Remember this controversial bit of advice I dished out some two weeks ago? To recap, many iOS users, confused about the iFitness/Full Fitness relationship, were worried that purchasing the latter might result in the same outcome yielded in buying the former: namely, the loss of a dollar and future product support in the event the app would again be pulled.

I did my research and concluded that buying in didn’t yet look like a good idea. The developer, naturally, took offense and issued an unflattering response (since pulled) in that article’s (since closed) comments section. While I made no accusations in voicing my concerns over the trustworthiness of the developer, nothing I said via email explanation could compel the individual to satisfactorily address the raised issues.

Full Fitness has since been pulled from the app store (sorry, Ibrahim).

In setting about to find out why, I came across an interesting and illuminating post. The article is about iFitness‘ removal early this year, but the user feedback underneath is what really stands out. From reader Blaine:

I can pretty much guarantee you that iFitness was pulled due to faking hundreds of user accounts to get reviews and inflate their popularity. As a developer of a workout app myself, I remember when iFitness showed up. They seemed to get hundreds of reviews overnight. That simply doesn’t happen. And if it does not all of your reviews are going to be 5 stars with one line of nothing but good to say.

Apple has just recently started flat out banning developers that are caught doing this. In my opinion it’s long over due. It’s not a surprise that the developers of iFitness won’t respond to inquiries. They got caught doing some pretty sleazy business practices.

But we already knew that. Unfortunately, the overwhelming response to Full Fitness (nearly 800 reviews and a 4.5-star overall rating in under two months, for a workout app) led other developers to think something was possibly amiss. An anonymous dev had this to say:

I got more proof that iFitness and Full Fitness are working the system. Does Mehrdad Mehrain think he can get away with this? So, I was looking at the ratings of Full Fitness this morning, and it looks like a bunch of people (maybe 5 or 6) clicked on YES for “Was this review helpful?” on all the 1 star ratings. They were all listed first. I thought to myself, finally! Justice has prevailed! But, I looked later in the day… and guess what? Eight 4 and 5 star apps are not on the top because someone clicked NO on all the 1 star apps and YES on all the 4 and 5 star apps. This is absolute 100% proof that the developer is working the system. He must be watching it like a hawk because he managed to flip the rating so fast.

But, this comes as no surprise to me. In a post on Feb 17, Mehrdad expressed discontent with the US trademark system by stating that iFitness was “facing some BS trademark name lawsuit from some large US company.” So, trademarks are BS, huh? Perhaps they are where you come from, but in the US trademarks are protected by law and we don’t take kindly to cheaters. Let me guess… you think copyright laws are bogus too, right?

If you are an app developer, you should be pretty mad right now. I sure am…

Here are some more facts for people to think about:

Fact: If the bad ratings were fake, you could easily get them removed by reporting them to apple. They have a form for that. If they don’t remove them, then they must be real.

Fact: You give away promo codes to help boost your ratings. And doing so here is simply another example of that.

Fact: You manipulated the rating system. There is no way that 20 five star ratings became “most helpful” overnight and all the one star ratings were marked “unhelpful”. This is proof that you are messing with things. What is your defense against that one?

Fact: You stole stock images from a website that doesn’t even allow you to use the images in devices. This shows a great disrespect for US laws.

Fact: 70% of the your ratings are for the current version that has only been out for a short time. Most have a distributed number of ratings on each version depending on how long they have been out. But, you have resubmitted your ratings to bump them to the newest version. This is a well known trick that is used by people working the system.

Fact: 10% your ratings for all versions are a one star. Yet, in the latest version has only 3% one star ratings.

I am a strong proponent of justice. If people steal or work the system, then other developers will lose money and users will be upset.

So, let’s see how long it takes Apple to kick Full Fitness out of the store like they did iFitness. Then we’ll know who is telling the truth here. My bet is on the honest users who rate the app with one star.

While this particular concerned developer seems convinced, his polarizing quotes are included only because they represent the single documented list of “accusations” available anywhere. Visit the link to this forum to read Mehrdad Mehrain’s defense. It is quite in line with the one pulled from my previous article on the matter.

Still, it is fair to give a suspect his own avenue for response, and I emailed him two days ago asking for comments. Graciously, he did respond, saying his company was given no notice or rationale from Apple prior to account termination and that he primarily blames the entire affair on posts like mine:

We believe it has to do with articles such as yours and creating a false sense of mistaken identity. Enough readers write in claiming something, and it suddenly becomes fact to those that don’t bother to research more.”

Honestly, I don’t believe for a moment my article (or any like it) could have such an impact. If this was indeed the case, I would gladly quit my post, as such a weighty responsibility is not commensurate with the kind of subjective work we allow ourselves to do here. I like to think that Apple is savvy enough to investigate matters for itself as the company has all the analytical tools and means available for getting at the deepest root of any concern.

I also don’t believe for a moment we will see this developer back in iTunes. If he returns under an(other?) assumed name, any app produced will certainly have to be an entirely new set of code and content. I’d think, at this point, any app similar to iFitness or Full Fitness would simply get heaped onto the reject pile.

I can’t recall Apple giving any developer three chances to adhere to their contractual code of conduct, but at least Full Fitness remains available for Android devices.

[Image background: jonemo.de]

Update: Though we may never learn exactly what happened with Full Fitness, it is important that we do not jump to conclusions and accuse without proof. Innocent or guilty, though, it is easy to see that Full Fitness has served to prove beyond any doubt that a revamped ratings system in iTunes is desperately called for. I only hope everyone can learn from this that transparency in the App Store is critical for success and that apps must be allowed to stand on their own.