Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beware of Customer Reviews at the App Store

I don't too often read the Customer Reviews at the app store. But maybe I should start. A speech path, on one of the many lists I subscribe to, recommended an app. I wanted to see what it was all about and went to the app store. I read the description, looked at the visuals and glanced down at the reviews. I saw that Barbara Fernandes had reviewed the app. You may not be aware, but Ms. Fernandes is the owner of Smarty Ears and her company is the developer of the app she reviewed. Hello, hello, Ms. Fernandes.

A while ago, I offered to review Smarty Ears apps but Ms. Fernandes did not respond.


  1. I've been skeptical about Smarty Ears apps for a long time - ever since I forked over $34 for the original Match2say. It's been redesigned since, but the original was a very poorly designed artic matching game. Although the quality seems to be improving, this company tends to rush things out and are not always very well thought out.

  2. So glad I found your blog! I read about your site today in Leslie Lindsay's new book, "Speaking of Apraxia." My son is 3 1/2 and has apraxia. The iPad has been such a great tool for at-home speech therapy for us. And, there are so many apps out there, it's nice to have your site to refer to. Yesterday I did a review and video for Tiga Talk on my apraxia blog and just wanted to pass along that they are providing three apps for me to giveaway! Entries will be accepted through May 8, 2012. www.jakes-journey-apraxia.com

  3. Thanks, cmf-slp for you confirmation on what I suspected was going on at Smarty Ears. But the company is not alone in popping our pricey apps that are unimaginative.

    I have one other gripe about the way many of Smarty Ears language apps are represented in their product descriptions. The description states,"______(name of the app) is based on research around ______(specific language target of the app)...Studies have found...." and then she quotes specific studies regarding language. This is quite a clever marketing trick to make the the Smarty Ears app appear more appealing because it is "evidenced based." Once again, buyer beware.

  4. Thank you tstarmom for letting us know about Tiga Talk Speech Therapy Games. I would like to review the app. If you still have one left, would you mind sending the code my way to: mirlag@speechbooks.com.

  5. I was disappointed in this post. I would think that as someone working on app development you might be more aware of the process. If you are interested in what is going on at Smarty Ears, we are doing our best to put out quality products that meet the needs of SLPs, and as SLPs ourselves that perspective plays into every decision we make. I have been involved in the creation of three apps and have written iTunes descriptions of each. By citing studies, we actually provide therapists with justification of techniques supported in the literature that have influenced the development of the app. We actually discuss these as the app is developed, and by placing them in the iTunes description our intent is not to say that the app has been subjected to research trials. How could it have been, the description must be written before the app is released? I am sorry that you think that is misleading, but it is really not the purpose of providing citations. An SLP can read those descriptions and see that, for example, working on synonyms, categories, or whatever the app addresses is supported by literature, and in the wider view of EBP (as is supported by ASHA's 3 prong model), that is valuable information. It's really not intended solely for marketing, though, as you know, a ton of time goes into creating apps and our intent is not to work for free, either.

    As for Barbara leaving a review, that is something that can be done when an app is downloaded, and it's pretty transparent as to who she is.

    I really don't want to engage in a negative dialogue and obviously I have a vested interest in Smarty Ears as I have developed with them (and disclose that whenever I feature one of my apps on my own blog, posts that are balanced by hundreds of others in which, like you, I have given away information for free). I do think it's important to note that there are other reasons to beware of iTunes reviews. I have had colleagues receive negative reviews from customers who didn't actually understand the stated purpose of the app. I always encourage people at my presentations to view the screenshots and also video tutorials (available freely on YouTube) so they can make the most informed decision on whether to buy the app.

    I really support what you are doing with this blog, Mirla, and often have recommended you to others, but I am confused by the vitriol here. You do of course have the right to your opinion and criticism, and perhaps we'll just agree to disagree.

