A year ago, we could say with certainty that users preferred iOS apps to similar or equivalent Android apps, because we had the data to prove it. Now the 2013 results are in ... and this time Android apps have walked away with the affections of users.

Last year, the mobile-testing company uTest used its algorithmic engine Applause to crawl both the Apple App Store and Google Play in order to assess the quality of iOS and Android apps based on reviews. In 2012, Apple came out ahead by a comfortable margin. Not so in 2013.

uTest’s communication manager Nick Lorenzen passes along this note: 

Our data scientists at Applause were looking at the difference between the app stores leading up to the original Applause Analytics launch last year and the same months this year. We found that in the U.S. app stores, Google users were far more engaged (logging many more reviews each month) than iOS users in Q4 of 2013. This is a shift from Q4 of 2012. Also, Google users are giving Android apps a higher average star rating than iOS.

Source: uTest

Now for the caveats. Foremost is the fact that Google started forcing its reviewers to use their real names tied to their Google+ profiles at the end of November 2012. Just as with online comments, people tend to be more polite in reviews when they're using their real names. Apple still allows its users to post under anonymous screen names when giving reviews in the App Store.

Matt Johnston, uTest’s chief marketing and strategy officer, had some additional thoughts along these lines:

We were surprised by the year-over-year difference in user applause for iOS vs. Android users.

One reason for this shift is likely related to hardware. One of the strongest historical correlations to users’ satisfaction with apps is device maker & model (more so than OS version or even carrier). So one contributing factor is that Android phones are much better than in years past – or at least perceived to be better by users. This makes intuitive sense, given the strides Samsung has made in winning a dominant share of the Android market, and the pace at which Android devices overall have evolved.

Another plausible answer (which has strong anecdotal proof points, but not as clear as the above) is that the shift to iOS7 has had an impact last fall–particularly among users of those apps that haven’t been updated or optimized to fully leverage what iOS7 offers.

How Applause Works

Applause derives its satisfaction rankings by crawling through the app reviews in Google Play, Apple’s App Store and the Windows Phone Marketplace. Its algorithm takes into account how many stars an app got from a reviewer as well as keywords pertaining to different type of metric categories. For instance, if a user says “this app crashes all the time,” then Applause will note the word crash and rank it in the “performance” category for its analytics. 

Johnston explains:

To date, Applause Analytics has crawled more than 170 million reviews across over 2 million apps, and this number increases each day as more apps and reviews come into being.

Each app earns an Applause Score of 0-100, rating that app’s overall quality and user satisfaction. At a more granular level, each version of an app is scored across 10 key app quality attributes (eg: app stability, app performance, usability, elegance, content, et al).

uTest Will Become Applause

uTest announced late in 2013 that it will rename itself "Applause" to better reflect its focus on the analytics, performance and testing market. It also announced an update to Applause Analytics today, making it easier to see what problems are affecting developer apps and why. Applause will also have a new REST API that can port its analytics data to developer’s life cycle management and business intelligence tools of their choice.