How to Update Your App and When to Go Back to the Drawing Board

March 4, 2016

Do you remember when we talked about how to know when it’s time to update your app? In that post, we drove home an obvious but commonly overlooked aspect of app management: the need for continuous improvement.

Well, now it’s been awhile since you cracked a champagne bottle on the side of your shiny, new app and you have established that your app needs an major update. Something has to change. But is it time to reboot the app completely or refurbish it? And how do you figure this out? We’re glad you asked.


You have smelled the code and it smells like refactoring and the changes needed for the UX can be made incrementally. Phew, no need to scrap the app then.

The steps you need to take will be informed by the signs that drove you toward updating in the first place. You have gathered user feedback, taken note of a changing zeitgeist, explored competitive advantage, gotten wind of upcoming hardware changes for your mobile devices, and groomed your code for bugs. This should give you an idea of which areas you need to focus on.

And if your update is driven by bug-fixes, be frank about it. In your release notes, let your users know what you fixed but don’t focus on it any more than is necessary.


Is it time to build a completely new app? Let’s not be too hasty but here are some things you should ask yourself.

Has your app become too hard to maintain?

Although we are proponents of agile thinking here at Intellectsoft, it is wise to invest in robust coding from the get-go and minimize the need for costly changes later on. Strong code should ideally allow you to upgrade your app on a component-by-component basis over time. That way you anticipate future changes by building for change.

That being said, developers may wish to revisit initial technical decisions after living with the product and getting to know it better in practise. You’re a little older and a little wiser and perhaps a few things weren’t as polished as they could have been. But extracting components from a large and complex code base may not be worth the effort. As always, keep a watchful eye on the sunk cost fallacy and know when to cut your losses.

Has your app technology become obsolete?

It is possible that your app technology is no longer supported by a vendor or no longer up-to-date with software development best practices. If we are looking at an older app, there’s a good chance that better programming tools and methods have appeared that can smooth out the application development process and deliver higher-quality results. This can mean it’s time to consider scrapping the old app.

Can you afford it?

Unfortunately, rebuilding an app isn’t free. It will require two teams: one to build the new software and one to maintain the old software. This requirement may live on for some time before you can retire support for the first app completely. So you should have a clear cost-benefit analysis in your hands before making the step, understanding the outcome you wish to achieve and what it will cost you to get to that point. That being said, here is one potential offset to consider: if you update your app, development costs will need to come from new consumers, whereas with paid apps the re-release of the app will require a new purchase. This new purchase can, at least in theory, pay for development.

Are your users willing to pay for a whole new app?

If your app relies on paying users, then asking them to pay for an entirely new app is a substantial request. Even for a free app you may expect a drop-off. Be prepared to make a strong case for the added features of the app as many users are likely to be resistant to the idea of paying again for something they may consider to be the same product. One way around it is to offer the app for free for a limited period, so that existing users can upgrade for free. Then again, never underestimate the new hat syndrome.

image of waste container reading "scrap" in stencil


Whether it’s a major update or a complete overhaul, you should view this as an opportunity for improvement. Not only are you bringing a better product to the market, with tighter code and a contemporary design, but you have a chance to explore new venues of monetization.

You can use the update to test a new hypothesis on your user base (A/B testing) and you can change your advertising tactics (shorter ads featuring “attention-grabbing” elements) and use of IAPs (tailoring IAPs to become contextually relevant for your users). You can also optimize your conversion funnel. After all, there is only so much you can do to expose and educate people about your app in the external world and this is your chance to streamline the process from install to retention. It’s a chance to really put that user feedback into practice and proactively predict user desires.

Take advantage of new gadgets and hardware features to make sure your app “plays well with others.”  In 2015, that may have meant adapting for 3D Touch, adding capabilities tailored to the Samsung Edge screen, or creating an Apple Watch Extension.

In 2016, game developers may wish to consider the capabilities of Vulkan API. Other things to consider include:

1) Emphasizing video tutorials over text

2) Prioritizing voice input and scanning over manual input

3) Building for contextual and location awareness

4) Offering video streaming capabilities

5) Mobile App Personalization, such as enabling push notifications sent to specific user segments


Once your app is ready for release, you may want to consider a test run. Release it to a segment of your user base, such as a select geographic area, and see how your users like the changes. Use that feedback to adapt before making the update available to all users. This is especially important if the update is spurred by bugs in your app – you don’t want to add insult to injury. The App Store and Google Play both offer phased releases.

By taking advantage of the opportunities presented in updating or reinventing your mobile application, you are well on your way to developing a serious competitive advantage