Kudos, Apple!

Several weeks ago Apple’s mighty new cat, OS X Lion, gave millions of Mac users a good reason to finally get on the Mac App Store.  Add to that another “finally” – we had just released CheckBook and CheckBook Pro on the Mac App Store, after we let their rejection in January push us to focus on a major future release instead of fixing the things Apple didn’t like.  With Lion came a few user interface glitches in CheckBook, so updates were in order.  We rolled out CheckBook and CheckBook Pro 2.2.1.


Three negative reviews very quickly gave us a wake-up call.


All three were the same complaint:  after updating, our apps weren’t launching properly, stating they were “damaged” and should be reinstalled.  And all of the reviews expressed the same underlying fear:  our users were very, very concerned that reinstalling the app would cost them their data.  Curiously, none of them had asked us directly for help.


On the subject of data loss, never fear.  Replacing the app really is as simple as it sounds – CheckBook and CheckBook Pro keep the user’s data in a separate location, never in the application itself, so drag the app to the Trash and reinstall away.  Totally understandable, though, that our users would be concerned.  Too bad the Mac App Store doesn’t provide a way to say as much directly – it’s impossible for developers to communicate with their users through the Mac App Store, in public or in private, come hell or high water, negative reviews or glowing praise.  So, the negative reviews took center stage, our users panicked, sales dropped.  Pretty exciting watching all that from the sidelines.


Fortunately, developers have other channels for this sort of nightmare, just waiting to be discovered when a spare block of several hours presents itself.


We started by buying our own applications (hey, 70% off!) so we could post reviews telling our users it’s OK, no need to panic, just replace the app and you’re set.  But that plan failed les misérably – the reviews never made it through Apple’s careful moderation.  No reason given, they simply never appeared on the Mac App Store.  Foiled but not defeated, we put Plan B into effect – changing the description of each app into a temporary tech support statement.  The tide of negative reviews was stemmed, and one user even amended their review in our favor.  The other two did not.  Lucky for us, their reviews contained factual inaccuracies, something Apple, mercifully, won’t abide.  Both reviews were zorched.


But the original problem was still there:  Something was going horribly wrong, preventing our updated apps from launching properly and scaring the bejeebs out of our users.  Several more reports came in from users who found our support link (at the right side of the product page on the Mac App Store – somewhere between blind spot and low contrast, as far as page placement goes).  We started gathering details.  Shockingly, the issue came down to two very important points:  These users were all on Lion, and (this is the shocker) their apps were missing their _MASReceipt folder, where the Mac App Store puts a receipt file so apps can double-check to be sure they’re all properly purchased and stuff.


It didn’t figure that anything would actually zap the _MASReceipt folder, but seeing it was definitely missing we made sure it wasn’t our code, then took a trip to bugreport.apple.com.  It took some time but, eventually, we got a phone call from Jean-Pierre at Apple.  We went over all the details, all the possible issues we could think of, the works.  Jean-Pierre was at a loss.  No other developer had reported the issue, either.  Perplexed, we planned to try to capture more details from the next afflicted user and Jean-Pierre agreed to research with a couple of groups at Apple.


Less than half an hour later Jean-Pierre was on the phone, giving us the good news:  It’s a bug in the way Lion handles delta updates from the Mac App Store.  The delta update is applied, a new receipt is installed.  That part works – really well, too, or Apple would know about it.  The problem is when it doesn’t.  In that case, a full update is installed and…the new receipt gets lost in there somewhere.  Already fixed, he said.  Planned for a future update.  Hallelujah and rejoicing on our end of the phone.  I may have danced a jig, even.


But why just us?  Were our apps the only ones with failing delta updates?  Maybe.  I had asked Jean-Pierre to search the Mac App Store reviews for the word “damaged” to see if anyone else had reported something similar.  I hope he follows through.  It would be great for the affected developers to get word a fix is coming.  Shooting an email to the affected users would just be good manners.  As for us…well, one idea we kicked around is that Apple’s system for automatically generating a delta update may not be aware of file resource forks, leading to a failed checksum after the update is applied.  CheckBook and CheckBook Pro have a ton of images and we could’ve tweaked a resource fork here or there to get rid of custom icons.  But really, who knows?  We’re just pleased as punch that Apple listened, found the issue and let us know a fix is in the works.  Kudos, Apple!


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