Outdated vs. complete
In defense of apps that don’t need updates
Programmer's log. Epoch time 1664298251. It's finally cold enough for sweater weather in the East Bay! Been loving the crisp weather but am not a fan of the rain that inevitably comes with it. It's much-needed because of the California drought, but for some reason, I just can't get used to the rainy fall and winters in the Bay Area, even though I've lived here for almost a decade. I was walking my dog around the neighborhood just last week and was caught unprepared by a sudden rainstorm. I had to sprint all the way home (but the dog loved it)...
The last 24 hours have been a pretty wild ride since the blog post I published yesterday went tech viral (#1 on the front page of Hacker News!). Welcome to the recent newsletter subscribers 👋
It's a fun achievement unlocked. It only took me 10 years in the industry and 3 years of writing my blog online. So basically, I don't really know what I'm doing—just writing about things that I think are compelling. Hope you stick around to keep reading.
The funny thing is that I almost didn't write this blog post. I wasn't sure if it was actually an interesting topic or if I was just pissed off at Apple for making me do extra work on my weekend. Luckily I did a little bit of research and found a lot of similarly frustrated folks on Twitter, which gave me the motivation to keep writing.
The comments on the Hacker News post are generally pretty thoughtful and great, but my favorite responses have been on Twitter. There were a lot of folks who shared their own frustrations:
I had a sticker pack — STICKERS — removed because it had not been “updated” in some time.
A free sticker pack.
And I pay Apple $99/year for the privilege.
— It’s Gene 🏳️🌈 (@genecowan) September 26, 2022
We have published around a dozen games, some on Android, some on iOS, sometimes on both markets. But most of them are not available anymore because they were never updated. Why would we? They were perfectly playable and we had new projects in our hands.
It's sad. https://t.co/pycYrElDFb
— PlayMedusa (@PlayMedusa) September 26, 2022
important article. A local history group I used to be involved in commissioned an app that gave a VR tour of a long-demolished castle. They bought headsets and would go to shows to bring that history alive for people. App's now been removed. #ItWasFinishedNotAbandoned
— Howard (@citizen_of_now) September 26, 2022
When Apple says "Jump!", the only choice for most developers is to say "How high?" https://t.co/yOrxMrvUEe
— Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) September 26, 2022
Here is Parth Dhebar, former Apple product manager for the App Store, who gave some insider knowledge about the internal politics:
I worked on this. Unfortunately, it is unlikely it will ever change. Been talking about change for the past decade 😆
— Parth Dhebar (@pdparticle) September 26, 2022
And then I had a delightful interaction with Lorin who was just pumped to learn about the concept of my mobile game. Sometimes, the internet is absolute ✨magic✨.
Oh my gosh, something like this exists as an iPhone app game! (written by @vivqu). https://t.co/ZEqL4GalFT https://t.co/nRy6mD0aqV
— Lorin Hochstein (@norootcause) September 27, 2022
Anyway, hope you enjoy the blog post! Reach out with any thoughts on Twitter @vivqu or by replying to this email.
Outdated vs. Complete
In defense of apps that don't need updates
On August 22nd, I got an email out of the blue from Apple that notified me that I had a new App Review message. It was for my app, WorldAnimals, a light-hearted game for guessing animal onomatopoeia sounds in different languages.
Usually, you receive a message after you submit a new version to the App Store for review. The reviewer has found something wrong and your app is rejected. The notice explains where you have violated the App Store Review Guidelines and how you can rectify the issue to get your app update approved. Maybe the app is crashing, the reviewer can’t log in to test, or god forbid the update description mentions the evil rival mobile platform–these are all actual reasons I have been rejected by the App Store.
The relationship between developers and App Store reviewers is tense at best. Most people are trying to build well-designed, useful mobile apps. Apple has instituted App Store reviews to maintain a high-quality bar for apps and weed out spammy or nefarious actors, using human evaluators to test individual apps and provide direct feedback. However, malicious apps are relatively rare; arguably, Apple doesn’t do a great job filtering them out anyway. So for the vast majority of developers, App Store reviews add an additional layer of friction and time to shipping updates. And then in the inevitable case when you need to push out an emergency fix for crashes happening to your app users, the App Store review process goes from an inconvenient annoyance to an outright roadblock to improving the user experience.
I think the asymmetry of App Review is still lost on Apple. For indie developers our hopes and dreams (and sometimes our finances) hang in the balance, for the App Review team it’s just another app rejection among tens of thousands. I know they think they get it, they just don’t. https://t.co/YSsj2zyilA
— David Barnard (@drbarnard) February 11, 2022
I’ve been around the block, both as an indie developer and a full-time-employed mobile developer. I have released fun, tiny games like WorldAnimals and production SaaS mobile apps. When I was at Pinterest, I helped in communications with our dedicated App Store representative who would expedite Pinterest app updates through the review process. I have seen first-hand the lack of support for indie apps compared to the white glove experience that large companies get. Suffice it to say, I probably have above-average knowledge of how this whole process works.
And still, I was surprised to receive an App Review message. I hadn’t submitted a new update for WorldAnimals. The app was still working well, with zero crashes and a handful of new downloads every month. My boss had even shown me last week that he had downloaded my app on his phone for his daughter–we played the game together during a work meeting and laughed at the silly animal sounds. In my mind, there was no reason I should be receiving a vaguely threatening message from Apple’s App Review system.
Well, it turns out, Apple’s problem with my app was the fact that I wasn’t updating it.
(Click here to read the rest)
That's it for now! Hit me up with your thoughts @vivqu. See ya later alligator 🐊