With a website, you can release new features whenever you want. But the app stores’ review process makes it much more complicated to do the same for mobile apps.
In this post, we’ve examined the issue from multiple perspectives to find out which factors may influence the frequency of your app’s updates. We will also cover how some top apps approach the updating process.
Will customers get annoyed with frequent updates?
In the past, mobile apps had to explicitly ask smartphone owners to let them update. Since it’s typical to stockpile dozens of apps on a single device, consumers are likely to get quickly frustrated over manual update procedures for each one.
In 2018, smartphone owners could easily set their devices to refresh apps automatically in the background. According to a post on Google’s developer blog,
“Users can set update preferences for their apps from the managed Google Play app. The recommendation is for users to leave auto updates enabled for all their apps. Note that devices check for auto updates daily. Because auto updates are optimized for battery life, data usage, and user experience, it can take up to a few days for a device to receive an update automatically.”
This gives developers much more flexibility to improve their apps without bothering the audience.
How do customers with auto updates enabled notice the app has been improved?
Any customer can take a look at a traditional app version number. For example, the current version number for the Instagram iOS app is 70.1, while for the Uber iOS app it’s 3.324.10003.
A typical app version number consists of three components separated by dots each enabling people to backtrack an app’s update history. The first number stands for major versions. It shows how many massive updates have been deployed with changes in the software API.
The second indicates the number of minor update releases when the API has been modified but the new version is still backward compatible.
The final character(s) show how many patches (revisions/ bug fixes) have been applied for the current version without any changes in the software API.
How do app stores respond?
In 2016, Apple launched a cleansing campaign to remove non-functional abandoned apps from the App Store.
“We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps, removing apps that no longer function as intended, don’t follow current review guidelines, or are outdated,” Apple explained.
With this kind of purging, Play Store sifts out apps that developers no longer have the motivation to update and clears the way for trustworthy apps in search results.
Apart from these filtering waves, both app stores insist on apps keeping up with the latest versions of the OS and hardware they target.
“Apps may only use public APIs and must run on the currently shipping OS. Keep your apps up-to-date and make sure you phase out any deprecated features, frameworks, or technologies that will no longer be supported in future versions of an OS,” Apple says to app vendors.
Google required new apps to support at least Android 8.0 (API level 26) from August 1, 2018. From November 1, 2018, this applies to all app updates too.
These measures are taken to ensure all apps are built on the up-to-date APIs that bring the highest level of security and improved performance.
Best practices for app publishers
There is no golden rule for how often you should update your mobile app. But regular updates based on customer feedback and latest trends can significantly improve your chances to stay competitive on app stores.
According to Appbot, the median number of days between updates for top apps on the App Store is 18 for free apps and 55 for paid ones. It means that for around half of them the cycles are even shorter. Pinterest and Facebook tend to push something new every week.
Apps built with React Native can benefit from OTA (Over-the-Air updates). It enables developers to send out some minor updates and bug fixes as fast as needed bypassing the app store approval process. It would not work, however, for major version changes.
Many of the leading apps have some kind of a roadmap for their updates that looks far beyond an app’s release date. Smule prototypes its major updates with a prospect for several months while pushing minor updates and fixing bugs at least once a month.
To play down unwanted risks, Pinterest sticks to a fail-fast approach. Mike Beltzner, former product manager for Pinterest, said, “The longer you went between releases, the more time you had to spend protecting against the change.”
The smaller the bunch of code, the fewer bugs it is likely to have. This way, one can fix the glitches faster and innovate with less risk.
BuzzFeed arranges their roadmaps with planning for things about three months in advance. “That’s a good balance between having a plan and having the flexibility to respond to new things, whether that’s a new API that comes out, new data that we learn, or industry changes,” Ryan Johnson, Vice President of Mobile Engineering at BuzzFeed, says.
Both consumers and app stores love apps that take advantage of the platform’s latest functionalities. The frequency of patches and minor updates primarily depends on customer feedback, app performance, and available resources. Most top apps release 1-4 updates each month, while already having a plan for upcoming features.