All apps require ongoing maintenance to stay functional and competitive. This guide sets out four approaches to long-term app upkeep, each involving a different level of work and commitment. These are:
- (Bug) Fix
The volume of maintenance work required for each approach will vary depending on the complexity of your app and the developers you are working with..
By the end of this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of which approach suits your app best, which will put you in a good position to estimate the time and cost required.
Approach 1: Fix
All software will inevitably have bugs, no matter what preventative measures the development team takes. From crashes and navigational errors to problems with rendering, every bug should be addressed. Otherwise, users will have negative experiences.
According to Startups Magazine, a majority of app developers say that they spend at least a quarter of their time fixing bugs. This should give you some idea of the scale of the task at hand – it’s an ongoing project to keep an app working properly.
The reputational harm caused by in-app bugs can be managed through careful monitoring of your app’s performance and user feedback. In particular, we recommend creating a customer feedback loop, utilising mechanisms such as customer surveys and in-app live chat. You should also actively monitor and engage with your app’s reviews in the app store(s).
Typically, an app owner will pay their development agency a fee to support general, day-to-day bug fixes. The terms of this relationship should be set out in a service level agreement (SLA). The SLA will often provide a guarantee regarding turnaround time for any bugs raised.
Approach 2: Maintenance
Operating System updates
There are some elements of ongoing maintenance that no app can do without.
One of the most important things to keep on top of is updating the app so that it works with every new version of Apple’s iOS and/or Google’s Android OS (depending on which of these your app is compatible with).
Android has released a new OS version roughly once per year since 2018. The next iteration, Android 14 (‘Upside Down Cake’), is slated for release in Q3 2023. Meanwhile, Apple’s iOS releases have run to a similar schedule over the same time period.
Some OS updates will affect an app’s performance, whereas others might not. In any case, your development team should audit your app code every time an OS update comes around, and make changes if necessary.
Any technologies your app relies upon may be updated from time to time, and in some cases your app will require an update to accommodate the change. For instance, the cross-platform React Native framework frequently undergoes major updates. We can usually greet these updates as an opportunity to enhance the performance of the application.
Both Apple and Android are now insisting developers update their apps to certain versions of their software, in order to ensure the quality and security of the overall ecosystem. App owners who do not meet this requirement run the risk of their app being removed from the relevant stores. So, annual updates are now more commonly regarded as a requirement, rather than merely desirable.
Every app has a responsibility to its users (and the brand it represents) to operate securely. With this in mind, it’s important to carry out security audits regularly, and take action when risks are identified. The work may involve supporting the latest published security patches, and in some cases you will require the help of a third-party digital security consultant, recommended by your app development agency.
We explain this topic more thoroughly in our Guide to App Security and Data Privacy.
Approach 3: Optimisation
Whereas required maintenance keeps an app working, ongoing optimisation keeps it competitive.
This approach is built on performance monitoring. Your team needs to continuously track aspects of app performance, in order to identify areas for improvement or opportunities to capitalise on strengths. Commonly tracked performance metrics include:
- Account activations
- Average Transaction Value (ATV)
- Monthly Active Users (MAUs)
- Daily Active Users (DAUs)
- Average session length
Any app project should identify goals and targets for their usage, and the above statistics should be used to measure if traction is meeting those goals.
UX optimisation / UI optimisation
In order to keep an app fresh and up-to-date, it’s important to regularly update its user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).
A good starting point for this process is to look at your performance monitoring and identify where improvements can be made. This is often quite simple: e.g. ‘Over 50% of users drop out of the user journey when they reach the payment page. How can we improve the experience and reduce the drop-out rate?’
More simply, listen to your customers. Customer feedback (or app store reviews) will often highlight pain points with the UX or UI of an app.
Your development team should also follow current trends in UX and UI, with the aim of identifying opportunities to tweak the app from time-to-time.
An important component of this ongoing UX/UI work is accessibility optimisation, which is the implementation of standards and technologies in order to make an app more accessible to diverse users, for example checking the colour contrast of the colours you are using within your app.
Approach 4: Growth
Developing new features
A growth-oriented approach to app maintenance is ideal for app owners who want their product to be a growing asset to their business.
As well as keeping on top of routine maintenance and ongoing optimisation (everything from Approaches 2 & 3), you’ll need to continuously add more value to improve the app and grow its performance against KPIs.
Often, this means adding new features that will improve user engagement, attract new users, and potentially redefine the app’s purpose.
New feature development can happen quietly in the background while the app functions as normal. When a new feature is ready to test, it’s good practice to first deliver that feature to only a small proportion of the audience. This allows you to review the data from the test cohort, and decide whether a full rollout of the feature would improve the app and contribute towards your aims.
Such experiments are often known as A/B tests, or multivariate tests. Different versions of the app (or of a specific feature) are delivered to distinct cohorts of comparable app users, allowing for the effectiveness of each version to be compared against key performance metrics (e.g. conversions, dwell time).
Depending on the scope of new features, they can be rolled out quietly, with great fanfare, or anything in-between. Some new app features are promoted through marketing campaigns encompassing PR, advertising and more.
Choosing your approach
You will hopefully now have some idea of which approach to app maintenance is best suited to your goals for your app.
The steps we’ve outlined in ‘Approach 1: Bug fixes’ and ‘Approach 2: Maintenance’ are essential. If you’re not fulfilling those needs, the app will gradually (or suddenly) cease to work as it should and become “legacy” (no longer worth maintaining).
The steps added in ‘Approach 3: Optimisation’ are likely to be important too – especially if your app needs to retain users in a competitive market.
Meanwhile, ‘Approach 4: Growth-oriented development’ treats the app as an evolving project that will be a growing asset to your business or organisation.
So, how much maintenance would each approach involve? We suggest speaking with your developers to get a clear view. As a rule of thumb, it’s advisable to allocated a significant portion of annual budget to maintenance on an ongoing basis. This amount will vary between developers and how proactive your viewpoint is on the ongoing development of your product.
Get in touch with us today and we’ll be happy to provide an estimate for how much time you might need to cover your planned app maintenance activity, depending on your approach to maintain, optimise or grow.