How to handle a failed app update on iTunes

Todd Moore updates his iOS app and then learns there was a critical bug in the upgrade. Here's his advice for what to do in this situation.

If you've been publishing apps for a while, you probably have done an upgrade that you wish you could take back. This recently happened to me after doing a major update to my popular White Noise Lite app. My app has tons of active users who usually leave extremely positive reviews when given new features. This all changed when my upgrade contained a critical bug that resulted in what only can be described as hell on earth.

iOS 7 has the nice feature of auto-updating apps, and it clearly works, as I've never seen the app upgraded so quickly. One of the new features I added was a Report Problem button that would directly email support with vitals such as device and an app log file -- it turned out it was great timing to add this feature. My failed upgrade was rolling out to users at an alarming rate, and the emails started pouring in.


What could I do? Updating the app would have taken at least a week to get reviewed, approved, and released. I couldn't afford wait it out as the negative reviews piled up. Here's everything I did in response to the failed upgrade, and what I recommend you do as well if you're in a similar situation:

  1. Notified users of the problem and assured them that it was getting fixed ASAP;
  2. Took the app off the store temporarily to stop users from upgrading; and
  3. Posted a fixed version and requested an expedited review of my application.

1: Notify your users

I had a number of ways to notify users: a web view in the application that displays information and news, an in-app notification that I can tweak based on the current running version, emails from customers, user support forums, and social media. All of this helps a little, but honestly, so many users just go straight to leaving a one-star review without checking with you. It's painful.

2: Pull the app from the store

If things are really bad, you might consider pulling the app from the App Store. You can do this by logging in to iTunes Connect and setting a future publish date for your app listing. This will completely remove the app for sale, and the upgrade will no longer be available. This is a decision you should make as quickly as possible. I wish I had done this as soon as the problem was reported.


3: Request an expedited review

An expedited review can get your app update approved much faster than the regular review process. It takes a couple of days for your request to be reviewed and, if approved, your app goes into review almost immediately. You should use this option sparingly, but in my case, it was required because it affected all of my users. I was able to get the update reviewed and approved in three days using an expedited review.


App Store ranking

The scariest part of this entire process was wondering how the App Store ranking would be affected from delisting my app. After a few nail biting days, White Noise Lite eventually returned to the ranking it was prior to delisting it.


Two iTunes wish list features

App bugs will always exist despite our best efforts to test on multiple devices and iOS versions. I hope iTunes will eventually add a Panic or an Undo button that would roll back users to the previous app version. (I've requested this feature to the iTunes Connect staff, so my fingers are crossed that one day the hell upgrade will become easier to resolve.) Another great feature would be to allow an update to slowly roll out instead of upgrading everyone at the same time. These two features would be highly welcomed, especially when releasing major app updates.

Until these features become available, the expedited review is your best solution.