This week, Facebook released a slew of updates for its iOS app and its Facebook and Facebook Messenger apps for Android. The company also announced we can expect to see updates every 4-8 weeks for each of its mobile products, including Facebook for iOS and Android, Camera, and Messenger. As VentureBeat's Jolie O'Dell points out, releasing new versions "early and often" aligns with Facebook's hacker ethic but it's a departure from the company's previous approach to mobile upgrades, which had caused its 543 million mobile users to grumble and groan about slow updates to its famous clunker of an app.
Why the newfound focus on speed? Facebook engineer Christian Legnitto, who oversees mobile releases, writes that the company has shifted away from a features-driven strategy that used to require a time-consuming obsession with perfection before each release.
"Great updates we had already finished sometimes took longer to get into people's hands because we often had to wait for additions and tweaks that threw us off schedule," Legnitto writes. Because you can't release gradually mobile updates to just a few thousand people at a time the way you can on a website, he continues, the stakes are much higher to make sure mobile updates are near-flawless before they ship, because a bug that causes an entire app to crash is going to spark way more user vitriol than one that merely slows down a website.
Still, the need to get a product release out quickly, rather than perfectly, is a growing trend for companies, one that's perhaps driven by our own mobile behavior: No matter how high-quality the improvements, we're no longer content with product updates if they're only rolling out once every few months. We want better features and better performance, and we want them now.
Vevo, which yesterday rolled out redesigns of its music video and artists pages, is also speeding up its release schedule from once every two months to once a week, Vevo's product development SVP Michael Cerda told GigaOM. Cerda says the most valuable lesson he's learned is "not to overbuild product," which has led him to focus instead on more frequent, incremental improvements. To maintain quality, Cerda pulls in the entire company to help test releases before they roll out publicly to Vevo users.
Even Apple, best know for baking, glazing, frosting, testing, re-baking, packaging, and promoting precious goodies before putting them in the hands of rabid fans, seems to have rushed Apple Maps, pushing out the Google Maps replacement with iOS 6 while it still had notable flaws. (For unknowing iOS 6 upgraders, check out our handy survival guide.) Apple has since offered its most un-Apple, Google-like comment to date, stating, "We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get."
If that's right, and considering the record speed at which millions of iPhone users are upgrading to iOS 6 (with 17% of iPhone users upgrading in the first 24 hours), it's probably fair to also say that Apple won't have to worry too long about Mappocalypse. But it's the most unlikely example in the slew of companies building fast at the risk of right.
[Flickr image: _kaway_]