Windows Phone 8.1 to allow developers to reply to store reviews, unify app data

Windows Phone developers are poised to have happy days ahead. At Build 2014 Microsoft detailed plans to overhaul and improve much of the processes that have hindered development, including unifying apps across Windows 8.1 update 1 and Windows Phone 8.1, improved automated certification, and the ability to reply to user reviews in the Windows Phone Store.

While Microsoft had already announced that the coding of apps would be unified across the Windows and Windows Phone platforms, the back-end systems will be updated to also support parity between a user's devices. So if you're using the same app on two devices, your in-app purchases, app data, and notifications will be kept in sync.

On the app certification front, Microsoft is switching from human testing to robots. They found that humans were the bottleneck in the certification process, so they're switching to an entirely automated process that will cut the wait time down from days to hours. Noteworthy or high risk apps will be flagged for human eyes. The automated reviews are live right now for Windows Phone apps, and coming soon for Windows apps.

When it comes to finding apps, search in the stores will also be improved. It's generally well-organized, but within those categories it can be difficult to find what you're looking for. Microsoft is elevating curated and history-derived app collections to the top level of the store. App search will now leverage Bing, and developer will be able to link their websites to their apps for better visibility in search,

New developers will no longer have to use a credit card when registering. They'll now have the option of using PayPal.

But the biggest change for developers might just be the addition of developer replies to user reviews. This feature appeared in the Google Play Store last year and has been highly popular with developers, so it's good to see it coming to Microsoft's app stores as well.

When viewing reviews through the web interface, developers will now get an option to reply directly to the reviewer. Right now review replies are kept private, though at the behest of developers Microsoft is considering making them public (as Google has done — plus it helps to keep developer and reviewer honest). Users that get a reply to their review will get an email to take them to either update their existing review or send a private response back to the developer. Reviews will stay separated by country, and Microsoft will eventually enable device data in reviews so developers can debug issues with specific models.

That's a lot of changing coming to the Windows Store and Windows Phone Stores. A lot of it will be behind the scenes for developers, but in general it will mean an improved experience for all involved.

Derek Kessler

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.

