Why do mobile apps really get updated so regularly?

I almost asked this in GQ but I’m not sure if there’s one consistent answer and I suspect there will be a lot of speculation so I’ll put it here.

Popular apps like Facebook, Instagram, Tinder and Twitter publish updates to their mobile apps extremely regularly - often on a weekly basis. They usually don’t appear to contain changes to the app and I faintly suspect they do it to remind users about the app and perhaps to reset ratings; or maybe for some other reason. Or do they really ALWAYS contain bug fixes and product improvements? Does anyone know?

As someone who works on a Android app with a large-ish user base, that is not one of four mentioned (I’d rather not tell exactly which one, for personal privacy), I can say that for these popular apps, there are a lot of nooks and crannies where things can go wrong, especially if upper management is pushing the developers to stuff every pet feature they want into the app

With a large user base, some features of an app might be available to all of them, (for example, Tinder Plus vs Tinder Gold vs Tinder Regular). A bug that happens for Tinder Gold customers might not be noticeable to a Tinder Regular user. Doesn’t matter to management - if it exists, you gotta fix it and push an update

Also, developers at my company are pushed to fix all bugs, including ones found by internal QA testers and automated test suites, not just the ones found by outside users

Most modern tech companies should have an automated system for publishing updates as they come. There’s no need to collect the fixes and release them as a bunch, when you can release it as soon as possible and quell customer dissatisfaction

For popular apps, there’s really no need to remind users of the app. Millions of people will still use the app regardless. And on the Google Play Store, they aggregate ratings from way before the latest update, not sure if it goes all the way back to the initial release of the app, but I just checked the Facebook app on the Play Store and you just don’t get 101+ million reviews for an update that happened no earlier than last week

Let’s assume there really are no bugs to be fixed and no improvements made yet. Why waste resources in pushing an update?

Thanks for the detailed reply @TheGunIsMightierThanThePen

I’ve worked in testing both hardware and software. You never get all the bugs out of either one, but the cost of finding a bug in a microprocessor after shipment is a lot higher than the cost of finding a non-critical bug in an app. So, in hardware we dedicate thousands of CPUs to running simulations of know code and random code. Software certainly gets tested, but not to these levels.
Financially it makes sense to get revenue earlier and fix later in software.
Back when software updates involved shipping tapes and shutting down the system for a while, they were a bigger deal.

A better question is why did so many people give Microsoft so much sh@t for their updates but these mobile app updates, which are far more frequent that Microsoft’s ever were, get a pass?

A lot of it is because mobile app updates generally happen automatically while I’m asleep and the OS and apps are built so that when I reopen an app it maintains state. However, here it is 2020 and my damn Windows box can’t seem to figure out how to stop bugging me to update, how to come back up and leave me where I left off, or, even worse, stop deciding that I really need to update right now, this morning, for 20 minutes, right when I sat down to try to work on something.

That’s not all Microsoft’s fault, but decent chunk of it is.

I think the big issue with MS is that the Windows is so big and so complicated, they screwed it up every time and that caused as many or more problems than what they were updating.

Very quickly users and companies were trained to delay updates until the bugs were worked out of the update (which had been created to fix the bugs of the previous updates).

I learned to hate Windows and switched to Mac a long time ago for personal use, but every company I’ve been at (from $300M sales to $15M sales) all used Windows but stayed a full version behind the “latest” because they were so worried about problems from the updates.

My neighbour did a Windows update a couple years ago and immediately all his peripheral devices stopped working (mouse, printer, dvd). He got his mouse going in a week, but his printer and dvd drive took +6 months. The entire time each side was blaming the other for software issues.

They need constant updates to fix the enormous number of bugs that they have because there is no real effort test the products and/or fix these problems before they are sent to market because all of you will buy or start using anything as soon as it is released instead of waiting for something that works right and you’ve been doing it for so long that you just expect software to be full of bugs and no software producer has any incentive left to create better quality products.

This is the real answer. When your customer base (everyone in the world) expects everything they download to be updated at some point, why waste time BEFORE people pay for it? It doesn’t make any business sense. Microsoft is a little different because their software controls your whole computer. But some random app that you downloaded from Google Play because you saw an ad on Facebook? They know they can just update it later because their buggy software doesn’t affect your phone usage. And most people don’t care about individual apps on their phone.

