Media & Entertainment

App Release Notes Are Getting Stupid


Image Credits:

“Bug fixes.”

“Jam packed full of Super Amazing Things.”

“Every 3 weeks, we polish up the Pinterest app to make it faster and better than ever.”

“To make our app better for you, we bring updates to the App Store every 2 weeks…Every update of our Facebook app includes improvements for speed and reliability. As other new features become available, we’ll highlight those for you in the app.”

Mobile app publishers have begun to play fast and loose with their release notes, which is the area where they’re supposed to communicate the changes shipping with the most recent app update to the end users. This inattention to detail is a disservice to users, who no longer have the benefit of understanding what the updated app will now do — or not do — as the case may be.

Without details, users can’t make an informed decision about whether they want to install that update at all.

They don’t know what functionality has changed or how the user experience is being affected. They don’t know if the changes are even bad or good. For example, users wouldn’t know if a favorite feature is being pulled, or if the app has made improvements that now lets it work better with certain devices…including perhaps, theirs.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.03.20 PM

Many people today automatically update apps when new versions become available. That shift in user behavior, made possible by mobile OS enhancements, could have encouraged developers to start skimping on writing detailed release notes, as they knew the notes weren’t being read as often as before. Plus, they didn’t have to use this section to make the case as to why an update should be installed.

However, even in the case of automatic updates, it seems users should have the right to know, at the very least, whether the update includes only minor tweaks or security improvements; whether the app is adding or removing features; whether the update means the app is changing its business model (e.g. rolling out advertisements); and so on.

Will most users still download the update, knowing what’s changed? Probably. But does that mean they didn’t deserve an explanation?

Facebook’s Argument Against Detailed Release Notes

The growing trend to not disclose what’s included in an app’s update could date back to Facebook’s decision last year to roll out its updates at a quicker pace. The company said at the time that it would begin to push out new releases monthly, and its modified update text implied that users would no longer need to read these release notes as any new features would instead be flagged within the app itself.

Not everyone agreed with this strategy, though. Amid some backlash, a Facebook engineer even took the comments on a blog post to explain why Facebook made this move.

They noted that many changes are under-the-hood improvements and bug fixes; many are trivial; and that, when Facebook launches new features, they don’t release to everyone at once. In other words, if the Facebook app update text said that it was rolling out new feature X, it could actually confuse users when they didn’t see it in their own app following the update.

That being said, the “all-or-nothing” approach to writing release notes may not be the correct solution. After all, at some point, that slow-to-roll-out feature will eventually hit Facebook’s entire mobile user base – and couldn’t it be disclosed then?

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.14.42 PM

Of course, writing release notes can be one of the more tedious tasks engineers face. Maybe they seem pointless, or a waste of time. Maybe when the update is really just a collection of tiny tweaks, it would take too long to detail them. Maybe those tweaks are over the heads of the app’s non-technical user base.

But to opt-out of writing relevant release notes altogether? Shame on you, app makers.

Many Big Companies Now Gloss Over Their App’s Update Text

Facebook may have kicked off this trend, but it’s hardly the only company fudging its release notes these days.

Pinterest, too, has followed suit. And that above quote about “super amazing things” comes from Tinder, which is probably one of the more egregious recent examples.

Plus, it’s more common than ever to see notes that simply state: “Bug fixes and performance improvements,” like Yahoo, Hulu, Google, Flipboard, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and several others have done over the course of the past month alone.

It seems that once you’re a certified “big company,” having to actually detail which bugs just got squashed is no longer your job.

More importantly, the lack of detail in release notes makes a statement about what a company thinks of its user base – that their users don’t care about minor changes, so why bother? It’s that same old elitist behavior – common in the I.T. industry, in particular – which elevates technical staff above the plebeian, unimportant users.


Move!, demands a modern-day Nick Burns by way of the vague release notes. I’ll just update that app for you, don’t concern yourself with the details. 

Release Notes As Performance Art

Some developers have even started using the release notes as a place to write stories or draw pictures.

Sometimes this works, as it calls attention to a new feature or series of fixes in a clever way. For example, blogging app Medium actually pasted in the developers’ Slack conversation in the July release notes. The latest version describes a fictional phone conversation with Grandma to talk about changes to the app’s home feed.

But other times, the silliness can go awry – such as when Medium’s August 4th release included only an ASCII picture of a bug along with the comment, “FIXES.”

Meanwhile, Tumblr users applauded the humorous short story embedded in the August 17th release notes, as the best ever. But while the story, reminiscent of some of the bad fan fiction that populates Tumblr’s website, was fun to read, the release notes forgot to include a footnote about what actually changed in version 4.3.1.

Balancing Fun And Useful Information

That’s not to say that anyone having “fun” with the release notes is worthy of condemnation.

For example, the developer of star-gazing app Pocket Universe often includes a short story in the update text, too. But alongside that story, he lists informative bullet points of the changes, noting things like “supplementary star names displayed if larger star catalog activated” or “improved 3D rendering,” .

Meanwhile, team communication app Slack has mastered the balance between having fun and providing users with the information they need – which is not surprising, given how well the app itself mashes up the joy found in using consumer apps with the needs of the corporate crowd.

In Slack’s release notes, each line item is explained with a touch of humor, e.g. —

Fixed: trying to add a reaction while reactions were still loading was a chain of events simply too exciting for the app, which would crash in a tizzy. So much calmer now.

Fixed: the “Switch Teams” button will now always be at the bottom of the flexpane instead of occasionally, confusingly, maddeningly trading places with the “Invite” button. Sorry about that.”

At the end of the day, if a developer wants to have fun with the release notes, that’s up to them. But no matter what, they should still feel a responsibility to their customers to communicate what’s being installed on end users’ devices.

After all, mobile phones and tablets are often users’ primary computers these days, and the most personal technology people own. Users may still install your app when asked, but everyone has a right to know what that software update includes.

More TechCrunch

London-based fintech Vitesse has closed a $93 million Series C round of funding led by investment giant KKR.

Vitesse, a payments and treasury management platform for insurers, raises $93M to fuel US expansion

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

2 days ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses