News & Views

Opinion / The Writing on the Wall

by Nick Parish

Who reads App Store update text, anyway? Well, Nick Parish, editorial director, Americas does. And he thinks it’s a symptom of something important.

There’s the fine print, the legalese and the app permissions, and the fine-fine print, the little comments nestled into the code, but between those there’s a semi-fine print, and that microcopy does a lot of duty in the app economy.

If you aren’t the type of maniac who hands off the keys entirely and lets all your apps update automatically you’ve probably seen it, your attention drawn to the barking notifications that you have some insistent number of tiny software updates to perform. Once you tap the insistent circle, then there it is, a list of apps, some your daily drivers, some infrequently used, many totally forgotten. They’ve all been upgraded by their creators, made better (or in many cases just less shitty) and ready to install on your phone or tablet.

The words in question, if you’ve never seen them, sit to the side of the app’s icon, and if there were enough bug fixes, or the scribe was prolific enough, you can pull down for more. They’re the text that accompanies new versions in the App Store.

Who cares? The vast majority of users of App X probably don’t, but if consider Uber’s dour, relentless tone:


You've gotta hit 'em with the repetitive message! Probably the brainchild of a 'growth hacker' who is spreading seeds of soulless optimization over the joyful task of marketing.

Now, let’s look at Lyft.

Lighter, right?

Here’s another, for Slack, a Contagious favorite:

or Yelp:

or Dark Sky:

The app store update is a chance to reach a very few specific subset of users – those who really care, and use the app a lot, maybe even depend on it for their livelihood – with a joyful message: ‘We’re making this better for you!’ These are the core customers, the most important one, and even though this may be seen as a niche play (it is) keeping that niche happy and engaged is important in order to have it translate into mass success.

Imagine if your brand’s product had a mellow hotline to its biggest enthusiasts to let them know when their experience was going to be smoother, faster, and with cooler features, or just to say ‘we’re listening’.

Here’s the big question: What nooks and crannies of your brand – no matter how niche – are carrying messages that aren’t being looked after? We’re thinking a lot about the breadth of brand experience for Now / Next / Why and I’m currently intrigued by the idea of a total brand experience audit, the entire vastness assembled, damn the epistemological complexity, into a portrait a la Joyce’s Dublin, which, as he told painter Frank Budgen, was so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.

Well then, let’s not get too carried away. Of course this is impossible. Back to app copy. If you have an app, who’s writing this stuff? What are they writing? It might be managed by your agency, or your agency’s production company or tech partner. Odder are it’s the folks who are writing the code and doing the work, not the middle-men.

And I bet if you look you’ll find the updates are joyful and playful, enriching and fun if you have a vibrant, robust app. But, I bet, if your app is like many branded apps, derelict, version-unaware, decaying, a ghost town, they’ll be businesslike and glum.

This isn’t meant to press on app updates as a channel, or make you call a meeting about it. But, like the first annual bulbs that will soon begin to poke their shoots above the soil, or the way the stillness of dusk sets in after a long day, it’s a sign of something beautiful and excellent.

When we choose to spend our marketing dollars on communicating via exquisitely-crafted services versus buying ad space and a license to shout (at increasing disinterested audiences) there’s a paradigm shift that’s perfected in these updates: no longer is it just a one-and-done. You’re making something alive. Keeping up with users, responding to their complaints and fixing the errors in your software is part of the experience.

So here’s to those on the front lines of this constantly-moving set of goals and how they choose to share their product news with us.

Got a favorite piece of app microcopy? Share it! Email and I’ll add it here in a rogue’s gallery.