App Store Effects on Software Engineering Practices

Reviewed by Greg Wilson / 2021-10-30
Keywords: App Store, Development Practices

I once heard an athletics coach say, "If you change the ball, you have to change the game." What she meant was that you can't play football with a tennis ball or vice versa, and something similar is proving true in software engineering. Once enough people have reliable high-bandwidth connections, chat tools and package repositories become feasible, and development practices inevitably change in response.

AlSubaihin2021 looks at the influence one innovation—app stores—are having on how developers work. The biggest impact is on requirements and design: most developers look in app stores to gauge the feasibility of their idea and for UI design ideas, and are most influenced by user reviews and screenshots. Later in the cycle, problem reports on the app store have significant impact on bug prioritization, and the ability to send update notifications through the app store enables more rapid release cycles.

One thing I wish the paper had included was a discussion of how app stores are changing the way that developers think about the ethics of data collection. The authors report that:

…[a]pp permissions are a worrying factor during development as importing unnecessary APIs might bloat the permissions list thus making an app less desirable. Furthermore, during the construction phase, developers settle on tracking strategy in order to implant tracking code within the app.

but as far as I can see, there was nothing about looking at existing apps to figure out how little data could be collected or how it could be anonymized. We recently started tracking traffic to this site using Plausible, an open-source, privacy-first metrics tool, so an empirical analysis of how the growth of app stores is affecting how developers think about surveillance would be a great extension to Al-Subaihin et al's work.

AlSubaihin2021 Afnan A. Al-Subaihin, Federica Sarro, Sue Black, Licia Capra, and Mark Harman: "App Store Effects on Software Engineering Practices". IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, 47(2), 2021, 10.1109/tse.2019.2891715.

In this paper, we study the app store as a phenomenon from the developers' perspective to investigate the extent to which app stores affect software engineering tasks. Through developer interviews and questionnaires, we uncover findings that highlight and quantify the effects of three high-level app store themes: bridging the gap between developers and users, increasing market transparency and affecting mobile release management. Our findings have implications for testing, requirements engineering and mining software repositories research fields. These findings can help guide future research in supporting mobile app developers through a deeper understanding of the app store-developer interaction.