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Feel like an iphone app is "missing" features? Maybe you're not being notified of its updates

Note: This blog post is from 2011. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
I wanted to pass along this little surprise I had today. You may, like me, have some apps on your iphone that ARE NOT BEING updated! In other words, though you may frequently check the itunes app store app for updates and receive many for some apps, you may be getting NONE for others.

This was happening to me until today. Here's how I found out and what I did about it. Hope it may help others. (Maybe this is old news to some, but it was a surprise for me and a classic bad news/good news situation.)

Update: Problem now understood

Since posting this entry, I've learned an explanation for what I was observing (thanks to Dan Switzer and others sharing their comments below to understand it). It was a case of "new" versions of the apps being created which meant that the "old" version i had was no longer being updated, and I had simply missed news of the new app. Hope that may help someone. I leave the rest of the blog entry below in case the details may interest anyone.

How I found out

So I have a couple of iphone apps I use all the time which until today, I was annoyed that seemingly obvious annoyances/limitations were not being resolved by updates. Was no one else annoyed by these? Really? Or was the developer perhaps being lazy? I lived with them. Hey, most of the apps are free or cheap.

But then today I got an email from one vendor highlighting new app features to consider in a recent update, and I noticed that they referred to enhancements to one of the very features I wanted, but they wrote as if it was a "long-standing" feature. How could I have never seen it then?

What I did to check it out

So I wondered if perhaps somehow I was NOT getting word of updates.

I remembered how when you visit the itunes store and click on an app you already have, it says "installed". I wondered if perhaps I may find that I could in fact "install" these apps, which I already had, but which seemed to have become long in the tooth.

Sure enough, I could do so (for at least two of several I checked). And holy smokes: the apps had indeed improved quite a bit.

Wow, what a shame that I've been limping along with older versions that lacked features I'd long-wanted.

Lesson learned

So obviously it's possible for apps to somehow become disconnected from their update stream. The app names had not changed, so that's not it. I don't know what happened. (For those who may wonder, in my case the apps were Harvest--for time/expense tracking--and Tweetdeck.)

And therefore I wanted to share this with others in case it may be an issue for you.

Want to help others with this problem?

Finally, does anyone know if perhaps there's some way to automate this investigation? Maybe there's info on the phone that tracks updates, and perhaps can indicate if the connection to itunes updates has broken. I suppose that's not likely.

But maybe there's a place on the phone (or in itunes on the computer it's synced to) which lists installed apps in order of last update. That would at least help highlight which ones to focus on?

Better still, perhaps there's "an app for that" which helps identify and resolve this very problem.

If you know more about this issue, feel free to share.

Bashers not welcome

One last thing: often when I write on a subject to share a solution to a problem, some folks are compelled to use the opportunity to bash whatever it is that I found the problem with. That's really not the point here, folks.

So if you're a delighted droid user, or perhaps just an apple-hater who loves the chance to give 'em a smack, or whatever, please withhold such comments. I'm serious, and I will delete or edit any comments that ignore this warning and are only about that. Let's just focus on the problem at hand, and any helpful solutions/suggestions.

For more content like this from Charlie Arehart: Need more help with problems?
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I know for a fact w/TweetDeck, because it was a whole new version they released it as a separate new app. I remember reading something from TweetDeck when v2.0 was released that they were releasing as a completely separate version so users could test out v2.0 without replacing their current version. I suspect this is where the disconnect comes from with some apps.

Publishers have the option to release apps as a new app, that doesn't update the existing one. I've seen other publishers do this when they're releasing versions that are significantly different from prior versions.

So, I don't think this is a "bug", but as a feature some publishers choose to use when releasing versions that might be a dramatic change in behaviors.
Great point, Dan. Thanks. And to be clear, I didn't call it a "bug" but instead a "surprise". And your explanation could well be the answer. Glad I mentioned a particular app you could relate directly to prior experience.

Let's hope all this will help others who may also have missed notice of such "new versions". Again, it would seem a cool opportunity for someone to offer a solution that checked for and identified such instances.
I think it's wonderful that you share this kind of thing...slightly different but still a problem for many. Although I personally do not have an I-Phone, I use a Droid...still the problem of 'what you don't know, you don't know' exists. How can you know if you've gotten the latest update when your device 'thinks' it already has the update. Great point, Charlie. I hope someone comes up with an app for all devices that can detect latest updates. Thanks for sharing!!
# Posted By Sue George | 8/15/11 1:42 PM
Thanks, Sue, and an early happy birthday to you. :-) Hope to get to visit you and the great state of Michigan again some time.
I've seen multiple versions of a few apps that were released as new apps. It's also possible to have them installed at the same time. GoToMeeting for example, I have 2 versions installed on my iPad.

I use App Shopper for notifications because I don't check the App Store as often as I should. For apps I want to make sure I'm on top of I mark as owned and I get a notification via email and an iPad alert when it is updated. I do this for apps I "want" as well. It's a good way to keep up on sales.

Obviously that won't help the new app problem, but might help you to know when an app was updated.

ps. You have to create an account which isn't a problem but be sure your username and password don't match your iTunes account for obvious reasons.
# Posted By Travis | 8/15/11 2:07 PM
Thanks for the thoughts, Travis. Not quite the solution I seek, but a workaround that may interest some if there is no other. Appreciated.
I saw your posting at Harvest about your Harvest app apparently not being updated in your iPhone. Here's what happened. The app you downloaded a few years ago was created by an independent developer. It did not have the Expenses feature, nor other capabilities.

Several months later, given the uptake of the app, the fine folks at Harvest decided to develop their own, and subsequently published it via iTunes. It wasn't an update to the original app - it was an all-new app, with a new appID, new developerID, etc. Hence, ITMS didn't notify you nor your device of the "update". For a while there were 2 apps listed on ITMS, both named "Harvest". Eventually, the 1st-gen app was delisted.

Harvest announced the launch of the new app on their web site back in 2010.
You must have missed reading Harvest's announcement. When I read it, I downloaded the new app, tested it out, and then deleted the earlier version.

This highlights a 'feature' in ITMS - even though an app is delisted (the developer goes out of business, or just stops supporting it), any installed instances continue to work. So your 1st-gen Harvest app just kept on going and going (like the Energizer bunny). That's actually a good thing, though in your case you might have appreciated a notice informing you that the original app had been superceded by something else.
# Posted By Dave | 9/2/11 6:46 PM
Thanks, Dave. Perhaps you missed it but we did discuss that conclusion in the comments the day the entry was posted. i didn't think to go back and edit the blog post to make it more clear that we now understood what had happened.

But thanks also for the specific news on what had happened with Harvest. That makes sense.

As for the "problem", I would argue again that it would seem an opportunity for someone to create an app that compares one installed apps to look for "same-named" ones on itunes that may be different which could be just this situation, especially if it was smart enough to a) detect that your installed app had not been updated for a long time, and/or b) use some shared keywords so as to ignore same-named apps that are not really the same at all but just share a name.

For instance, I know of and have another app named Harvest, but its an app to use when buying fruits and vegetables at the market. Not the same Harvest at all. :-) If someone creates the app, I'd be happy with only a tiny cut in thanks for the idea. :-)
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