Auto Update

When I first installed the Twitter for Android app, I checked auto update. That apparently is not a default setting for apps on Android. I don't even know if the iPhone has an auto update feature because I don't use an iPhone. But in any case, sometime in the past ten days Twitter updated its Android app. I hadn't been paying attention and did not know that. One morning I opened Twitter on my phone, like I normally do, and the app was different and better. It was like using a  web app. New features, faster, cleaner. It was a great experience and I tweeted about it.

One of the things I love about web apps is they get better all the time without any need to update the software on the user's end. You can approximate that experience by enabling auto update on your mobile apps (at least I know you can do that on Android).

Since I had that experience with Twitter for Android, I've gone back and enabled auto update on all my Android apps. And the experience is fantastic.

I understand why this is not a default feature. If you are on an expensive mobile data plan or if you are roaming, auto updating over mobile data could be expensive. Some people might want to do all of their updating over wifi.

But I do think Android should make it an option for a user to set the default at the OS level and not at the individual app level. Because if you have a mobile data plan that allows affordable over the air auto updating, it's a materially better user experience.

Over time, with the improvments that are coming with HTML5 and improvements that will come in the mobile operating systems, mobile apps will feel more and more like web apps. Until we get there, auto updating is a great way to get that feel with downloadable software.


Comments (Archived):

  1. ErikSchwartz

    What auto update really needs is a global setting to only download when connected to wifi.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s an interesting optioni don’t care because i never use up my mobile data planbut many would love that

    2. William Mougayar

      Also needed is an Undo button, which reverses to previous Version, just in case.

      1. Dr. Gunn

        The Android updates actually have that. Look at the button called “uninstall updates” next to the install button in the market/download app.Fred – you might want to reconsider the auto-update. I have a few apps “on hold” because I’ve checked the comments about the new release before updating and seen that either they’ve poorly implemented ads in the new version, made some sweeping UI change that doesn’t work on my hardware because it expects hardware buttons, or removed some feature that I liked. In a couple cases, the subsequent release addressed the issue and I was then fine with updating, but I would have had a very bad experience had I let it autoupdate. Sometimes the apps request new features, like access to the GPS or my contacts, which I would approve for something I found valuable, but there’s no need for a sports updates app to access my contacts and the very fact that they request access is a little suspicious to me. If I had let that autoupdate, I could have let that company spam all my friends and business associates in a misuided attempt to “grow virally”.

    3. Chris Mottes

      Totally agree, my first thought when I read Fred’s blog and something I’ve been hoping would come as part of the iOS updates….

  2. Dave W Baldwin

    Agree…they need to get ducks in a row and do the update at OS level. As they get these type of issues resolved, the game will remain interesting.On the tab side, at least the PR for Samsung mentions it is not all about size regarding the screen.

  3. LIAD

    I’m not sure the reason for not having an OS level auto-update option is data plan related. I think people like to see what the update is before deciding to take it. There are lots of web apps out there where people still use outdated versions as they like the functionality or design which may have been removed from newer versions or terms which may have been grandfathered. Also lots of app upgrades are paid upgrades (at least on the iPhone). The auto-upgrade-all feature would be a killer.(iPhone doesn’t do auto-update. It notifies you on the home screen how many apps have updates available. You then need to go into the app store and accept each update manually, there is an option to update-all but you still need to do this manually from within the app store – a real ball-ache.)

    1. fredwilson

      i like the idea of a paid app where you get all the updates for someperiod for free

      1. LIAD

        from a consumer perspective I want an a-la-carte freemium model.from a developer’s, I want you as close as possible to a subscription model

  4. RichardF

    I don’t want auto update. I always switch it off on any pc or software. I’ve seen too many occasions where an update has wrecked the app or OS.The best example for me was the upgrade on iPhone from OS 3 to 4. It’s wrecked my iPhone 3G and despite a supposed patch in the latest version, it’s never been the same and Apple just don’t want to know.I’m just waiting for an Android phone (or maybe even a windows phone, which I think is a possibility) to come out that is a real competitor to the iPhone and that will be the end of my Apple experiment.

    1. Mike

      This isn’t mobile related, but the best example of what can happen when “auto-update” is the default option is the periodic windows “updates” that we non-Apple types have to deal with.If you happen to be away from your computer long enough these updates will force-close your applications and restart your computer.

      1. RichardF

        yep, it’s a pain in the ass!

