Google needs better app quality control

Quick apology and improvement of buggy Gmail app for iOS devices help retain customer trust, insiders say, but an analyst adds Google needs better app testing and to provide consistent user experience.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Google's swift apology following the launch of its buggy Gmail app for Apple's iOS platform and its subsequent relaunch of the app two weeks later have helped it to retain consumer trust, said observers. However, an analyst and users urged the Web giant to improve its app testing process and provide more consistent user experience.

The new Gmail app for iOS devices was first introduced on Nov. 3 but it was yanked from Apple's App Store a few hours later due to a bug, which broke notifications and displayed an error message. Google issued a tweet later that day saying: " The iOS app we launched today contained a bug with notifications. We have pulled the app to fix the problem. Sorry we messed up."

The Internet giant relaunched the app on Nov. 17, with Matthew Izatt, a product manager at Google, stating that it has fixed the bug and notifications are working.

Apology right thing to do
Commenting on this, Phil Hassey, owner of research firm CapioIT, said in his e-mail that Google did the right thing in apologizing.

"It would have drawn additional undue attention and potentially created a monster particularly if 'anti-Google people decided to make it go viral. IT would lose much more trust and integrity if it Google tried to cover up or ignore the issue," he explained.

Jayesh Easwanamony, vice president of Frost & Sullivan's ICT practice, agreed that Google had done its best in this situation by "coming clean".

That said, the analyst called on the Web giant to ensure trust in the entire app development process by ensuring adequate testing and designing with a more consistent user experience in mind before launching an app.

Easwanamony added that consumers generally have patience with free apps or those still in beta phase, but because Gmail is a popular service, people would have higher expectations of Google-created apps.

Quizzed, a Google spokesperson declined to comment directly on the questions ZDNet Asia posed. Instead, he said: "We are always listening to feedback from our users, and the Gmail app for iOS is no exception. This is just the beginning and we will be iterating rapidly to bring more features to the app, like improved notifications and mobile specific signatures."

Users ZDNet Asia spoke to expressed mixed reactions regarding Google's actions during this incident.

Student Shawn Lee said what the company did was pretty impressive and good for its image. "Large organizations hardly admit their mistakes and apologize unless it is a 'big thing'. By doing so, Google showed its humble side and further differentiates the company from Apple." On the other hand, another Google user Justin Lee said it did not matter whether Google was honest in coming clean, but that it released an app without making sure the software had no bugs. "That itself is embarrassing for its image and doesn't work for me," he said.

App still not up to standard
Others have also been left less-than-impressed with the quality of the revamped Gmail app, according to user reviews posted on the app's iTunes store page.

One user, Xquizts, said he "can't believe this is the official Gmail app" as it did not support multiple e-mail accounts while another, Bluelooney_94, pointed out that the app did not offer push e-mail support.

"This is really what most users who download this app wanted--we thought it would have push support. There is completely no point in creating an app like this which does exactly the same thing as the native mail app," Bluelooney_94 said.

Easwanamony said that even as Google is trying to evolve its offerings by creating apps for mobile devices, "extreme care" should be taken to ensure a consistent user experience.

This is because mobile apps are a major source of productivity for consumers, so the user experience is crucial, he said.

He reiterated that Google needs to spend sufficient time testing its apps for the experience and security as well as set expectations for the app right before the launch. For instance, if the app is not completely ready, it will be better to call it a beta version, he explained.

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