App Store Updates: The Gift That (Sometimes) Keeps on Giving | iLounge Backstage

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App Store Updates: The Gift That (Sometimes) Keeps on Giving

Everyone agrees that the release of apps for the iPhone and iPod touch has been a huge net positive, and though the App Store continues to have well-documented problems, it’s great that there’s a central place to search and buy software. Yet due to an unexpected feature—the ability to “Update” apps after purchase—the App Store made a major change to consumer expectations for both Apple and third-party software: no longer is the first software release considered to be “final,” and in some cases, it’s possible that an app won’t even be working fully on day one. Developers have come to expect that they can make fixes in updates that may come days, weeks, or months after the initial purchase.

For users, this perpetual beta approach to software development has alternated between maddening and beneficial, as some developers have used their first release or three as opportunities to charge people while working out kinks, and others have created feature complete 1.0 releases with subsequent updates adding more content and features for free. Reviewers such as us have become accustomed to receiving “but wait!” e-mails from developers: “sorry it didn’t work in that last version,” we hear, “but the new one is just about to go up and fix it.” For obvious reasons, this has become tiresome; users, including us, are actually depending on these apps to do what they’ve been marketed to do without having to wait around for a patch. “It just works” used to be an Apple fan’s mantra; now it’s somewhat of a pleasant surprise.

Thankfully, there have been a number of noteworthy developers who have followed in the prior Apple spirit, taking solid, completely working software and improving it after release, turning the prospect of an update into a treat—possibly a reason to re-play a game again, or recommend it to a friend. Here are a few of the ones that we’ve found noteworthy in recent months.

 

Zen Bound: Shapes are presented, and you wrap rope around them in an effort to cover as much of the surface area as possible. Secret Exit added a large new collection of stages (the Tree of Nostalgia), bringing the current total to 76, and made visual improvements after the initial release.

 

Real Racing: Twelve new vehicles, 6-player Wi-Fi, environmental vehicle shadows, and other additions were made in two July updates to this already spectacular driving game.

 

Zombieville USA: This simple, cartoony zombie-shooting side scroller added melee weapons—a baseball bat to start, and a hammer as an upgrade—plus improved controls in subsequent updates, making the game a little deeper and more fun to play.

 

Tetris: EA’s excellent version of the classic puzzle game recently added iPod music support, enabling you to create your own playlist from within the game, or select an existing playlist rather than listening to the game’s own tunes.

Unfortunately, not all of the app updates have added features—some of the ones people used to love have slid backwards, or transformed themselves into restricted versions in order to sell new releases, angering past fans in the process. Notably, the free Palringo Instant Messenger flipped out users when it rebranded as Palringo Instant Messenger Lite, setting the stage for a paid version, and leading to one-star reviews with complaints that features such as theme changing and group administration had been pulled to “make a… buck.” Meanwhile, competitors released superior upgraded versions with features such as Push Notification support, and Palringo went from being our IM application of choice to a faded pick within days.

We’re curious: what are some of the most noteworthy updates you’ve seen for iPhone and iPod touch apps in the last three or four months—positive or negative? Do you follow the Updates number in iTunes or on your iPhone/iPod regularly, or do you stop checking once you’ve made the initial purchase? Are you finding that updates are more about bug fixes or feature additions? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Comments

1

That’s the way IM+ was… they gave it away for free for about a week, then it returned to being $10.  That was fine- I got it during the free period, so I was happy and receiving updates for free.  One day, the update renamed it “Lite”, and suddenly the features stopped.  They ran a promotion, then killed it themselves.  Fail.

Posted by Anubisconq on July 17, 2009 at 6:46 PM (CDT)

2

Things, a task manager, has one of the best Mac/iPhone interfaces in the business. But after successfully moving out of beta last year and becoming a paid product (primarily by making Apple’s short list of good apps), they have virtually stopped all development of features and bug fixes to get an Apple Developer’s Award. One of the big bugs has been synching between the Macs and iPhones, but they’re ignored this and other problems to curry Apple’s favor, get more sales and increase profits. While their user base complains vociferously on the forums which have been cut off from Cultured Codes main site!

Posted by Salgud on July 19, 2009 at 11:52 AM (CDT)

3

When are we going to get playlist based alarms, and why did we lose this when moving from classic to touch! Such a great feature, eased from sleep by nice music or a blaring alarm, I choose music every time!

Posted by Darren on July 20, 2009 at 6:16 AM (CDT)

4

The time waster/game Pocket God has done a tremendous job of updating the application every few weeks adding new functionality to the game.

Posted by Ryan on July 20, 2009 at 8:21 AM (CDT)

5

Pocket God may well be the most impressive example of using updates to build and satisfy a user base. Great choice of a positive use of the feature.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 20, 2009 at 9:04 AM (CDT)

6

MLB.com At Bat debuted this season with streaming audio, but now they have added condensed game video and live game streaming video as well.

Posted by Galley in Greenville, SC on July 20, 2009 at 11:48 AM (CDT)

7

Effective today, MLB.TV subscribers can watch ANY game that is not blacked-out.

Posted by Galley in Greenville, SC on July 20, 2009 at 7:21 PM (CDT)

8

The addition of ads to I Can Has Cheezburger 1.5 has prompted me to roll back to 1.1.1. Worst Upgrade Ever!

I kept the copy of the older version, which is much better than 1.5!

Posted by Robert on July 21, 2009 at 3:25 PM (CDT)

9

The latest update to Super Monkey Ball (possibly the most anticipated launch game when 2.0 came out yet was found to be incredibly difficult to play) added, according to release notes, a “More Sega Games” button.  And nothing else.

You still can’t calibrate the controls and it took ages until an update allowed saving of your progress when you quit.

Posted by Chundles on July 25, 2009 at 8:36 AM (CDT)

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