      2. Chris Mottes

        Don’t get me started on that rant! Also the fact that at best you can get WinOS to delay that process, so it catches you unawares in the middle of a huge spreadsheet update….grrr…

    2. CJ

      If you can’t find a great Android phone to replace your iPhone then you either aren’t looking hard enough or really prefer the iPhone. The Nexus One is still available on Ebay and the Galaxy S and Droid lines are both pretty awesome as well.

      1. RichardF

        I do like my iPhone Malcom and if I hadn’t upgraded to 4.0 I’d be happy with it for a while yet. Your right up until now I’ve not looked hard but most of the reviews I’ve read about the Nexus and Galaxy have basically said they are ok but not serious competitors to the iPhone.I try hard not be a first adopter when it comes to gadgets, it’s tough to fight the urge !

        1. CJ

          Well what I tend to do is list what I want in a phone, then a network and see if I can find a good fit. If not, I scratch off features in each until I find a match and THEN I decide if that experience will be better than my current experience.Another thing you could try, add a line of service and get an Android phone with it. You get 30 days for a full refund which is more than enough time to decide if you like it or not and you can do this without porting your existing number so if you cancel it’s easy.

        2. andyswan

          I have an HTC Evo. It’s pretty unreal…..absolutely a serious competitor to iphone (had one)…’s bad ass.

          1. RichardF

            Thanks Andy that has only just become available here as the HTC Desire, I’ll check it out

          2. fredwilson

            a bad ass phone for a bad ass guy 🙂

    3. Entrepreneur Ideas

      You are not alone Richard. I am also on the hunt for an Android to replace my fried 3G.

    4. markslater

      second that – i am running from my Iphone in the new year.

  5. mrcai

    This is sketchy in my head..I wonder how strong the viral effect was of having to manually accept updates to Angry Brids. The guy who sat beside me in the office was also hooked. When there was an update, I’d show him the app updating, we’d giggle like little girls, people around us would ask what the commotion was about,they’d eventually buy Angry Brids.I’ve always assumed this is the rational behind the free updates, to keep the buzz alive.If the updates were silent, I don’t think you’d get so much buzz. There’s no.. “It’s Coming!” interval. It’d be like waking up to find Santa has been, without knowing he was coming. It’s still great, but…

    1. fredwilson

      i can see your point for something like gamesbut for utilities like facebook, twitter, foursquare, etc auto updateis wonderful

      1. vruz

        more stuff that will help to improve in that direction has been announced todayhttp://android-developers.b…http://android-developers.b

      2. Seth B

        Does privacy and what these social network services might do with your data ever worry you? I wonder if auto-update will allow bigger services to pass updates that provide them a level of data control that you might not like. Just wondering.

  6. Scott Barnett

    I guess I really need to switch to an Android device… I have a Blackberry and I go out of my way to turn off auto-update – it slows down my phone horribly and for some reason my connection is very slow, and anything that uses the data plan (like Seismic) just kills my battery, I can lose a fully charged phone by 2pm, easily. I’m curious what your battery life is like – do you carry a spare battery and how often to you need it?

    1. fredwilson

      the gotham gal carries a charger in her pursei carry a spare if i am not going to be in my office or home for morethan 12 hours

      1. kenberger

        My strategy when I’m at a conference all day (like I am today at rubyconf in new orleans):go to Android settings, accounts & synchronization, turn off background data & auto-sync. Then just manually refresh your mail now and then. The phone will then easily last well past late night.PS: I’m carrying a new demo Epic 4G (Sprint). Network speed, screen (amoled), and device performance are incredible. T-Mobile has a similar model, not sure if it’s 4g yet.

  7. andyswan

    I like the auto-update, I just wish they’d also send me a message (email) letting me know what happened and what the changes were.BTW, anyone who is on Wordfued for droid…. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! My username is andyswan….let’s scrabble!

    1. Mike

      Great suggestion, but a simple push notification when I open the app up would suffice for me. The last thing I need is 20 more emails from the app store listing the new color patterns that Angry Birds just rolled out.

      1. andyswan

        Good point. Email was a bad idea…..just let me know what’s up

  8. William Mougayar

    Twitter announced this improved Android app a few of days ago:…But it appears to be a catch-up to what already existed in the iPhone app months ago.So, that’s not good for Android. 1-0 on that one.

  9. ShanaC

    There are pluses and minuses to this approach- what if you get a really great app and have it fill with bloat over time? App gets hacked and you download a worm during an update? Your phone gets fried because it’s an older phone and the new app just requires too much?When I hear this, I keep thinking of rootkits and Sony’s fix.OTOH- lots of people forget Patch Wednesday….

