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.

“We update our app regularly” = delete

I read app release notes because I like to see what an app’s capable of doing. I’ve noticed that some apps have gotten lazy recently and just put something like “we update our app regularly”. When I see that, if I’m not actively using the app, I delete it. If I am actively using the app (I’m looking at you, Dropbox and Facebook), I try to think of other apps I could use instead (e.g. OneDrive, Google Drive, and heck, “nothing” sounds like a good Facebook replacement). See, I feel insulted that they want to just shove new code over my Internet connection onto my device when their changes aren’t even important enough to include in a text file they push to iTunes Connect. So, developers, if your release process is so agile that you release updates regularly, then track what you’re releasing and add it to the notes. Otherwise, I think your release process is crap and I’ll delete your app to keep said crap off my devices. 

Update 7/6/16: The Dropbox app is currently rated 2 of 5 stars in the App Store, despite being a great sync service and listed in The App Store’s “essentials” list. Why? No release notes. 


Oh, and I did delete Facebook (I highly recommend doing so), and switched from Dropbox to iCloud Drive.