Google Rating nightmare for iOS Apps

Today I was googling one of my own apps called Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro as I usually do, using the search tools and filtering the results for last-24 hours, to see what new pages were talking about the app or linking to it.

A new version of the app was released three days ago (version 6.5) on the App Store which means there could be no new reviews, for the new version, from users for a couple days (or more.)

Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro has received almost all 5 star reviews and it has an average of 4.5 rating on the App Store

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.44.41 PM.png

To my surprise, I found the google results for my app on the App Store showing a 1-star Rating!!!

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.40.07 PM.png

I don’t know how google is obtaining these results, but it is really frustrating. You work so hard on your product to find that a stupid robot routine returns a totally wrong and damaging result.

I, of course, went to the google help forum to start a new topic and see if I could get some answers… I searched for similar topics to see if the issue had been answered and I found an exact topic that was labeled “ANSWERED”! That’s great, I thought, let’s see what they say…

There are hundreds of entries from iOS developers complaining and the answer is:

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.15.07 PM

So the answer’s just a bureaucratic statement with no clear way of knowing when or if the problem will be solved.

It would be so easy and fair to just take the rating away until the problem has been solved. I wonder what the real reason is, if there is one other than negligence.

For now, all developers will have to accept that there apps will show a 1-Star Rating every time the release a new version.

The negative power of usernames and how to solve it

Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro 6

Today we sent the new version 6.3 of Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro to the App Store. This has been one of the biggest projects we’ve ever done. We could have easily created 10 (or more) complete apps with Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro. You can get this incredible app for the price of 2 cups of coffee! but app buyers don’t care, it’s an app, it should be $0.99 or free.

The app works really well, and we are getting great reviews, except when it comes to the infamous USERNAME.

The new version allows the user to use the app without a username (which I strongly recommend implementing in your apps, even if the user can’t access half of the features in them) People hate log-ins, passwords, sign-ups, etc. They are so sick of it, that they don’t even check what information you require them to submit.

In Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro 6.0, we asked the user to create a username and a passcode (so they could access the online database and share progressions with other users.) We didn’t ask for email or any other contact information, we were not trying to collect any data from the users. There was no confirmation process, no facebook, no twitter, nothing at all.
Why did we do this? Because we are also sick of this new data collection trend to target us as a selling point.

Did the users check what they needed to do? NO. As soon as they saw the word USERNAME, that was it! We received many emails asking why we were asking for personal information, even after we showed them there was no personal data required at any moment, they still didn’t like it!

So, lesson learned: “Don’t ask for a username even if you need to” always give the user the option of using the app without a username.

Playing music within your app

We released Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro 6 a few days ago.

One of the best features in the app is to be able to load and play tracks from the iPad’s Library. The process is pretty straight forward but we’ve encounter a few unexpected problems in the process.

We wanted the user to be able to pick a track from their library and load it into the app.
In order to do this the best option is to use the mediaPicker
This is how you call it:
– (void)chooseASongFromYourLibraryOnView:(UIViewController*) pViewController {
    MPMediaPickerController *picker =
    [[MPMediaPickerController alloc] initWithMediaTypes: MPMediaTypeMusic];
    picker.delegate                     = self;
    picker.allowsPickingMultipleItems   = NO;
    picker.prompt                       = NSLocalizedString (@”Select any song from the list”, @”Choose one song only”);
    [pViewController presentViewController:picker animated:YES completion:nil];

Here’s the function called after the user has picked a track
– (void) mediaPicker: (MPMediaPickerController *) mediaPicker didPickMediaItems: (MPMediaItemCollection *) mediaItemCollection
    [myPlayer setQueueWithItemCollection:mediaItemCollection];
    NSArray *itemsFromGenericQuery = [mediaItemCollection items];
    self.pickedMediaItemSong=[itemsFromGenericQuery objectAtIndex:0];
    [curPickerController dismissViewControllerAnimated:NO completion:nil];


