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5 reasons for short mobile release cycles

Ayal Cohen Chief Functional Architect, HP

It's not just you—mobile release cycles are getting shorter. Many apps are updated at least once a month, and it's not unusual for apps to release an update every week.

Why update apps so frequently? Here are five big reasons:

1. App store ratings and rankings

User feedback can be swift and brutal. If you release a flawed mobile app, you can count on a near instantaneous flood of negative ratings and reviews. Even trivial mistakes such as not publishing what's new in your latest version can trigger complaints.

Bad reviews can kill a new app before it gets off the ground and can cause an established app's ranking to nosedive. A lower app store ranking reduces downloads, which in turn can lower your ranking even more. This vicious circle has an immediate effect on your business and can quickly lead to mobile oblivion.

Climbing up the app store rankings takes much longer than falling down. If you see your ranking start to drop, you need to put the brakes on right away. Therein lies the importance of short mobile release cycles: when your pipeline is set up for rapid releases, you can implement fixes quickly and confidently.

Of course, it's better to avoid problems in the first place. When you deliver frequently, each release will have a small number of changes and thus less opportunity for error.

2. New mobile devices and OS updates

Competition in the device market is fierce, and new devices are released all the time. Then there are the OS updates. Major releases may be months apart, but minor releases can come as frequently as every few days, at times without warning.

If your mobile app doesn't support the latest devices and operating systems, users will be unhappy and your app will nosedive in app store rankings. Don't go there. Shorten your mobile release cycle so you can keep up with users. (They can move fast: 50 percent of iPhone users updated to iOS 6 within two weeks of release!)

3. Respond to user behavior, especially abandonment

Once you release, you need to know how users are interacting with your app. With usage-analytics data, you can determine if users are completing an application flow from end to end or if they are abandoning it (and where).

If you find that critical flows (the ones that make you money) aren't working, you need to rethink how users interact with your app and quickly deliver a new version.

4. Test new features

You have a new feature, but you're not sure if you should release it. You don't want to miss out on the potential for user engagement, but you also don't want to risk your app ranking. How can you test user response?

Two ways you can test new features before fully releasing them are through gradual exposure and A/B testing. With gradual exposure, you provide a limited number of users with the new feature and see how they react. If all goes well, you can include the feature on the next mobile release cycle. If you discover that something went wrong, you can make a quick fix and release again.

With A/B testing, you release two versions of the app that are identical, except for the change you want to test. You can then analyze which version got a better response and quickly release that version to all users.

5. Attract top talent

You want the best developers on your team. To attract them, you need to be using the latest technologies and development methodologies.

That is particularly true for mobile development, which is on the cutting edge of software technology. Everybody is going agile and nurturing DevOps—and that means fast mobile release cycles.

Go fast or go home

You need to deliver frequently to satisfy users' insatiable appetite for new features, fix anything that goes wrong, and stay one step ahead of the competition. Users have come to expect frequent updates—and often prefer automatic updates.

If you want to keep your app store rankings high (who doesn't?), short mobile release cycles are the way to go.

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Read more articles about: App Dev & TestingAgile