Six Reasons Your App Needs Release Notes

Including release notes for your app is good for business – and, more importantly, not including release notes is bad for business. Here’s why:

Release notes improve reviews

People often read reviews to decide whether they will use your app or service.  Several prominent, respected, quality services (including Uber and Dropbox) started to include their release process (“we release updates regularly”) as their release notes.  Their app review scores plummeted to 2 stars (Dropbox) and 1.5 Stars (Uber) on the App Store. Their apps are fine, their service is fine. The ratings plummeted right after they stopped including release notes. Why?

Think about it: Release notes are in the same place in the App Store as reviews, and reviews reset with each update. So, the people who write reviews are largely the same ones that read release notes. You may say, “apps auto-update and nobody reads release notes”. Think again – power users read release notes. No release notes, no reviews (or negative reviews) from your power users. That means your primary source of reviews is people who want to complain about your app or who are less likely to know how to use it.

Dropbox started including release notes again in January – the app’s now up to 2.5 stars; it’s hard to recover lost users.

Release notes build trust

Release notes tell users what you’re doing, and what you’re installing on their device with each update.  “Bug fixes and improvements” is vague but acceptable.  “We release updates regularly” is evasive and insulting.  Of course you release updates regularly, but what are the updates? 

Good release notes communicate to users that you respect them and want to communicate what you’re installing on their devices.

Non-release notes communicate the opposite: you don’t respect them and don’t care if they know what you’re installing on their devices or not.

Interrupting users is a bad user experience

Apps that don’t include release notes tend to announce new features by opening a screen that requires the user to read and/or dismiss it before using the updated app.  When a user runs your app, they’re trying to do something; That is not the right time to share your new features. What is the right time is when they’re reading through their app updates to see what’s new.

Releasing frequently wastes time

A suite of well-known apps states in their release notes, “we release updates weekly”. Why? You’re not releasing anything important enough for release notes, yet it takes the App Store’s reviewer’s time to check your update, it takes user’s bandwidth and time to download the update, and it takes your power users’ time to read “we release updates weekly” every week.

Release notes improve sales

I’m a power user. People ask me for help and recommendations. Apps that have release notes, especially clever ones, I remember and like more than apps that don’t tell me what they’re updating.  (If they don’t tell me what they’re updating, I assume they’re updating something they don’t want me to know about, or that their development process is so sloppy that they just don’t know what’s in each update).  As a result, I’m far more likely to recommend an app with release notes and to inversely recommend against an app that doesn’t have release notes.

Release notes increase user engagement

Power users, if not all users, read release notes periodically.  These all appear in a convenient list in the Updates section of the App Store (on iOS, not sure about Android).  If users read something interesting in the release notes from an app they haven’t used or have forgotten about, they may open the app to see what’s new.

Conversely, as I’ve written about before, users are likely to delete an app if they’re not using it extensively and see vague statements like “we update our app regularly” as the release notes.

The dominion of grass

Mankind likes cutting down trees to replace with grass

I live in an area in which new neighborhoods are being added rapidly, and I’ve realized something: humans are controlled by grass.

I personally like trees, but I see all around me, and around the world, that it’s clear: mankind is driven to cut down trees and plant grass.

Must… plant… grass…

I have no theories or explanations as to why – just the realization that mankind was probably created by grass to secure its dominion over the Earth.

If I were setting up an online store

There would be no cart. Clicking a “buy” button would queue the item for purchase, prompting for billing/shipping info if needed, only once.

Shipping would be free, and would be 2-day shipping. Shipping is a cost of business, just like paying rent for a storefront.

That’s it. Shopping should be simple.

Multi-Version Media format

Make living music albums. Make movies that don’t always end the same way.

The multi-version media format is a simple, cross-platform package file format that allows developers to write audio/video applications in which the media being played (eg a song or movie) can be a different version with each play. See the Amber G. App (iOS only) for the first such player (for which I developed the format 🙂 ).

Each media file (e.g. an MP3, M4A, MP4 or MOV file) is replaced by a specially-formatted directory containing multiple versions of the same piece of media (eg multiple live versions of a song, versions of a movie with alternate endings or extended scenes).

Format

  • <media name>.mvm
    • media_list.json
    • <file version>.<extension>
    • <file version>.<extension>
    • <file version>.<extension>
    • ...

Example for the song “Alive” by Amber Griis:

  • Alive.mvm
    • media_list.json
    • Alive.mp3
    • Alive live drums.m4a
    • Alive crazy rock drummer.mp3

media_list.json

This file contains a specially-formatted JSON object that describes the contents of the directory.

[ 
    { "Name" : "Alive", "File Type": "mp3" },
    { "Name" : "Alive live drums", "File Type" : "m4a" },
    { "Name" : "Alive crazy rock drummer", "File Type" : "mp3" } 
]

Playlist.json

This file sits at the root level of the directory in which your .mvm folders sit and simply contains a list (an array), in the order in which they should appear in a playlist, of the names of the folders in your player.

Example:

[ "Alive", "Fly", "Be In Love" ]

Note that this means your folder names must match what you want displayed. This is intentional to provide simplicity by convention.

My new “app doesn’t have release notes” procedure

I like reading release notes, as I’ve mentioned before, because I like to know what’s been updated. Some app developers have decided to include “we update our app regularly”, as though that’s informative. So, here’s my simple process for when I see that:

  • Do I really really need the app?
    • No: Delete
    • Yes:
      • Leave 1-star review stating app/service is great, but no release notes.
      • Email support, ask what’s new in the latest version, e.g.:

        I was really curious to see what’s been updated for iOS 10, in particular if there’s Siri integration. The release notes said “We update the app as often as possible to make it faster and more reliable for you…”, which is the same thing it’s said since June 27.So, what are the new features? Does Uber work with Siri yet?