, or fiddling with javascript tags. It’s also frustrating when you do find a mediation solution only to discover that they have been acquired, their product focus is shifting, or they don’t provide the services you were expecting.

An open source mediation project owned by the developer community would be ideal, but that doesn’t seem like an immediate option. We have been discussing the idea with several partners and the initial interest looks promising.

If you would like to learn more about the project or become a part of the conversation, feel free to send an email to Tessa at tk@mnectar.com.

 

TestFairy critter

Three days ago, Apple pulled the plug on TestFlight’s Android SDK and published that the service itself will stop working on March 21.

Meet TestFairy.

TestFairy makes distribution and testing of Android apps – painless. Not only you get back which tester ran your app, but you also get a video of each session and gazillion other tech metrics like the cpu usage, memory consumption and even the app logs.

Our philosophy has always been to enrich the developer’s experience, while requiring little to no work at all.

That is why we are so happy to tell you, that your apps, linked TestFlight’s SDK, not only work with TestFairy, but there is zero code to write, while still receiving same results and more.

For example, marking a checkpoint like so:

TestFlight.passCheckpoint("Completed level 2");

Will generate this coverage matrix:

Checkpoints Example

Again, zero code. Upload your APK as-is.

Click here for a pre-recorded demo session.

or Sign up today for free

We can answer questions at @testfairy  or support@testfairy.com

Related posts: Why is TestFairy Better?

If you are one of those developers that worked with TestFlight for Android and looking for an alternative, we can help!

TestFairy is a super-easy-to-use testing platform that allows mobile developers do their app testing in an easy and efficient way.  Besides the basic TestFlight features that allowed developers to send apps to testers, get their crash reports, and upgrade them when needed, TestFairy can do a lot more.

With TestFairy developers can get real insights about what exactly happens on the client side during testing, including a video that shows you exactly what your tester did while testing your app. Every screen and every touch is recorded and the results is a video that helps your developer fix bugs faster and better. And there is more. TestFairy Reports also include CPU, memory, battery, logs, coverage reports, heat maps and so much more.

It is extremely easy to use, does not require any integration or any sdk. All you need to do is upload your app, and invite your testers. You are welcome to try it for free today.

 

So why is TestFairy better than all the others? We keep getting questions about the competition and where exactly we are better, and the fact is we have great answers. Here are some of them.

1. TestFairy does not require any integration or any sdk. All the integration is done automatically in real time on the platform. The developer does not need to do *anything*

2. TestFairy provides a video that shows you what exactly happens on the client side. Every screen and every touch, with no exception. It works on any Android device with any Android version, no root access is needed, no cables, no additional installations, nothing.

3. TestFairy provides detailed internal metrics such as memory, CPU, GPS, OpenGL, mobile reception, satellite reception and a lot more.

4. TestFairy provides detailed coverage reports that can help you understand which parts of your app were tested, so you can understand how good your testing is.

5. TestFairy does not require the tester to login, to signup, to register or be part of any social media network. All the tester needs to do is get the app and install it. Getting the app can be be done by email invitation (like many other services), via a landing page in the TestFairy community pages, via our web-app or our native app. One click and the app is installed, zero hassle for the tester. It is possible to force the user to login before getting the app, however this is optional, not mandatory.

6. TestFairy provides heatmaps that can help you understand how your users have been using your app.

7. TestFairy provides detailed reports that can help you understand how much time every tester used your app, how much time your testers spent on every device and a lot more. This allows you to better manage your testing team according to your priorities.

8. TestFairy can show you how a given screen (activity/fragment) looks on every device that was tested.

9. TestFairy has open APIs that allow you integrate the service directly from your IDE such as IntelliJ, Android Studio, NetBeans and others. You can easily have your app uploaded from your Jenkins automatically and sent to your testers by email or by silent update.

10. TestFairy has an API that allows you to download all the raw data that was collected during testing, in case you wish to process this data in your BI systems.

11. TestFairy collects all the logs on the devices and uploads them automatically to the cloud so you can easily debug errors from the field without asking the testers help in extracting those logs.

12. TestFairy collects all the crash reports that occurred during testing and allows you to upload them automatically to JIRA with all the information collected during that test, just to make that crash report more meaningful, just to help you fix your bugs faster and better.

13. TestFairy allows you to mark specific areas in your app as “sensitive” so those areas such as credit cards, passwords, ssn# and others will not be recorded.

14. With TestFairy you know who is running every test, so you can contact your tester and ask him to repeat the test or provide more feedback.