  • WOW
  • Wow? I don't know about wow! Holly crap!!!!
  • Debit card accepted???
  • if you read the article you'd know the answer to your own questions
  • Debit VISA/MasterCard has been available the whole time.
  • Love it !
  • I know...finally!
  • Yep, great improvements. This will really help with reviews where people just needs some help with the app or to let them know things are fixed. And most of all I really wanted to ask some folks that leave reviews like "it sucks", what exactly they don't like so that I could fix it.   Anyways, great job MS, keep it up. :)
  • Days seem to be going slower.
  • last night i went to bed, and woke up thinking it was the 7th (._. )
  • Isn't it 7th? Don't tell me it's not, if so, don't wake me up until. :(
  • Will developer preview be released on 7th? Have I missed anything?
  • Good! Maybe it will cut down the number of stupid, unconstructive comments in the store.
  • I'll just put my stupid comments right here then.
  • So no changes then.
  • No it won't.
  • And also wishing developers good luck translating local slangs and abuses, especially on paid apps and games :P
  • Like all the pricks asking for every single app to be made free. Like they work for free.
  • I know, so many morons with their "useless" comments because an app doesn't do what they think it should or if it's not free with no ads and absolutely life changing.  If it doesn't fit those criteria, the "useless" morons attack.
  • Yeah, and its very annoying when I see how people from my country saying online that applications with 0,99 €/c price are expensive :/ so that's the reason for 3star ratings. Very sad actually, but alcohol and cigarette's are must have gadgets here, but application's prices are always expensive. I'm sick of it here with those kind of moronic assholes.
  • Wow I love the way the new store looks. It looks loads better. Though wish they would change that black color.
  • I'm assuming he has the black theme on.
  • It looks more like google play. And Cortana looks like android. And most of all improvements look like android as well. I hate this kind of innovations. 
  • Wut?
  • Lol wut?
  • Hope the robots are able to flag excessive permissions. How many apps, especially games, really need access to things like email, calendar, contacts and the phone dialer?
  • +820
  • That has stopped me from downloading so many good apps!
  • Well you could download these, not run the app (so you're not at risk; background tasks aren't set up until first run), and then post a review about the excessive permissions.
  • Good idea. Thanks.
  • Sounds good.
    If I search for WhatsApp in this upgraded store, will I get the WhatsApp update? :P
  • Humans are the bottlenecks for app think?
  • Microsoft needs to get rid of some of the horrible apps in the store that are just taking up space
  • Can't wait to start developing!...This should all be music to the ears of developers on the fence about Windows Phone app development.
  • Finally no more 'ergmaggad, make it free!'
  • I am going to rip IMDB a new one
  • I hope we gonna get more updates in future, like possibility to buy applications for friends, family and send them link to receive gifts from us. I would like to buy WP central application for my friends.
  • ^This x1000000
  • Yea, what about gifting yourself the app that you made yourself. When I develop a paid app, I have to actually buy my own app from the store to be able to use it (and keep using it) :/
  • Hahaha at last you should be able to get your own application for free! It's totally insane to pay for it. Have no idea how things going on iStore and Google market? But... Developers need more supports on windows phone platform, and this is not supporting.
  • Closed beta listings aren't free?
  • I'm sure developers will find this good. I've contact with a few developers and they all seem unanimous saying that it's frustrating when people just leave complaints but don't take the time to at least try to explain what's wrong.
  • EXACTLY!!!
  • Almost perfect except for the moment the app doesn't display notifications on glance screen or even lock screen, only on live tile. 5 stars if it can do these.
    I look forward to replying to reviews like these. I do not blame the user at all for not knowing this, but if the app shows a notification on the live tile, then it can also show it on the lock screen. The user has to configure it though, the app can't. Until I am able to respond, my app gets 1 star less, and the user gets "less" functionality.
  • Lock screen and glance screen notification comes from the app's primary live tile. So anything they do on the primary one (the one you pin from the apps menu) shows on lock/glance.
  • Yes, they should separate this dependence on the tile though. I would like to display a lock screen notification, while still have a graphical rich WriteableBitmap tile. Can't do it. The data for the notification should not be shown on the bloody tile, I might add in a super ugly way. Unusable and awful API.
  • How about pinning a secondary tile? You can create as many as you like, just have a tile for pinning and leave the main tile for the home screen. Using the main app tile for home screen makes a lot of sense, because the user is most likely to want to know about this primary information. If you want to give your users options then you can.
  • The seconday tile is fine, but users dont know the difference, right?, and you have to admit, the model is strange (also that they must pin the primary, but the app must pin the seconday). They will still pin the primary, and see a wacking great 28 point text of what you have in the notification information for the lock screen, while expecting the real content from a seconday tile in all its graphical glory. The notification info should have (had) its own API, not part of the tile struct, because the info on the two will never be the same - I disdagree that it makes sense, it makes absolutely no sense Nick :-)
  • I feel it makes a lot of sense for the user that the data on the primary tile also be the data on the lock screen, but I'm sure others have their own opinions. It's pretty easy within your app to encourage users to pin a specific tile. Have it on the main page or on startup. Or, if you want to use the primary tile, nothing is stopping you from using your own fancy generated-image design as long as you use Microsoft's counter.
