A recent analysis by Lufthansa Innovation Hub looked at the 10 leading airline carriers and determined the frequency with which they released a new version of their app. They conclude that faster release cycles allows developers to more rapidly improve and add features, indicating an app development team that is well integrated with the other departments.

I want to take this a step further by exploring the connection between release cycles and app ratings, while also highlighting further benefits of faster update cycles. My hypothesis is that companies with shorter timespans between updates are more customer-centric and that this customer-centricity is reflected in an app’s rating.

Shared mobility app landscape

For the analysis I’ve reviewed 7 apps that offer short-term vehicle rental in Berlin. This is an industry that continues to be highly competitive (beyond Berlin) and that is mobile only. To increase comparability, the apps in focus require the customer to have a driver’s license and to operate the vehicle. Subsequently, ride hailing apps (e.g. BerlKönig, MyTaxi, Uber, etc.) and bike sharing apps (e.g. JUMP bikes, LIDL-bike, nextbike, LimeBike, etc.) are excluded.

Days between app updates

Days between app updates for mobility apps

When looking at the frequency with which these apps are updated, the above chart shows us that the update frequency varies considerably, with only two apps releasing more often than monthly. While it doesn’t differentiate between small updates and larger releases, it’s interesting to see such variance. The chart alone doesn’t provide evidence that frequent updates are better than less frequent ones though.

Including the app’s rating

Days between app updates for mobility apps including their average app rating

When we include the average rating of these apps across iOS and Android, a couple interesting insights emerge: The three apps with a longest time between updates also have the three worst ratings. The app with the most frequent updates also has the highest rating.
Just a coincidence? The correlation coefficient is -0,77, so while it doesn’t indicate a strong relationship and the sample size is small, it indicates a relationship nonetheless.

The benefits of frequent updates

Why do frequent updates seem to matter then? Keeping the customer front of mind, I would split the benefits into three categories: Fixes, Frictions, and Features.

Fixes

  • From app crashes that annoy users to more general usability issues, more frequency updates means bugs are fixed more quickly and users don’t have to live with them as long. When users identify a new bug that is addressed within a short period of time, it demonstrates that their feedback is valued and acted upon.

Frictions

  • All apps have some sort of funnel. Regardless of whether it’s a sign-up flow, a purchase, or finishing an in-game tutorial, some users will drop-off along the way. More frequent updates allow for more opportunities to test and improve the funnel iteratively.

Features

  • When adding new features or making changes to existing ones, smaller, more frequent modifications are easier for users to learn and accept. This approach allows for a consistent user experience, while still adding functionalities.

When addressing these three categories through frequent updates, users experience an app that is consistent, fixes bugs quickly, and adds/refines features in a manner that doesn’t fundamentally change the way they’re used to using the app.

Practical Implications

App development shouldn’t happen in isolation and in a manner that just works toward major feature releases. Increasing the frequency of updates means that developers are working toward smaller goals. It gives teams the ability to include customer feedback that is both explicit (e.g. from reviews) and implicit (based on user behavior, retention, funnel drop-offs). Moreover, it allows teams to prioritize frequently and more easily, based on the situation at hand.

Keep in mind that in many market segments, users aren’t locked in after initially choosing a service and loyalty has little benefit to the them. Shared mobility is one of these services, where users are agnostic in their selection and factors such as vehicle proximity are key.

Nevertheless, the vast amount of providers means that users’ switching costs are extremely low and after they’ve churned it becomes increasingly difficult to win them back. A seamless app experience that stays current and listens to user feedback can therefore become a differentiator in a crowded market and increase user affinity over time.