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.