App Store vs Release Early / Release Often

Agile development makes it possible to build an app starting with a simple working core and then building out features over time. Each sprint, you’re starting with a working, shippable product, and over the course of the sprint, adding some amount of shippable functionality. The theory is your product is always “shippable”.

When I add a new feature to an app, the first thing I want to do (okay, the second thing – the first thing is testing it) is get it in the hands of users. I like apps that are updated frequently with occasional new features, bug fixes, and responses to feedback.

This seems to fit well with the App Store’s model where you can post updates whenever you like. But just because something is shippable doesn’t mean you should ship it.

The App Store punishes this release model in a very significant way.

Reviews.

When you release an app that has “minimum viable product” level functionality, there are features that you haven’t implemented yet. The plan will be to implement these over the following weeks and months, but users will be buying and paying for the product as it is today, and writing reviews of it. Reviewers will call out any feature that they think should be there, and give you a one-star rating noting its absence. Fair or not, that’s the way it is.

Look at Resume Designer, for example. I released this app without support for user-selectable fonts. I knew I’d add it later, and I felt the app was useful and created a good looking resume with the fonts that I’d coded into the template. But what I ended up with was some one-star reviews from users who expected to be able to change the font.

Now, almost a year later, I’ve had that functionality in the app for months, but those reviews still haunt me. They bring down the overall average, but more importantly, they show up when users click to see reviews of “All Versions”, and there’s no way for me to point out that “this review is no longer correct or relevant”.

The reason a user would click to see “All Versions” is because whenever you release a new version, the current version now has no reviews, and the only way to see any reviews at all is to click “All Versions”.

Most users do not come back and revise old reviews.

Let this be a cautionary tale: Release Early is a bad idea in the App Store.