The guys at http://android.a0soft.com/ have a new Android application called aTrackDog. The stated purpose of the application is to help you make sure that you have the latest version of each third-party application installed on your phone. Basically, the application sends information about the installed version of your application to the a0soft.com servers. The servers then see if any user has a more recently version number and notifies all other users of their software that there is a more recent release.
aTrackDog has a MAJOR design flaw: if a beta user who is also an aTrackDog user has a beta version of your application on their phone – ALL aTrackDog users get an alert indicating they are running an out of date version of the software despite the fact that they have the most recent public release. Starting on Friday we began getting emails from aTrackDog users who complained that they could not download the latest release of our software. Our current version is 3.0.0, but aTrackDog showed that our most recent version was 3.0.5 (an internal alpha version). We DO have a public beta running at 3.0.4, but the most recent public/stable release (i.e. the one in the Market) is 3.0.0. aTrackDog is listing 3.0.5 as our latest release so each aTrackDog user receives an alert that they need to update their version of ShopSavvy. Our users are becoming more and more frustrated as their emails reveal.
Rylan exchanged several emails with ‘Gasolin’ at the company who makes aTrackDog who suggested that we need ask our beta users to click ‘Not Track this version’ in the aTrackDog settings. Rylan tried to explain that we have no control over what our beta users do or do not do. If a single beta user fails to select ‘Not Track this version’ in the aTrackDog settings ALL aTrackDog users will get a notice that they are missing an update and the emails will start again. Ug! IMHO: This is a design flaw.
Rylan finally explained to Gasolin in the forth or fifth email exchange, “I think your method of version tracking is very clever. You managed to let your users’ phones do the difficult data-collection for you. Unfortunately your strategy is not 100%, it’s not sustainable. When there are 10,000 applications in the Market and half of them are releasing private versions how will you handle the flood of support emails and admin emails coming your way? I recommend that you change your model such that it includes some sort of review process first. When a new version is submitted to your database, before you notify the world, you should go verify its existence first. This would include either finding it in the Market or updating the URL for manual download.”
Rylan is much more reserved than I would have been. Here are the two biggest problems with aTrackDog IMHO:
a. Any decent application (most that we have seen in the Market, including ShopSavvy) has their own simple version checking system. With fewer than ten lines of code the application developer can have your own application check to see if there is an update and allow for a quick, single click update. Why would you need a third-party application to do this for you?
b. The REAL purpose of the aTrackDog is to gain market intelligence – i.e. how many users are running which applications. This data is VERY valuable, are they paying you for this data? My advice? Uninstall the application as it isn’t useful and will likely cause confusion. Otherwise, suggest they FIX the beta-bug in their process.