So Why the Hell DO Our Mobile Apps Keep Updating?

Recently, the U.S. Congress held well-publicized hearings to aggressively question Apple’s tax practices, specifically their movement of income to Ireland (presumably, in order to avoid paying American taxes).  Senator John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, told Apple CEO Tim Cook the question he really wanted to ask was “why the hell I have to keep updating my apps on my iPhone all the time and why you don’t fix that?”

To his credit, Cook skillfully answered “We’re trying to make them better all the time.”  My question for the distinguished gentleman from Arizona: Was that a serious question?  I’m not being facetious here; I ask that because it’s entirely possible Senator McCain delivered his question in jest.  But it appears McCain was genuinely concerned about why he has to constantly update his iPhone.  Even Conan O’Brien jumped on the chance to mock the Senator in his monologue, repeating McCain’s question and adding that “McCain also wanted to know how much to feed Siri.”

We all know the answer, of course: Applications need updates because developers constantly fix broken links and bugs, and occasionally add new functions—and occasionally, entire new versions are uploaded.  Of course, users often debate whether each particular app update makes an app better or worse; but a developer’s goal is to always make an app better, so more often than not users will benefit from these updates.  And while McCain’s question may seem easy to ridicule for those of us who are more tech-savvy, it actually provides evidence of a well-known and oft-recurring disconnect between mobile app developers and their users.

As an app developer, we’re constantly in whiteboarding sessions mapping out possible use cases with our UX and UI designers to analyze how users will want to use our app—quite a difficult task for anyone, when you consider the potential size of a smartphone app’s user base and their various levels of comfort with emerging mobile tech.  But there will always be some users who won’t understand what we may consider the most implicit function or feature of a mobile application; so to counter that, we put considerable effort into designing and building our apps to be as intuitive as possible.   Hopefully our apps will never frustrate any U.S. Senators enough to warrant mentioning it in a congressional hearing.

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