  6. I agree, buyers should beware of the reviews on the iTunes stores. Some individuals will negatively review an app simply because a competitor created it. Others will negatively review an app because they didn't read the description of the app first and it doesn't do what they want it to do. Reviews should be based on the quality of the app itself - not who created it, not who authored it, and not who annoyed whom. I look for reviews that explain the pros and cons of the app - what it does, what it doesn't do, etc. Those are the type of reviews I write as well.

    In a response to someone, you say that using language such as "... is based on research of ... " is a clever marketing trick. I'm curious why you believe this. The introduction of the app, where it cites research, is written by the author of the app - not Smarty-Ears. Many questions are asked about the research and efficacy of using apps in therapy. As SLPs we are responsible for doing research and using best practices. If an app is based on theory and research and can support that with cited articles - shouldn't it be stated?

    Perhaps I read your comment incorrectly, and if so I apologize - but I'm confused. You have made it sound as though Smarty-Ears as trying to be dishonest when they allow the author to cite the research the apps are based on. Yet, the overwhelming response from SLPs is that they want and need to see the literature that supports the app.

    In the interest of full disclose, I will say I have helped author an app with smarty-ears. I am not employed by smarty-ears, they simply published my creation. I conducted research prior to creating the app and the app is based on that research.

    I look forward to your response.

  7. While I am very disturbed at the blog post, and like Sean Sweeney I never like engaging in such a negative dialog, I felt the need to bring a couple things to your attention: Yes, I did review a couple of my 40 apps and I CHOSE to display my name so that I am transparent as to who I am rather than (which I could have) hidden behind a login name such "SLP1983" or "thereviewer22". Rather I openly displayed who I am as I do so on ALL my presentations. You may be unaware of the fact that we have over 15 speech-language pathologist who have published with us and I want them to know that I like the app and appreciate all the thought they have put into the app. The authors are usually really happy to read my reviews, either on a blog, a presentation or on iTunes. Wrongful would be if I had hidden behind a fake name or ID to provide a "review".

    As to what you call "marketing strategy" for using EBP, that just baffles me as you are an SLP and should be PUSHING for other SLP App developers to make sure that ALL apps developed by SLPs are focusing on being based on what the research has shown us. Lastly but not least, why do you feel like Smarty Ears is under any obligation to give you our apps for free so that you can do a review? Yes, we do give them to bloggers and reviewers, however our resources are limited and we are not able to accommodate everyone. I am sorry about that, but making a blog to "write unbiased reviews" does not make anyone entitled to FREE CODES for app reviews. I did not mean to sound too critical but I do not feel that this post was done in a fair, balanced, or even with the “SLP hat on”, so I wanted to provide our perspective on it.
    Finally, I am trying not to end on a negative tone and I would like to say that I am very proud to have been developing apps for SLPs way before the iPad was even developed. Apps such as Mobile Articulation Probes (the first articulation app on the app store) and Match2Say were one of the first apps for speech therapy on the app store and I am proud to say I brought them to life and we work very hard to update and improve the apps as we learn what works and what does not (as someone else commented). Match2Say as you call “unattractive” was in fact the FIRST app for speech therapy on the app store to have ANY AUDIO built in. Yes, app history matters, after that all other SLP apps started adding audio to their apps. ;-) Including us on our other apps. While other developers may never update to improve their apps, Smarty Ears is ALWAYS updating and improving their apps.

    Many speech therapists and parents are now innovating and giving life to apps that are indeed revolutionizing speech therapy. It is only because of those few VERY SMALL companies such as Tactus Therapy, Speech with Milo, ArtikPix, and Smarty Ears that our profession has so many apps available. I am proud to be part of a team that is making a difference!

  8. I am thrilled to be a Smarty Ears consumer as well as a consumer of the other App companies listed above! All of these companies have changed our lives for the better! Citing research done in preparation of an App can only improve accountability. Many thanks to Smarty Ears for being a leader in this industry and for continuing to improve and update apps for free all of the time! We need to support each other and continue to strive for excellence.

    1. I'm also a believer in "buyer beware" because I have bought apps in the past that were less than satisfactory. In those cases I left a customer review with my ideas for improvement.

