Question 314 of 365: What should we learn from updating our apps?

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For years I have put off doing software updates on my computer. I have found them painful and time consuming. I have found the thought of having to restart just to get a few extra features that I really won’t notice to be about as appealing as taking out the trash. That little bouncing recycled earth sign (probably a Mac only phenomenon) seems brings out the worst in my anti-progress attitude. No, I don’t want the latest and greatest version. My current version is already running and I don’t want to shut down just to upgrade. Everytime I know that there is an update among all of them that really is essential, I curse the process for subjecting me to waiting around while something installs.

And yet, I update my iPad apps nearly every day. I get excited about new releases. I read the changes in the app store and I look for specific things that will make my life better. And most often, I click update all. Even if I don’t see a benefit for some of the updates, I know that I am getting the most recent version of something that I chose and the next version will probably build on this one. I watch as all of the apps update themselves and I wait with anticipation as the little blue bar goes across. I try and guess which app will update next. I open some of them up just to see if I can spot the changes for myself. I am, I have realized, an app junkie. I want to know about apps before others do and I want to be the one that recommends them. I want to know about a feature update and tweet about it. I want to promote the use of an app in interesting ways and talk about the iPad as a creative device instead of just one for consumption. I love the update cycle. It seems to keep everything fresh.

Here is the difference between what I feel in an app on my mobile device versus an Application on my computer: Scope, scale and ownership.

The scope of a mobile app is so much smaller than that of a full blown application. I have railed against too narrow of a scope as not creating the kind of change that is neccesary, but I have mellowed on the need for starting off with a grand scope. The rapid release of features on a mobile device means that you can really conquer one idea before progressing on to the next. It also means that with each release, you don’t have to try and update everything. You can continually expand an idea until it branches off into four other ones. You have the time to listen to those who are actually using what it is that you want to produce.

Scale is different than scope. The scale of storage needed for any given mobile application is smaller because it has to be. Computer applications can be as big as they want to be, but mobile apps have to be elegant and small or no one would download them. They also have to be self contained. On a computer, Applications must integrate with nearly everything in the system. We praise them for it, but it has become overblown. More conservative use of the OS features would really be appreciated because it would cut down on the things that we have to upgrade for every update. When I update Netflix on the iPad, I don’t have to update the video player or the notification system. The scale matters. I can update all of my apps within minutes, whereas large scale Application updates can take hours.

Ownership is a little bit harder to quantify, but for some reason when I buy something in an app store and I receive constant updates I feel as though they are listening to me. When I can make a comment directly to the developer and see an update in the next few days or weeks that specifically addresses my issue, I know that I own a little bit more of the app. I also think that it helps when I get to touch and interact with the application itself while it is updating. I want an experience in the update and not just in the program. I don’t want to set the update window up and leave it, I want to see the things all around my iPad updating. I want to anticipate what is going to happen next. The update process on a computer is boring. There is nothing to do but watch the bar go across the screen.

Perhaps I am simply jumping the gun. Now that everyone is creating app stores we will see more of this. But, I think that we can go further.

  1. I want things to update on their own.
  2. I want things to show me what has changed.
  3. I want to be able to comment on individual features.
  4. I want to talk to the developers on the day of release in a public forum.
  5. I want to be able to go back through revision histories of apps and see just how far it has come.

We should learn from the mobile platform, but we need to merge it with the computer and not simply make the computer like the iPad. They are capable of doing different things, it just so happens that in this case, the iPad does it better.

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