15. With TestFairy you can see a list of your testers and know which Android device they are using, and which version of your app they have installed.

16. Did we mentioned that there is no integration and no sdk? Just upload your apk and send it to testers.

Do you need more? It is the easiest development tool ever existed for Android world. Give it a try, you are going to love it. Signup now at testfairy.com

 

Did anyone notice the permissions required to install the latest Facebook Android app update? Does Facebook really need to be able to connect or disconnect wi-fi to ensure proper functioning? Is it absolutely vital for Facebook to read your text messages, so you can watch the video of your best friend’s kid blowing out birthday candles?

The answer for these questions is probably no. Facebook does not need to turn off my wifi connection for any practical reason. So why are they doing it? Because they can.

Google’s basic approach for permissions is all-or-nothing. The user can either agree to grant all permissions to an app or choose not to install it. The requirement that apps have permission to everything, or an app won’t function, means users cannot control their privacy and security. This all-or-nothing approach also gives developers access to much more information than is necessary to develop and troubleshoot apps.  Unscrupulous developers can easily take advantage of the vast permissions afforded by the Android OS.

"Dear Facebook, Why Do You Want to Connect or Disconnect my Wi-fi?"

The incorporation of App Ops in Android 4.3 was a huge step in the right direction – allowing users to control their privacy and give developers tools to limit their access to unneeded permissions. But, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, App Ops was removed in the Android 4.4.2 update. EFF reports, “Google told us that the feature had only ever been released by accident — that it was experimental, and that it could break some of the apps policed by it.” Sure, developers would need to finesse some details to make their apps function with more restrictions to permissions like App Ops, but it’s exactly what iOS developers do every day.  EFF says, “[A] billion people’s data is being sucked through. Embarrassingly, it is also one that Apple managed to fix in iOS years ago.”

The all-or-nothing approach is just one part of the growing problem of unnecessary permissions.  This last Facebook update requires a permission to “Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage”. What? Are you for real? Why would Facebook want to delete my data?

In that case, it is probably safe to say that Facebook does not really need or want to delete your files. Gil Megidish, TestFairy’s CTO, says, “It is silly to think Facebook is interested in deleting your SD card.  One of the problems with Android permissions is they are too generic. Facebook commonly saves things to disk: caches profile images, photos and other media onto the SD card, but the permission is to read/write/delete from SD card. Is there a reason why Facebook should access other apps’ files on my SD card? Of course not, but that’s the permission level. A new option was added on API 19, allowing apps to write and delete their own local data without touching other apps’ files, and without requesting for any additional permissions. However, since less than 2% of the Android devices in the market run KitKat, it may take quite a while until this permission can be used by Android developers.”

The options to avoid the all-or-nothing challenge are limited to sophisticated Android users. Cnet reports, “CyanogenMod has implemented the exact App Ops feature that Google has just pulled.” There are, however, only “a few kinds of permissions such as contact list access and location list access” available with CyanogenMod. How-to-Geek has detailed directions for how to root your Android devices to operate App Ops within Android 4.4.2. You can also decide not to install the Android 4.4.2 update, yet some level of performance is sacrificed when updates are not installed. Normal Android users like your mom, neighbor, and uncle don’t have the skill set to make these changes. Most users just tap “YES” on the screen without understanding what they have updated and allowed. So, really, users don’t have a choice to protect their privacy and increase security. Only a small, highly skilled group of Android users can manipulate and manage their permissions – including some of the same developers who cry foul when required to allow permissions they access needlessly from their users.

All users deserve access to intuitive interface to manage and control their permissions. It’s time for Google to incorporate App Ops or a permissions feature in the OS, give users the chance to make decisions about their privacy, and offer developers tools they need to create apps with limited, necessary permissions that apply to all Android OS versions.  The inclusion and quick removal of App Opps not only fuels conversations online discussing new permissions that feel creepy and invasive, but also it ignites distrust of the Android platform and the honest developers who work so hard to enhance the Android experience.

Where is the balance between Google having information it needs, developers having access to appropriate permissions to make quality apps, and users managing their privacy and security?  We want to hear what you think.  Share your thoughts with us via the comments below or email us to blog-feedback@testfairy.com

TestFairy helps Android developers do painless beta testing. Learn more about TestFairy here. Follow TestFairy on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

The Google Play Store update around December 10, 2013, introduced a new feature that has created confusion for users and headaches for developers. An app was presented to rate with the question, “Want Quick Suggestions?” Android developers then noticed their hard-earned, high ratings drop off after this interface was introduced. Through Google+ discussions and online forums, developers discovered that a user who rated through the suggestion feature may have thought they were rating Google’s suggestion. Instead, the rating of the suggestion is actually calculated as an app rating.

