Radio-Info's Tom Taylor and I exchanged emails after his story ran about how the Sirius XM iPhone app passed the 1,000,000 downloads milestone.
But there's another angle on apps that most of us in radio aren't used to facing - continuous, accessible, transparent listener reviews. In Sirius XM's case, their app's bulk download stats are illusory because when you study their ratings, and read the reviews in iTunes or in the App Store, there are many, many irate consumers.
Check out their ratings (below), and you can readily see the problem. When your "1-star" ratings outnumber your "5-star" grades by more than 4-to-1, you have some serious issues with iPhone and iPod Touch owners.
Then read the actual reviews, because while there are some happy users, most consider this a paid app even though it is listed as "free." It is clear that huge numbers of iPhone/iPod Touch owners downloaded the app thinking they were going to get all these great satellite radio channels.
But if you're not a subscriber, it'll cost you $3 month, and even subscribers are required to be in the "premium" category in order to listen - otherwise they have to pay an additional $3/month over and above whatever they're already paying.
Here's the official explanation of "free" on the Sirius XM FAQ page for their iPhone app:
What is the cost of this application?
The application is FREE. Streaming to iPhone and iPod Touch is FREE with a paid Premium SIRIUS Internet Radio or Premium XM Radio Online subscription. You can also sample great SIRIUS & XM content with a FREE TRIAL. Visit siriusxm.com/oniphone for more details.
No wonder people are pissed, and they are taking it out on Sirius XM with their 1-star ratings, and their scathing reviews. Above and beyond the costs, there is also the obvious disappointment with the absence of Howard Stern on the app.
So, beware of those download stats because they don't tell anywhere near the entire story.
In the App Store, you can't hide. If your app sucks, doesn't work well, is perceived to be a ripoff, or doesn't live up to its promise, it's there for all the world to see. (By the way, a look at iheartradio's app tells an interesting story, too. While better than Sirius XM, their 1-star ratings outnumber their 5-stars, which supports the notion that mega-downloads alone don't make for a great app.)
At jacAPPS, we are using these user reviews to learn more about the benefits or problems with the apps we've developed, and this process has led to updated versions with improved features. And we've launched a web survey, supported by many of our app clients, because research is an important component in providing customers with the optimal experience.
We also have a "5-star" goal for all our apps - whether they're for commercial, public, or Internet radio, personalities, events, or games. Customer satisfaction is a key in any business, but especially when it comes to apps. We are already learning - not a shock - that word of mouth is a major driver because when iPhone owners talk to each other, the question is usually, "What's your favorite app?"
We are rapidly learning that just having an app in the App Store is insufficient in order to be competitive with Pandora, Facebook, and the myriad of other channels and outlets that will be in the app business soon. Apps - like broadcast radio itself - have to be reliable, high-quality, user-friendly, and deliver on the promise.
In the case of the Sirius XM, that long wait for an iPhone app was apparently not worth it.