Published on 22 August 2017 | 3 minute read Bug fixes and performance improvements
On my iPhone, I don't have automatic updates turned on. I'm that guy that likes to read the release notes. Or, at least, I was.
Release notes used to be interesting. They'd tell you what the developers had been up to. What features they were adding, or removing. But the most important thing they brought was the ability to make an informed decision. They gave you the chance to decide whether you actually wanted to install it.
Companies such as Slack and Monzo have fun with their release notes. They're proud to show you the new features they've been working hard on. But these two companies are becoming part of a minority. A small group of companies that actually bother to write anything.
Today, the App Store is full of lazy release notes, and this is a huge disservice to users. The most alarming thing is the tech giants that should be leading by example are the worst offenders.
Here are some examples:
Facebook: Thanks for using Facebook! To make our app better for you, we bring updates to the App Store regularly. Every update of our Facebook app includes improvements for speed and reliability. As new features become available, we'll highlight those for you in the app.
Instagram: Bug fixes and performance improvements.
Twitter: A few minor updates to make twitter an even better place.
WhatsApp: Bug fixes.
Spotify: We're always making changes and improving Spotify. To make sure you don't miss a thing, just keep your updates turned on.
YouTube: Fixed bugs, improved performance and included a compatibility update just for you. <3
Netflix: Bug fixes.
Google Drive: Performance improvements and bug fixes.
Gmail: Bug fixes and performance improvements.
LinkedIn: General bug fixes and performance improvements.
Kindle: Bug fixes and performance improvements.
From those examples, I can't see a single piece of information that's useful. They could have added anything to the app and I'd have no way of knowing.
The thing is, we know companies like Facebook are not always ethical. We know a huge amount of their revenue comes from tracking and data gathering. So when companies like this are rolling out updates every other week, it makes you wonder what they've been up to. How much stuff are they sneaking in under the hood that you might not sign up to given the choice?
On the iPhone, there's a setting that allows apps to update themselves as soon as there's one available. Because of this, you could argue that nobody reads the release notes anyway. Why waste an hour of a developers time to write a few bullet points? Right?
The problem with this way of thinking is that it excludes the people that do read them. When it comes to release notes you only have two user groups. Those that read them, and those that don't.
As designers and developers, we need to always be designing for the edge case. In doing so we will make the experience better for everybody.
If you create software that people install on their devices, at least have the decency to tell them what it does. The only reason not to be transparent is if you're doing something sinister. And if this is the case, your users should have the right to opt out.