Apple and App Updates that go belly up

Where’s the undo button?

One of the major crises in the life of a smartphone owner is an app update which kills a much used app.

There was a time when this wasn’t an issue on an iPhone. You just synced your phone with your comp before any update, and made sure to ask iTunes to do a ‘transfer purchases.’ This would back up all apps on the phone. So if an update did go feet up, all you had to do was delete the updated app from your phone, and restore the older app version from iTunes.

The function that does not function

The function still exists in iTunes. But it just doesn’t work. So why was it disabled?

Apple claims to have done this because of the ‘app thinning’ function. In plain English, that means each Apple device has an optimised version of the app, instead of one common version for all Apple devices.

I’m not sure why Apple still keeps a function in iTunes that doesn’t work. It could be because it may still work in older versions of iOS. Whatever the reason, it’s causing me a lot of heartache.

Take what happened with my Netgear Genie app. The app allows me to turn off a guest wifi network on my Netgear router with a couple of clicks. Just perfect when you have a teen who can be Instagramming 24/7. In fact, I had purchased the Netgear router just for this, even though I already had a functional router.

And then Netgear updated its app.

The app now refuses to login claiming my router is not supported. Which isn’t true as the list of supported routers listed my WNR614 model. I did figure out a way to make the app work. Delete the app, and reinstall it. But the app only works once, before reverting to its uncooperative self. It’s a pain to do this every time I wanted to turn on or turn off a guest network.

A quick look at the app’s reviews on iTunes showed that I wasn’t the only one suffering the update blues on this app.

Are there are workarounds to sort this app update issue? Yes, but they are not practical. Like you can download the app via iTunes on your comp, and have a backup version. But I have a hundred odd apps on my phone, and how am I to know the Netgear genie app is going to botch its update?

The other workaround is to back up your whole phone. This lets you restore the whole phone. The issue is that if you restore your phone, you lose whatever you have done on your phone, post that backup.

It’s not like Apple doesn’t know about app fiascos. Their initial roll out of the Apple Maps app was a major PR disaster. Apple learnt from this, and ever since has been cautious. iOS beta releases are now given out to the public for testing, months before the official release.

Unfortunately, Apple seems to be expecting third party apps to come out with perfect updates, every time. Expecting developers to hold to a standard that Apple itself cannot keep, is not really fair.

Netgear Genie is not my first app with a dysfunctional update, and it won’t be the last. My banking app, State Bank Anywhere, crashes every time, after I updated. My fitness tracker’s companion app, Mi Fit, used to be another culprit.

All said and done, there needs to be a fix for this. Apple is washing its hands off the issue, and blaming it on the developers. That’s not on, as the only loser in all this is the customer.

Like the App Store could have an option to download the previous version of every app. Of course, this would be a catastrophe for those sneaky developers who turn an ad-free app into ad-infested app without warning. But not having this option has been a disaster for ordinary people like me.

What we need is a solution that’s a win-win for developer and customer.

Over to you, Apple.


Update: Netgear Genie released an update, Version 2.4.34 that sorted out the login problem. But ‘Apps with update issues’ is still a problem that needs a solution from Apple.

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