Since we posted about this issue on January 1, 2014, we have continued to follow threads, discussions, and conversations that examine Google’s changes and the continuing negative impact on passionate Android developers. Unfortunately, a fair and accurate ratings system seems more difficult to attain. The current system seems to lead not only to confused user ratings, but also it rewards bad user behavior.

Appwared.com uncovered an unsettling trend in Turkey. They analyzed the user reviews for Where is My Water 2, Temple Run 2, Clash of Clans, Dragons of Atlantis, and Hay Day. For Where is My Water 2, they noted, “Believe it or not, 11 out of 15 reviews here are actually 5 STAR reviews!” Users rated it 1 star, but wrote a different, surprising review. They confessed that they gave a 1 star to have their review featured in the Google Play Store. Appwared.com translated several of the 1 star, attention-seeking reviews like this one by Canan Evran, “The game is an example of how a good game should be! Don’t bother that I gave 1 star, it’s because I want my comment gets seen.” A one-star review where a user’s poor intentions are stated should not be calculated or featured, and, if it has been identified in one country, is this bad behavior rewarded in other locations too?

Android developers have few options to deal with this problem. Android Police suggests the only option available to developers is to “flag these low-star, high-praise reviews as spam.” That is still a process that takes time, and, meanwhile, developers continue to watch their ratings fall.

Another dimension to the ratings issue is revealed in a discussion on Hacker News. Culturally and geographically, there are differences in how people rate performance. Raverbashing posted, “In Germany…A 1/5 would be the highest score, and 5/5 would be the worse score.” Several Norwegians posted that they would rate apps exactly the opposite with 5/5 as the best rating. If, as Android Police points out, users would “review apps honestly and consistently,” Android developers could relax.

With frustration increasing and little feedback from Google about the changes, developers are left to untangle data and examine any information to help them make sense of their diminished ratings. Is the “Want Quick Suggestions?” and featured reviews part of Google’s drive to generate more content for their sponsored endorsements? Last October, CNN.com discussed the possibility that “a person’s face could show up on any of the 2 million sites that are part of the Google ad network.” Most users are logged into their Google accounts when they are cruising around the Google Play Store. CNN.com notes, “Leave a review for an album you bought in the Google Play store and that is a usable Google+ endorsement.”

Regardless of Google’s intentions with these changes to the ratings system that seem to reward bad behavior and create confusion, there are some dedicated Android developers living in crisis mode. These developers would prefer to put their time, energy, intellect, and passion into perfecting apps for the Google Play Store.

Are you a developer who has identified 1 star reviews by users seeking 15 minutes of fame in the Google Play Store? Are you a developer who has experienced the same decline in ratings? Share your experience with us at support@testfairy.com.

gradle-icon-512x512

We are very excited to announce that the TestFairy Gradle plugin is now available for everybody. This new plugin integrates the TestFairy platform with the Gradle build system, and allows uploading signed builds directly via command line, IntelliJ, Android Studio and other IDEs. For source code, installation and examples, please checkout our GitHub.

This plugin joins our previous announcements about a NetBeans plugin for TestFairy and our command line tool that can be used for Jenkins or other continuous integration environments. Please check it out and let us know what you think.

netbeans logo
If you are using NetBeans for your Android apps, you are going to love to hear that with the great help of the NetBeans team, we have officially released a NetBeans TestFairy plugin, and you can get it on the NetBeans plugin repository here.
The code is on our GitHub, feel free to change it and let us know if you have any improvements.
The code was written with the kind help of Geertjan Wielenga, read more about this plugin on the Orcale blog.
Thank you Geertjan! :-)

command_line

There are two ways to upload apps to TestFairy: The easy way and the smart way.
The easy way is to use the web upload. As simple as it sounds, just click on the upload button and your’re done.
The smart way is to use our command line uploader.
Why is it better? Because when you upload your app via the web interface, after adding our magic we sign it with our certificate instead of yours. It works perfectly for the majority of apps, however if your app uses 3rd party APIs such as Google In App Billing, Google Maps, Facebook connect and such, those services may not like our signature. For those services where your signature is required, our command line uploader will upload your app, wait for it to be instrumented, get it back, sign it with your signature, and re-upload it to our server. If you are using Jenkins or any other continuous integration platform, this script can be a perfect match.

The code is on our GitHub, please free to change it and offer improvements if you can think of anything useful.