  10. Mark Essel

    Amen to auto updates, and many other features of web apps. But local functionality is a nice touch of CouchDB/apps for snappy response and when disconnected.Why do we love them so much? Because they do what we want and then get out of our way. The greatest tech transitions to invisible. Thanks to Kevin Kelly for teaching me that.That’s not to say technology can’t be art. Aesthetically pleasing form and design make using tech much more pleasing. But no matter how pretty the giant box old TVs came in, it’s hard to fault new thinner LCDs. They’re converging on invisible (high quality projectors).

  11. Brennan Knotts

    I’m reading this post wondering why I’ve never seen this feature. I’ve certainly been begging for some sort of “update all” on my Droid Eris since I’ve had more than 4 apps on it.And then I do a quick search and oh, it’s only on Android 2.2. My hardware is still on 2.1.I hope Google isn’t lying when they try to convince us that fragmentation won’t be as much of a problem when the OS matures and there are less frequent, significant updates.

  12. OurielOhayon

    Fred, this works on 1 condition > the user has to be aware of what’s new and developers have to make it obvious1. what are the bugs that have been fixed (specially if they were obvious)2. what new features are introduced (specially if they are really unprecedented)3. what improvements on current features have been broughtI am in particular always happy to hear about and this is why i think non auto update can be useful. If turned off the deveoper has to turn on a single welcome popup/overlay to explain those above (very important for games)

  13. Kevin Stecko

    Updates on my android are the one thing that I feel very dissatisfied about. I have some applications that I don’t use very often, but I am constantly being prodded to update them because the developer changed some minor thing that never affected me in the first place. My wife is much less of a geek than me and I’ll see that she totally ignores the update prompts on her phone. Those prompts being at the top of the phone all the time drive me crazy.I would prefer having two classes of app updates at the OS level. For the apps you trust and always want the latest and greatest have auto update. For all others have updates managed like they are now except only remind me once a month (or whatever set timeframe I choose) that I need to look at them.

  14. Tereza

    Off topic but I want to do a shout-out to any Vets reading today, given that it’s Veteran’s Day:Thank you for your service.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      For anyone who’s interested in donating to a good cause, this is sort of the military equivalent of Donor’s Choose: Spirit of America.

  15. Jason Crawford

    Good points, Fred. iPhone does not have auto-update, although the App Store gets a badge (number in a red circle) when you have updates available. But you have to pull them manually and even re-enter your iTunes password (!) each time.You say that over time, “mobile apps will feel more and more like web apps”. Yes–but eventually, mobile apps will just *be* web apps. 37signals is working on a webapp framework specifically for mobile clients, even including an offline mode:…From the perspective of someone who has been working on mobile apps since before the App Store existed, I think that this or something like it is the future of mobile apps.

  16. vruz

    I think the more important functionality you mention though, is the web-likeness.You can’t get easy and timely auto-updates pushed by the develpers for certain other platforms, from their tightly curated stores.I think that web-likeness is a very strong point that shouldn’t be underestimated.It’s actually quite simple for Google to post a message in the notification tray every time an update is about to be installed, that’d be really all it takes.

    1. fredwilson

      yup, that’s really the point i am making”web likeness” is one of the most important things in mobile apps

  17. Jeff Cain

    I’m a huge fan of auto-updates but a bigger concern in the future is data plan caps. Apps and sites are becoming heavier in size so unless mobile carriers increase caps as the years go by people may need to be conscious of what is being downloaded. Some app updates on my iPhone weigh in close to 20 mb so multiply that by other apps on your phone, it adds up.

  18. HowieG

    Fred the Twitter App from Twitter is awesome. I got my Droid2 in August and even stopped using my IPod when jogging so I can take pictures and post along my route. And like the new update even more. I was not aware there was a way to have updates load automatically vs seeing the little notice pop up or the fact there could be charges involved for the extra data flow. I am on verizon and am pretty sure its unlimited while within the network (should be considering my monthly bill!) I am going to check it out. I do agree many apps are becoming web like. Huff Post, NY Times etc are almost like the big screen.The only problem with android is I can’t as far as I know put any music from itunes on my phone. At least I haven’t found a away yet.

    1. fredwilson

      i use doubletwist on my laptop and my androidit’s not itunes but it works

  19. paramendra

    We need to get “there!” You are a free speech bigot, I am a browser bigot.

  20. Todd Cullen

    I wish there was another update option on Android: “Auto-update over wifi”. Giving you the best of both worlds – save your data plan bandwidth – keep your apps update to date.Totally agree on the web-iness concept. Always wondered why mobile devices didn’t go the path of Google Gears and allow websites to install on the users system. Gears had a nifty mechanism for caching resources that allowed web apps to be run online/offline AND stay up to date.