So, we saved the item in pickedMediaItemSong

To play and draw the wave-form representation of the track you need to get the song as a AVURLAsset

asset = [[AVURLAsset alloc] initWithURL:[self.pickedMediaItemSong valueForProperty:MPMediaItemPropertyAssetURL] options:nil];

But, the app would not play items from the cloud

Solution: filter the items shown by the mediapicker to non-cloud items only
add:     picker.showsCloudItems=NO; before you present the ViewController

Now, everything seemed to work fine for a while but every now and then the MPMediaItemPropertyAssetURL would retrun NULL (the asset would end up being nil). And it only happened with a few tracks in our library.

Why? Becuase those tracks had DRM!!

Here’s what Apple Says:

About iTunes Plus

Learn more about iTunes Plus, the high-quality format of songs and music videos available through the iTunes Store.

iTunes Plus refers to songs and music videos in high quality AAC format that don’t have Digital Rights Management (DRM).

All songs and music videos now for sale in the iTunes Store are iTunes Plus. In some cases, if you previously bought music with DRM from the iTunes Store, you can download the higher quality, DRM-free versions of your songs with a subscription to iTunes Match. The tracks must show as Matched or Purchased in the iCloud Status column in your iTunes library, and the same album or song must still be available in the iTunes Store.

To upgrade your music to iTunes Plus, follow these steps on your computer:

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. If you’re not already, sign in with your Apple ID and password.
  3. Click the My Music tab at the top of iTunes.
  4. Click the song or album you want to upgrade.
  5. Press the delete key on your keyboard. In the message that appears, click Move to Trash.
  6. Click the iTunes Store tab at the top of iTunes.
  7. Under Quick Links on the right-hand side of iTunes, click Purchased.
  8. Click Music in the upper-right corner of iTunes.
  9. Find the song or album you want to upgrade.
  10. Click the iCloud Download icon   on the song or album to download the new version.

Putting iPhone’s CoreMotion Technology to the Test

In our latest music app “Sounds of Christmas by mDecks Music” we wanted to create the illusion of playing a virtual instrument with your iPhone in 3D space. The user would hit “AIR” as if it were Bells and the iPhone will produce sound (notes, chords, etc)

To achieve such effect, we had to user iPhone’s CoreMotion Technology which allows access to all the iPhone’s motion  detection system. You can read more about it on my previous post Turning an iPhone into a Musical Instrument

Now, if you have ever worked with MIDI, Samplers and Sequencing software, you know what latency is. For those who do not know: Latency is the amount of time that takes all your software and hardware to turn an “action” (command, process, etc) into sound.

There’s always latency involved in sound production, regardless if you are using computers or not.  The speed of sound is not infinite which could be interpreted as already having an embedded amount of latency ( you know how in a tennis match you see the ball being hit and much later you hear the sound.) There’s latency when you play a real Acoustic Piano, since your action of pressing a key needs to be mechanically translated into hitting a string with a hammer. Of course these conversions are so fast that the pianist would not notice them (or at least can cope with)

When using MIDI, software and samplers, we add a full new set of conversions that need to be done before sound is finally produced. Your action in the keyboard is turn into a midi signal, the midi signal is turn into a note request for the sampler which has to ask the computer to access the hard drive (or memory if possible) and read the sound file which is then processed into a music note sent to your sound card which converts that information into sound and output it via your speakers.

An acceptable latency is one that produces the sound fast enough for you to perceive it as being in real time, and does not affect your playing no matter how fast you play. Musicians are tuned to feel that delay much better than the average listener and a delay of 20ms is big enough to be noticeable. An acceptable latency for musicians is below 12ms.

If we want to use the iPhone motion to trigger notes we then have to treat that motion as if it were a key been played on a keyboard, then turn it into MIDI send it to a sampler, etc. It was crucial to create a method that could detect and process motion in a very short amount of time (<1ms) and the question was if iPhone’s CoreMotion was fast enough to make this possible.