Since TestFairy apps are signed with a TestFairy certificate and not with the original developer certificate, in order to have your app work with Facebook please copy the SHA1 hash from your TestFairy project settings and add it into your Facebook account.

This is how it looks like on the Facebook Developers console:

facebook_settings

Please make sure you add the new string to ‘Key Hashes’ in addition to the hash that you already have and not instead.

 

One of the worst nightmares of any developer is to wake up in the morning and find out their app’s rating has suddenly crashed.  This is exactly what happened to many Android app developers who noticed unusual activity with their Google Play Store ratings after December 10, 2013.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a flurry of 5 stars.  Instead, developers began to sweat it out, as they watched 1′s, 2′s, and 3′s slowly diminish their 4 – 5 ratings. After research and reaching out to Android app developers through Google+, Facebook, and online forums, a picture of what happened and the unintended, surprising results has been crafted by Android app developers.

Amir Uval – the developer behind Countdown Timer, an interval timer and alarm, started a discussion on Facebook and Google+ to reach out to other Android app developers and “discovered I’m not alone.” In his Google+ discussion, details have emerged, links to similar discussions online have been shared, and he “finally put all the puzzle pieces together and concluded what was the source.” Mr. Uval talked with us about his experience and findings. He says, “I’ve noticed a strange a flow of low ratings on Dec 10. I’ve been getting a 1 or 2 once a month before that, and I started to get more negative reviews on a daily basis.”

This graph shows the dramatic shift that prompted Amir Uval's Google+ discussion. This graph shows the dramatic shift that prompted Amir Uval’s Google+ discussion.

Around December 10, 2013, the Google Play Store added a new feature called, “Want Quick Suggestions?” An app appears on the screen, and the user is encouraged to offer a rating without the opportunity to provide a comment. The rating appears to help Google make better suggestions for Android app purchases and downloads by a user’s assessment of the suggestion. But, Uval discovered the rating of the suggestion is converted to a rating for the app. He also discovered that users who touch on the stars as their finger scrolls on the screen could leave a rating. This updated interface seems to provide more opportunities for unintentional, random ratings. This same assessment of the problem is discussed on Reddit and Android forums.

Google Play Quick Suggestion

Paolo Conte joined Uval’s Google+ discussion and shared a graph with us that is nearly identical.  Conte’s app, Trains Timetable Italy (Orario Treni), “had a rating of 5 stars (4.8) for a long time.”  Conte says, “In Italy it is the number 1 app in the transportation category, and it is also featured in the Best of 2013 section.”  And, again, he shares a similar theme to Uval’s experience, “Since Dec 10th I started noticing a lot of 1 star ratings, but with no negative comments.”

"As you can see in the chart below, which covers a time span of one year, it is clear this is just wrong." - Paolo Conte “As you can see in the chart below, which covers a time span of one year, it is clear this is just wrong.” – Paolo Conte[/caption]

Mateusz Mucha is an Android app developer based in Krakow, Poland, whose app, Percentage Calculator, has suffered a similar fate as Uval and Conte.  After December 10, he noticed an increase in 1 ratings on what had previously been a 4.7 rated app.  He said, “Over the next 3.5 weeks, Percentage Calculator received over twice as many 1-star ratings than in its whole 14-month history.”  Mucha took a look at the “Want Quick Suggestions?” app rating feature and concluded, “I’m only sure of two things: I cannot fairly rate it and Google makes me do it.”  The required participation of users who may or may not understand what they are evaluating is creating unnecessary confusion; and, with graphs like Mucha’s below, frustrated developers are losing sleep.

Mucha's Percentage Calculator "had approx. 27 1-star ratings on December 10, now it has 92."

Mucha’s Percentage Calculator “had approx. 27 1-star ratings on December 10, now it has 92.”

The game, Move: A Brain Shifting Puzzle, has experienced the same pattern.  Noam Abta, the developer, said, “It had a very steady average rating of around 4.7, until around the 10 of December, it started to drop gradually and continuously.”  Abta’s graph below is yet another example of a highly rated app in the Google Play Store experiencing a decline on December 10, 2013.  Abta added, “The frustrating part was that most of the commented reviews we got were still enthusiastic 5 star reviews.”

Abta's "Move: A Brain Shifting Puzzle" launched strongly in October 2013. Abta’s “Move: A Brain Shifting Puzzle” launched strongly in October 2013.

