An Interface Refresh Can Revitalize Existing Features

Refreshing an interface feels new, even when it does nothing that actually is new.


The Strategic Brief:
Applications are not always brand new. We all use many applications that have been in use for years, perhaps decades. For mobile applications, refreshing the interface is a requirement, rather than a nice to have. If you are lucky, it will be delivered by updates to the underlying OS at little development cost (e.g. notifications in iOS 10). If unlucky, matching your interface to the esthetic of an OS may require you to redesign your app from the ground up. If done well, redesign can be more than refreshing for customers, it can be reengaging.


Refreshing an application interface can reenergize your users
In kicking the tires of iOS 10, there are clear changes in experience for existing features. A noticeable one is notifications. Notifications still do what they always did – an application calls an API to let the owner know a piece of information by displaying it on the lock screen. It is still notifying .. but it looks like a new feature.
I reacted viscerally and immediately to the new notification style. It feels like a new feature. It makes me want to pay attention to the notifications more often and more deeply. I am re-engaged with notifications. It feels new, though it does nothing that actually is new.
See the before and after shots from Politico below.
before

iOS 9 Notifications

after

iOS 10 Notifications

The design, coding, testing and quality assurance around refreshing an interface costs money. It can even cost more than adding a new feature. If the user interface code is not isolated within the application code, a refresh can involve changes to a significant number of modules.

Public Betas are a two-edged sword

In the above example, Apple invested even further by offering a public beta as well. A beta means your feature receives significant testing before general availability. A public beta also introduces risk. If early reactions are negative, the release’s reputation is sullied. This uncertainty is mitigated by the ability to address problems before the product is released. Coordinating and supporting all the people involved in a public beta is an additional expense for a refresh.

Is refreshing an interface a good or bad idea?

Like everything in technology, the answer is .. “it depends”. If you are lucky, you may get a free refresh. In iOS10 – your code calls the same API but the underlying operating system gives the result a refreshed appearance. The display looks different, as in the Notifications example above.(1) Sometimes, the operating system or framework will force a refresh on you.If it changes it’s navigation esthetic, you may have to redesign your app from the ground up to match. Users expect consistency in their experience.

Making happier customers

If your goal is to improve the user experience, you will need usage details from your customers. If you have enough specifics to understand how your customers use the feature today, you stand a good chance of reworking the interface to optimize the common tasks. If you are not tracking usage, then an interface refresh is more likely to be an egotistical exercise of how your developers think it should be used.

Refreshing an interface may elongate an aging product’s lifespan

A young application grows by adding more features. Eventually the application matures and may not need more features. To keep the revenue alive, product managers will still want further releases. The good news is that every year the industry identifies new and more efficient navigation techniques. Adding these into an aging product is a valuable way to revitalize the product, and give yourself an additional version to release.


1. Though a little cheeky, you could try to claim this as an application refresh.