      I love SLP blogs, particularly tx ideas and app review posts because they help me decide what apps to buy. I will continue to read your blog and I am sure I will continue to enjoy it...but reading this post confused me a little. I am confused as to whether you are disappointed in a specific app or if you are simply voicing your personal suspicions/dislike about/for Smarty Ears.

      I'm not affiliated with Smarty Ears other than as a consumer but I am a supporter of app creators, particularly those that are created by and for SLPs.

    2. ndnspeechmom: I think the development of apps by speech paths is wonderful and agree that we should be supportive of one another in this new area. One reason that I periodically post about my personal experiences, down this app development road, is to help others gain insight into the process.

      I don't have personal experience with Smarty Ears or anyone affiliated with the company. But, I will soon be posting a reply to the points that have been made in response to my blog.

  9. Sheesh, I don't know any of the players in this, but anyone who feels the need to rant--and if you're using that many caps, you're ranting--in response to a short, pointed blog post is a little too defensive.

    Itunes reviews are not the appropriate place for a professional to express her opinion of her work done for her company.

    And if a blogger asks to review your product, you certainly don't have to give it to them, but it's polite and professional to reply.

  10. Yesterday a reader contacted me and asked her to post her comment anonymously.

    "Thanks you for standing your ground Mirla. I agree that it is inappropriate for employees or those professionally connected with an app company to "review" their own apps in iTunes. It never occurred to me that one would even consider doing so.

    I also agree with your points about citing research in your app description. All claims should be able to stand up to critical review and it really doesn't matter if your are "one of the first" or author/creator of X number of apps. A reputation is made by doing quality work - not quantity.

    If possible, I would like you to post this as an anonymous comment. I am also an app developer and don't want to get caught in the cross-fire."

  11. I would prefer for this comment to be posted anonymous by you. I wrote more than I planned so if you want to crop out a lot of it, that would make sense. I am also an app developer and absolutely DO NOT want to get caught in the storm. However, as you'll read below, I had my own suspicions of her/them in a completely unrelated manner that I thought I would share.

    I just wanted to say that I don't know much about Smarty Ears. I hear a lot of good things about their apps and read a lot of bad reviews about their apps. But that is neither here or there. I find it very odd that I found this post about them and their owner posting reviews on her own product. I had an experience recently with them that put them on my radar. I am a member on LinkedIn and joined the GeekSLP group. Not knowing much about Smarty Ears and being new to the group, I thought this was just a place of discussion for all things tech related for SLPs (this is exactly what the title says: GeekSLP discussions: Apps, technology & gadgets for SLPs). Nowhere did it state that this was a Smarty Ears group... I guess some would know it by GeekSLP or by the name Barbara Fernandez, but I did not. Well, the funny part is, I am app developer and left a comment in response to someone's discussion looking for apps. My comment never got posted as Barbara moderates and approves all posts. After digging around a bit and asking a co-worker, I realized that my comment was probably never posted because of who ran the group. I went ahead and removed my request and have pretty much realized that participating in that group won't happen. I do see some others getting their comments posted, so I guess she just doesn't allow big or direct competitors thru. However, that LinkedIn group is ALL about self-promotion for Smarty Ears (I wondered why that stuff was everywhere, but thought everyone just must love them. Hah, NOT! It was them posting their own stuff.) Anyway, my point is that I think Smarty Ears probably has great apps but their marketing tactics are deceitful and all wrong. And I think Barbara hides behind her name and thinks that is being honest, because, why of course EVERYONE must know who she is! I had never heard the name until last week. Bottom line: it's bad marketing and shady business to promote yourself in that manner.

  12. I, too, agree with above comment. It seems somewhat unprofessional for an app development company like Smarty Ears to also run and moderate a LinkedIn or Facebook group dedicated to unbiased app reviews. Also, it's very troubling when app developers review their own apps to inflate the ratings with hopes that others may purchase the (very expensive) apps.

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