Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Media app etiquette: the rules of the game are being written on the fly by publisher and developers

Sometimes its good to take a step back and remember that this whole app game is new to everyone. Only four years ago Apple opened up the iPhone for media app development, but since then there has been a new OS every year and lots of revisions and updates, not to mention new beta versions. (Let's not even talk about what the Android side of things looks like.)

So everyone is learning. But there are some rules of the road that are developing that media people should begin to understand.

One of those lessons is to make sure you tell your readers what the latest update is all about. Update information appears under the "What's New in Version XX" section of the app description inside the App Store.

The most common term found under "What's New" is without a doubt "bug fixes." The phrase has been around as long as "apps," though its often a source of frustration to end users – which 'bugs' were fixed? An update that takes care of "bugs" is obviously good, but a bit more specificity would be appreciated.

Some developers are masters of the update, writing novellas about all the new features and fixes to be found in their latest release.

A simple guide to app description writing is set by Marco Arment, the developer of Instapaper. I really like his app description.

First, Arment tells you what the app is about – what does it do, why do you need it. Then he lists the feature, then more details. Finally he sells the app a bit by including the positive reviews and awards the app has received.

If Instapaper is in the "Hall of Fame" of apps, his app description should be, as well.

As for his "What's New" section, Arment goes for the bullet approach – a short list of new features or improvements, followed inevitably by "miscellaneous bug fixes."

Hearst should take note. Their update section looks like it was written by their PR agency.

This is the update information included in this morning's update for Cosmopolitan Magazine - tell me if you can spot the new features or fixes issued today:
Thank you for your feedback! We take your comments and suggestions into consideration with every update to our app, and continue to make enhancements, improve customer service, and make it easier than ever to find your favorite issues of Cosmopolitan. Please update to benefit from the lastest improvements, and please keep the feedback coming.
Well, that was informative.

Hearst is one of those major magazine companies that has decided to charge all digital readers to access issues rather than allowing current print subscribers free access. They know that this is the single biggest complaint to be found inside the App Store.

But app etiquette says the "What's New" section is for what's new. You can't put a smiley face on things and expect your readers to play along.

The Weather Channel's recently released iPad app update offers a couple of other lessons. Although many developers have their own favorite weather app, the app from the mainstream source, The Weather Channel for iPad, is a damn good app.

But the new update apparently crashes. Users inside the App Store are ripping the app savagely. Is this a continuation of the problem Apple had last week with app updates, or something caused by the developer? Who knows, but it is not that uncommon for an app update to lead to crashes. Sometimes a clean install is necessary, sometimes a new bug has been introduced.

But the first review of the app update hits on another issue: the app itself is over 100 MB in size. Now it may be the case that this app hit the 100 MB level a while ago, but keeping app sizes down is considered good form.