Combining the rating of a suggestion with the rating of a specific app’s performance creates a gauge that is more difficult to use and implement in the development process. Uval says, “They just don’t mix – suggestion box asks for relevance, and rating – for overall quality and overall satisfaction with an app.” Right now, developers are struggling to understand their diminishing ratings in light of the commingled ratings and inability to receive comments and feedback from the “Want Quick Suggestions?” interface.

Updates to the Google Play Store interface, ratings, and data affect developers, and hopefully Google will respond to their concerns quickly. Uval suggests “a little note in the developer console” to inform developers of changes. And, as many developers note in forums, the ratings should be separated.  Bogumił Sikora with Paridae, the development team behind Countries Capitals Quiz, shares his chart that shows this downward shift in ratings.

Bogumił Sikora's app Countries Capitals Quiz Android app ratings chart.

Bogumił Sikora’s Countries Capitals Quiz Android app ratings chart.

For developers who share Uval’s experience, this discussion about the ratings change also revealed an unfortunate timing issue. Many of their Google connections are enjoying a holiday vacation, as one of Uval’s Google contacts “autoreplied he is on vacation.”

Right now, unfortunately, there are few options for developers impacted by the ratings. Developers are reaching out to contacts at Google, creating an online conversation, and hoping users swipe anywhere other than the ratings interface. Uval had a bump up in positive ratings after he released an update. He said, “I guess many of my happy users had a chance to rate.”

If you are an Android developer who has experienced ratings changes as a result of the “Want Quick Suggestions?” feature around December 10, 2013 and would like to add their story, please tweet a screenshot of your chart, mention @testfairy and we will add your tweet to this post.

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If you are an Android developer, Android user, or just anything that has Android in it, you must by now know the DroidCon events. We have been in a few of them, in DroidCon Paris, DroidCon London, and the last one was in Amsterdam where we had an excellent time! We met so many many passionate Android fans, who loved our booth (and giveaways!) many of them already use TestFairy for making their app testing painless.

The Plumber Android app achieves the goals of a great puzzler with its addictive game play and play modes designed to make it simultaneously accessible to novices and challenging for advanced users. This Tetris-inspired game requires users to connect pipes across the screen and allow the free flow of water. The simple gestures and the smooth navigation indicate a well-designed interface that delights and engages.

Plumber Android App review by TestFairy

The Plumber Android app opens with a pop-up with thorough directions to introduce users to game play, gestures, and version history; but users can easily skip and move directly into game play without extensive direction. With each tap on a piece of pipe, it turns clockwise. It may be necessary to tap multiple times for the pipe to land in the desired position. The pipes are segments with different shapes – straight, elbow, and t-shape. The elbow pipes are the most challenging pieces to place as they rotate a quarter turn with each tap.

The play screen for both game modes are the same. Segments of pipe fill the middle of the screen. Some are connected, but others are not. On each side of the screen, there is a vertical pipe with the water connections. A vertical water meter is placed on the far right side of the screen, and it fills and flushes based on game play. The graphics are crisp and clear.

Plumber Android App review by TestFairy

The arcade mode for the Plumber Android app requires the user to keep the water flushed from the meter on the right side of the screen. As pipes are connected from one water spigot to another across the screen, the level of the water in the meter decreases. Also, the connected pipes disappear from the screen, and the pipes shift down a level with new pipes filling the top of the screen. When pipes are connected, a pop-up also introduces users to new power-ups and challenges. If a pipe has a lock, it cannot be adjusted. There are blocked pipes, bonus pipes, and flush pipes too. If the pipes are not connected quickly enough, water gathers in the meter. Once it reaches the top, the game is over. The arcade mode is suitable for almost anyone, as it starts at an easy level. It does, however, quickly accelerate for more advanced users to find challenge and interest.

Plumber Android App review by TestFairy

The challenge mode is a great way to introduce children and grandmothers to puzzler Android apps. The same gestures are used in this mode, but the goal is to connect a pipe with fewer touches and shorter times. Points and stars are earned based on how quickly and efficiently a pipe is connected. Once it is connected, the next puzzle in the level is introduced. The first level is so simple, and it would incite much grumbling among pro-puzzlers. But, advanced puzzlers forget that they too required a starting point. For parents who turn to tablets to educate and entertain, their kids are developing critical thinking skills with the Plumber Android app. Frequently, the pressure of working against a clock and a shower of obstacles leads to frustrated kids – not happy, engaged kids.

Simply put, the Plumber Android app is great fun, well-executed, and accessible to a huge range of users.

TestFairy provides an informative, insightful testing service for Android developers. To see TestFairy’s test of Plumber, click here. Are you an Android developer who would like for TestFairy to review your app? Send us an email to support@testfairy.com.