After our first test we realized that not only iPhone’s CoreMotion is incredibly fast but it is also so precise that we were able to simulate virtual Bells begin hit by the iPhone at any tempo we wanted.

Christmas Sounds by mDecks Music turned also into a rhythmic and sight-reading training tool where the user can perform a song at any tempo and, we decided to include rhythm scores of all songs for music teachers and students since this is such an intuitive way of learning and practicing rhythms

You can print all scores from your iPhone within the app or, you may download the eBook in PDF format with all songs notated as rhythm.

Turning the iPhone into a Musical Instrument

While developing our new Christmas Puzzles by mDecks Music app we did an experiment with the CoreMotion module of the iPhone. CoreMotion lets you detect and track movements of the iPhone in real time.

There are many different approaches to implement apps that can handle iPhone movement. The most frequently used technique is to use a method that detects the iPhone being shake but it is not precise and did not work for us. For a more precise tracking method you need to use CoreMotion.

In our solution, we were able to implement a routine that would detect the iPhone movement when the user pretends to be hitting imaginary bells in front of him/her. Our algorithm ended up being very simple and, the response, really fast and efficient. We managed to create different detection algorithms and included in the app.

We created music files that would play a song using the rhythm played by the user as source. You may print the rhythm score to practice our rhythmic sight reading and/or learn how to read and play rhythms while performing a real song, which we think makes practicing rhythms very intuitive and fun.

We turn our first verision into an All-Christmas app called : Sounds of Christmas by mDecks Music which at the moment is waiting for review on the App Store. ( Sounds of Christmas webpage )

Here are our video demos:

To do this you need a CMMotionManager.

– (CMMotionManager *)motionManager
    static dispatch_once_t onceToken;
    dispatch_once(&onceToken, ^{
        motionManager = [[CMMotionManager alloc] init];
    return motionManager;

and then start updating the iphone motion at a specific updateInterval.

– (void)startUpdatingWithFrequency:(int)fv
    NSTimeInterval delta = 0.005;
    NSTimeInterval updateInterval = 0.01 + delta * fv;
    if ([motionManager isAccelerometerAvailable] == YES) {
        [motionManager setAccelerometerUpdateInterval:updateInterval];
        [motionManager startDeviceMotionUpdatesToQueue:[NSOperationQueue mainQueue] withHandler:^(CMDeviceMotion *motion, NSError *error) {
            [self CALL-YOUR-ROUTINE-HERE];

You can get all the updated information by using:

motion.userAcceleration.x; //or y or z
motion.attitude.roll; // or pitch or yaw

Once you’ve obtained this data in real time, it’s up to you to create an algorithm that would interpret the device’s movement. It is crucial to set up a coherent updateInterval. It can’t be too short or too long. You have to find it by trial and error.

How to: In-App Purchase On Sale on the App Store

Changing the price of an app on the App Store is pretty straight forward. You go to the Pricing tab of your app in iTunes Connect and then edit it with the Tier you want. You must remember to set a starting date and an ending date. (Use Now to set the price change right away, and use None on the ending date if you want to keep that price indefinitely.)

If you have in-app purchases for a particular app, and you want to change the pricing for them, you must then go to the In-app purchase tab in iTunes Connect then click on the in-app purchase you want to edit. On the popup screen you will see the current setting for that in-app purchase but you have to click on the edit button to change any data including the price.  Then you can choose the new pricing exactly as you do with the app pricing, setting a new tier, starting date and ending date.

Pretty easy, eh? It took me five minutes to change all the in-app purchase prices on my 60 Top Hat Piano Grooves Vol. 1 app which is now ON SALE for $3.99 (was $4.99) and every single module is now $0.99 (were $1.99) except for the rock & pop grooves since there’s quite a few more of those.

Now you can buy 60 lessons with video tutorial & demo, compete piano score, metronome included in the score to practice all for only $3.99,

less than 7 cents $0.07 a lesson, how ridiculous (“amazing”.- I meant)  is that!


