Way back when the app store first opened there was a list called ‘Just Released’ that showed a feed of apps that had been released in chronological order. Developers soon discovered that updates were also included in that feed, which caused a continuous stream of updates to be pushed out. That feed was responsible for your launch day blitz (for developers who didn’t take marketing as seriously as they should have… like me). Fast forward 5 years and the needle has swung completely in the opposite direction.
Today an update was approved for my Inspirational Quotes app. As usual I waited a half a day for DNS to figure itself out and then opened the App Store to retrieve the update but this time something magical and terrifying happened, it had already updated itself.
On the surface this feels like a win for consumers and a feature that will encourage developers to produce apps that actually create value. But a deeper dive shows a few nasty edge cases and a lost opportunity for developers for reengagement.
Auto update means more people will have the latest version of your software and will probably result in a lot less headaches when people not as familiar with technology need to update an app. As an ex mobile health entrepreneur I can attest to the fact that there is a large majority of people who have an exceedingly hard time installing apps, let alone remembering the apple id and password. Ask them to update an app and it’s enough to make some tech support lines cry.
As an indie developer I enjoyed the fact that the update screen was basically a small chance for me to re-grab my users attention. This is probably not as bad as I think since long term usage actually requires a compelling app, but I would be lying to say I didn’t like seeing the small bump in traffic after an update was released. It made me tingle just a tiny bit knowing that people cared enough about my app to give it at least one more shot.
The ugly side effect of auto updates are bugs, and the lack of expectation management the system provides. Take for example my bank’s app. I use mobile banking heavily, and the current version of the app on my phone crashes every time I try to do a mobile deposit.
Before auto update if a bad bug was released into the wild prior to the developer catching it (aka test your apps in release mode!!!) the process was kinda simple. Submit an update as fast as possible, preferably with one of your expedited reviews, and then update your apps ‘What’s new in this version’ description to include “DO NOT UPDATE TO THIS VERSION! APP CRASHES!”. Developers pants are on fire, but at least the consumer has a chance of avoiding headaches.
With auto update consumers have a few problems. Since there is no indication that apps are updated without obsessively checking the updates tab on the App Store; they will likely go for several days or weeks without realizing the mobile deposit feature is fixed.
A nice first step would be for apple to think about some way to notify users when updates occur. Something as simple as a badge indicator on the app store icon that builds up until I at least scroll though the updated list would be a good start.
As a developer I’ll probably start working on reengagement strategies a lot more seriously. Some combination of push notifications or more traditional email campaigns is probably a safe bet. It’s also a nice kick in the pants… maybe this will actually force me to create some value with mobile apps after all