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Is mobile software really this bad?

Every day, I check my iPhone to see which apps have been updated. Think of it as the latest fad in armchair spectator sports. What I see only reinforces my belief that mobile apps may look pretty, but are often scary bad under the hood.

One app’s “What’s New” section reports “corrected issue with removing previous purchase,” “improved reliability,” and “corrected other issues.” Another app reports “we may have exiled some bugs.” From the Google app, we get “bug fixes and performance improvements.” Panera Bread’s app tells me “various bug fixes.” The Starbuck’s app notes “this release contains bug fixes and enhancements throughout the app.” Shazam’s 8.6.1 update tells me “We know, we broke a few things in 8.6. For those of you who’ve been getting crashes on startup, update now and things should be back to normal.” The Walgreens app, version 5.2.2, lists specific bug fixes. Evernote’s June 12 version 7.7.7 update reports “numerous bug fixes and improvements.” Even the app that I use to measure connection speed says on its latest update, “this is primarily a bug fix release.” Was it reporting erroneous speeds?

The Facebook app notes that it delivers an update every two weeks and that “every update … includes improvements for speed and reliability.” You’ve got to wonder how much faster and more stable it can get. Or, if you’re a professional skeptic like me, you wonder how miserably slow and undependable it must have been 26 updates, or a year ago.

Apps that are downright ugly or feature unfriendly, convoluted user navigation are a different matter. We’ll save that for another blog post.

Some apps are indeed problematic enough that they merit being banished from my phone. There are apps that never got past their startup screens without crashing. There are apps there were so slow as to be incredibly annoying. And there is one app that insists I’m someone else. That’s especially disconcerting.

So what’s going on? Are mobile apps as bad as these messages suggest? Well, yes and no, according to people I talked to during the recent Cloud Computing Expo in New York. We all understand that software is never really finished. On my desktop PC, Microsoft’s “Patch Tuesday” provided updates for Windows XP for 13 years, until support finally ended in 2014. The same, apparently, is true for mobile apps, only that updates come more frequently. I’ve seen updates on one day followed by another on the very next day to repair something the first update simply broke.

Is this due to bad app design? Incomplete specs? Poor coding? Inadequate testing? A rush to get apps published? A conscious strategic effort to “fail fast” and fix? Or something else?

If you’re an app designer, developer writing code, or QA tester, you already have pretty strong feelings about this. Let’s hear them.