What’s behind the iOS app update crashes?


Updated. While many of us in the U.S. were scarfing barbecued chicken and burgers and taking in fireworks displays, some iOS developers began receiving loads of complaints and bad reviews about recently updated apps suddenly crashing upon launch. While it seems the issue appears to have been resolved, Apple has yet to explain or clue their developers in on the issue. And that’s an even bigger problem.

The issue appears to have surfaced on July 3 and may  have affected software downloaded from the iOS App Store as well as the Mac App Store. Instapaper developer Marco Arment took to his blog and Twitter on Wednesday to identify the problem and the cause he’d pinpointed: “a seemingly corrupt update being distributed by the App Store in many or possibly all regions.” The developer behind Ukraine-based Readdle says their team saw the issue as soon as the update to its Scanner Pro 4 app hit the App Store, and most of the complaints were coming from users in the U.S. and U.K. Still, Readdle CEO Igor Zhadanov told me he estimates that “thousands” of his users got a corrupted app update.

Arment has a list of the 40+ apps he’s heard about that experienced the problem. Apple didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.

Updates for apps going out now are working fine as of Thursday, and the user complaints have largely stopped. Unfortunately, the entire episode isn’t completely resolved for the affected app makers. They’re the ones that have to deal with their customers.

When something goes wrong with an app download it affects developers in two ways. They can lose customers: If people stop playing a game or using an app because it’s broken or unreliable there’s likelihood they’ll move on to another app. And with a 650,000-strong App Store, there’s plenty to choose from. It can also lose them future customers: Without knowing that there’s a technical problem with the App Store itself, users are leaving bad reviews for these affected apps. Many developers are pleading with customers to understand this problem first before posting a bad review. Realistically, that’s a largely useless request as many people blindly accept app updates on their devices and don’t necessarily read their appmaker’s Twitter feed or blog.

In the larger context of the App Store ecosystem, incidents like this one, small as it may seem, poke holes in the idea that the App Store is completely reliable and safer than competitors’ app marketplaces. Apple sells its App Store as a clean, well-lighted space for reliable, virus- and crash-free applications that everyone should feel safe downloading. As Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller put it in a Businessweek interview in 2009, Apple polices its app stores and vets each app because it affects the company’s overall image:

“We’ve built a store for the most part people can trust. You and your family and friends can download applications from the store, and for the most part they do what you’d expect, and they get onto your phone and you get billed appropriately, and it all just works.”

It’s just as important for developers to feel like they and their apps are being well-represented by Apple’s brand as it is for customers to feel no hesitation that they’re downloading reliable software. With Google Play, on the other hand, Google takes a much more hands-off approach to what appears on its Android app store, which makes it more vulnerable overall than Apple’s store.

Schiller hedged a bit in that statement: a store people can trust “for the most part,” apps do what you’d expect “for the most part.” And that’s understandable. Obviously things can go wrong, and Apple isn’t perfect. Apple isn’t known for being forthcoming when it comes to security issues, as it’s shown us time and time again. But after almost three days without a word, developers and their customers do deserve an explanation.

Update: The problem appears to be ongoing. Some app makers say they’re still getting complaints from customers about new app updates crashing.

Update 2: Developers say they have started to hear about the issue from Apple. According to TechCrunch, some developers reported getting emails from Apple, while others have spotted a brief statement in Apple’s own developer forums that says, “We are aware of the issue related to apps crashing after update. We are currently working on resolving the issue. Stay tuned for updates.”

Update 3: Apple says the bug is now resolved.


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