Building an App on iOS 8 still compatible with iOS7

My new app 20 Saxophone Tricks of the Trade by Mario Cerra has been available on the App Store for over a week now.

We’ve had many downloads apparently with no issues. Yesterday a user wrote us an email saying the app was crashing right after launching. I knew right away it had something to do with the user’s device or IOS.

I downloaded the app from the App Store on an iPad running IOS 7.1.1 and the app crashed right away. I tried it in XCode with the iPad 2 simulator and the app run perfectly but, as soon I connected my iPad with IOS 7 and run it from XCode the app crashed again with an uncaught exemption error.

Long story short, after a few break points I found the issue was in a line where I’ve used containsString to find if a substring is contained in a string, which is an iOS 8 only method. Although the app was set to build for ios 7.1 and up the xcode compiler gave me no warning notice.

The solution is to use the rangeOfString method that is compatible with iOS 7:

[yourString rangeOfString:@”whatever-you-are-looking-for string”].location == NSNotFound

That solved the problem.
To submit a new version of the app to the App Store you must change the version number and build number of the app, archive it and submit it.

Now the app is back on waiting for review on the App Store.

I also added a note in the description for the current version of the app so users still running IOS 7 will wait for the update before buying it.


– (NSString*) archivoFullPath: (NSString *)archivo {
NSMutableString* result = [NSMutableString stringWithString: mDecksURLFolder];
if (!([archivo rangeOfString:@”http”].location == NSNotFound)) {
return archivo;
} else {
[result appendString: archivo];
return result;

60 Top Hat Piano Grooves Free with in-app purchases ready for sale.

After 12 days waiting for review, 60 Top Hat Piano Grooves Free version 1.2 is now ready for sale.

The user has now the option of purchasing a preferred groove module. For example: If you’d like to access all the Rock & Pop grooves only, you may do so by purchasing only that module.

I think this will be a nice feature on the free version since the user already has access to two grooves for every single style. They can try them and choose the style they want to work with first and then when they are ready they can download the next module.

Apple does send you a nice email with all the details:

iTunes Connect
Dear Ariel Ramos,
The following app has been approved and the app status has changed to Ready for Sale:

App Name: 60 Top Hat Piano Grooves Vol. 1 FREE
App Version Number: 1.2
App Type: iOS App
App Apple ID:906262866
The following In-App Purchases are also approved:

In-App Purchase Reference Name: latinreggae
In-App Purchase Product ID: latinreggaepianogrooves
In-App Purchase Reference Name: rockpop
In-App Purchase Product ID: pianogroovesrockpop
In-App Purchase Reference Name: allgrooves
In-App Purchase Product ID: allgroovespiano
In-App Purchase Reference Name: contemporary
In-App Purchase Product ID: contemporarypianogrooves
In-App Purchase Reference Name: jazzbluesgospel
In-App Purchase Product ID: jazzbluesgospelpianogrooves

The importance of the In-App Purchase Screenshot

Yesterday, after 14 days, a new version of our music app Rhythmic Vocabulary for All Instruments Vol. 1 was Rejected by the review team on Apple. This version of the app has an in-app purchase where the user can buy Vol. II within the app.rejected

I made two mistakes when submitting the app for review:

  1. I forgot to upload a in-app screenshot, which is not optional and it is said to be used in the review process only.
  2. I did not add the In-App Purchase on the main screen for the app submissioninapp2

In the email from Apple, they described generic problems with in-app purchases but they do not tell you specifically what the problem is. Apparently the most common problem is not having a restore button (or feature) for the user to retrieve the in-app purchases previously made when they re-install the app or they download a new version and, I knew that was not the problem with mine.

I wrote to apple and they promptly reply telling me to submit a new build of the app and to make sure the in-app purchases were included with the build. That meant: Add a screenshot, and add the in-app purchases that you want to include in the app (on the main page)

Now we have to wait for review for another 14 days or so.