Pretty sad, actually.

It’s Grindr, isn’t it? :slight_smile:

It’s not just bugs, per se. Security updates also happen regularly for perfectly functional software, because hackers assholes never sleep.

I do mobile development. Our release cycle is once a month. We have quite a bit of new features every month, and a lot of bug fixes (which are mostly found internally in QA). I see no reason why should release new updates any less than that.

And similarly, you’ll note that you don’t see iOS or Android updates on anywhere near the frequency of smaller apps. They have a lot more to lose from a janky upgrade than say… the app that lets you order pizzas.

I’m convinced each Microsoft update is really just a new attempt to get me to use their Edge, or Bing, or Microsoft Wallet or whatever other service they’re trying once again to push on people.

Apple does likewise every iPad update. I’m not using Apple Pay, I just will not, quit trying guys.

In addition to the above answers, one reason is because of the delivery-driven way modern software teams work.

Basically to keep development focused on feasible, high-value features, and to notice development issues early, teams work in a way that frequently delivers a shippable version e.g. every month, or even every two weeks.

However, with new versions made so frequently there is a temptation to release versions frequently too.

But, aside from the minor annoyance to the user, this approach also introduces risk.

Exactly. It can be a big inconvenience when “Updating Windows” pops up… It can be a long time before you can start work (yes I know there are reminders, but it would be nice if there was also a check prior to it kicking off)
Plus it doesn’t help that some of the updates have been ropey; Ive had at least one that essentially bricked my computer (even rollback was failing), with very indifferent support.

It’s definitely a different mentality. Once upon a time I worked for a software company that was bought by hardware company. There was a lot of disconnect about finding, fixing, and publishing bugs. For example, the hardware side had a practice of making all of the bug databases public. That sounded crazy to software.

That doesn’t reflect what I’ve seen while working in software QA for most of my career. There’s usually quite a lot of thought, time, and effort expended toward quality. It is, however, balanced against the fact that the code is so complex it will never be completely bug-free, the desire to get new features out to users quickly, the need to get certain fixes out to users before they cause damage, the realities of the company paying its own bills, and the creativity of the ever more resourceful idiot who will end up misusing your product.

One of the reasons you see frequent smaller updates is that it’s thought that there’s less risk in fixing/updating a few small things because there are fewer moving pieces and fewer unexpected interactions. Also, there’s the thought that if you can make something better for users today, why make them wait an extra few months?

I think for the regular home user, the issue is the inconvenience. If an app on your phone gets updated, you’ll get a little notification saying so, or you might not, but in either case it’s pretty painless. When Windows needs an update, you get nagged to reboot your computer. At the very least it means having to reopen all your programs, at worst, it can mean your computer being out of commission for the next few hours. If a Windows update took 15 seconds and didn’t require a reboot, no one would care if it just happened in the background a few times a week. It’s the inconvenience, IMO, that people have a problem with.

To compare it to your phone, imagine if the OS was updated 4 or 5 times a month. So about once a week you’d have to download and install an update or patch that required your phone to be unusable for 10 or 15 minutes.

Why “waste resources” on drastically updating/changing websites that function well and thus cause annoyance to users?

I suspect a goodly amount of app changes are done for two main reasons - 1) catering to a perception (by software developers, anyway) that without frequent changes, users will assume that a website or app is becoming obsolete. 2) developers have an incentive to churn software to make themselves appear useful and protect their jobs.

A parallel occurs in the field of plant taxonomy. There’s a vast, continuing amount of reclassification of species based on genetic findings that have no real practical application. But publishing the research increasing the number of PhDs awarded, leads to more faculty jobs and grant monies.

Pushing through an update allows a developer to reset their rating and to add new keywords to the app store’s search function. This is the sort of thing I was wondering about when I asked the original question. A lot of the most popular apps for instance have updates almost every week and the text that accompanies each update is usually something vague like “we update as often as possible to make your app better…” which smells like marketing bullshit to me. Downloading an installing updates so regularly is annoying.