  • Thanks for your always constructive comments, Nick. Yes, sure i can get them to pin a tile but users do not know, or want to know, the difference between a secondary and primary tile. (Users do not understand that they should pin the primary tile manually. It was necessary for me to display a message for them to do that, or I got loads of mails explaining that the tile did not work - but it was simply not pinned. Have you also noticed simliar messages in other apps? It is a design flaw. Next design flaw - the app pinning secondary tiles - takes the user out to the start screen to show the tile. What for? They are in the middle of changing setting for example, and now they are placed in the start screen and to them the app seems to have exited. Why is the tile simply not pinned without this awful UI shift? I get lots of feedback about this, because they think I am doing this, but of course I cannot change it - it is the API. Had it been an option in the Create() method, I doubt that any developer would have enabled this because it is plane weird). The counter is awful and only goes to 99. I have not seen it used much, consequently. And I would not use it either, would you? But I was really refering to the notification text - have you found a way to avoid it being written to the tile, over anything else you display yourself? I do not want it on the tile, I want it on the lock screen. It is part of the lock screen settings UI and should be part of the lock screen API. What does it have to do with the tile? Its rather like the lock screen image - now that is not displayed on the tile is it? Would you think it would make sense also for that to be displayed there too? Guess we diagree on this. My hope is that some of this stuff gets changed over time.
  • Yes, I agree with many of those things. An extra API would be helpful, but I can see why they did it this way: so a user can add any app with live tiles to their screen and it just works, without the developer having to implement it. Yes, there should be an option to override it for developers who want to, but there is a good reason for it to be automatic as a base. Regarding secondary tile pinning taking you to the home screen, there's a good reason for that also (which I have heard personally from MVPs and also in many Windows Phone developer training videos): it's to stop apps from spamming the Start screen with tiles without the user being aware of it.
  • Yes, you're right, it was to allow automatic behavior without the developer needing to do anything. That's my gripe with it :-) Understand the spamming problem, but showing the user the tile is really not the solution, as a dsiruptive UI experience that makes the user annoyed. That kind of thing is best handled by user permissions, rather like allowing use of the location service. Or, as with Cortana, allowing it to read your mails and avoiding consequent interaction thereafter. Let the user empower the app to take action xyz. I totally get that it was the easiest thing for them to implement, but user feedback is user feedback, and they don't like it.
  • I wish we could filter out reviews that are in a different language because they are of no use to me.
  • I agree.
  • Why would you ignore them? They are valid users and the least you can do is run them through Bing translator. They may even add automatic translation to then.
  • Go to the trouble of translating reviews into broken English? No, thanks.
  • So you'd rather ignore your own users because they don't speak your language?
  • I'm talking about this from a consumer perspective. When I'm looking at the reviews for an app I may want to install I would think it'd be easier if I could sort it so I can see only reviews in my language.
  • Gotcha, sorry! I took that the wrong way for some reason :)
  • No worries! I can definitely see your point looking at it from the developer's view. I should have made it clearer what I was talking about!
  • So if i buy an app for WP8, say halo spartan assault, can i also download it on Windows 8 without rebuying it?
  • Yes, browsing the store from the emulator I saw that Halo SA has an icon next to it indicating single purchase across multiple platforms.
  • Great new changes. Wish they would make a change log for updates mandatory. Am I right in saying that if you buy an app in either the windows store or the windows phone store, it will be available on both devices (assuming its on both) or do we still have to pay twice?
  • As long as the developer has enabled it, yes. They could just as easily list two different apps with the same name (one for each) if they feel they should be paid extra for their extra work.
  • As consumer, I really wanted them to tell de device were the app was installed, it really helps when reading reviews. In the Nokia Store on Symbian this feature was really useful.
  • I think the reason it's not there is because there are usually no device-specific issues. I guess if there was more fragmentation it would be more important. Not that they shouldn't put it on there, but I think they're trying to ensure that people don't think about fragmentation.
  • Change logs should be required in the store. I'm sure some devs would be lazy and just put "Bug fixes" but hey, that is better than nothing.
  • I think it is for Windows Store, so hopefully it will come along with the unified experience.
  • I wish they would do that also for windows 8. I would experience as much more cohesive if I could review and send feedback to the app creator via the store, then via a seperate email.
  • Woot! Finally! It's so annoying to receive 1-star reviews just because users are doing something wrong, but I can't reach out to them. I always put a very clear "support" button in my app, but a lot of users don't use it when they run into trouble but just rate the app with 1 star. So annoying.
  • My concern is whether the users who don't use "support" buttons will care about the developer's response.
  • They may not but other users looking through the reviews would see the developer's response and then give the user's review the appropriate weight in making a decision about the app.
  • Exactly, I'm really looking forward to this update. April 14th can't come soon enough to get the update on my devices.
  • Developer responses are private as far as I can tell.
  • One thing I think they should make optional is for Devs to send emails to their customers when they update their App. The value here is that when an App fails, I usually remove it from the Start screen and fir look for an alternative. Being told that an update is available that addresses my problem would prompt me to go evaluate it again.
  • They should make the replies public as default as these can answer other peoples questions.
  • When the update for using PayPal during registration will be online? For now only credit card are accepted
  • This info would be nice. I wait for month ^^
  • And there we go ! It's coming, it's comingggg !
  • what I want to know is who at MSFT thought developers have no say.
  • What I don't like is that the reviews shown are still region specific and not global.
  • I think that the region-specific reviews are good, especially for location-aware apps that have varying levels of functionality worldwide. Also it helps filter out foreign language reviews. But it could be nice to give developers the option to display global reviews, or perhaps an option on the store for users to enable them.
  • If they do not make replies public, I will not be replying.
  • hope debit card is acceptable