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Google marks its iOS apps as “outdated” after two months of neglect



The current state of Google's iOS app setup.
Enlarge / The current state of Google’s iOS app setup.

Aurich Lawson

Google’s major iOS apps have seen serious neglect in recent months. On December 8, Apple’s App Store began requiring all apps to display privacy “nutrition labels”

; in the app store listing, where developers themselves report what data an app uses for tracking and how that data relates to a user. Coincidentally, many of Google’s apps, especially the most popular ones, have not been updated since December 8th.

The situation has gotten so bad that Google’s servers short flag own iOS apps as “outdated.” As detailed by Techmeme editor Spencer Dailey, Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Maps were taken on iOS to display a server-side popup message to users who said, “You should update this app. The version you are using does not include the latest the security features to keep you protected. Only proceed if you understand the risks. “Actually Google, you should update this app. Thanks to Google’s sudden lack of interest in iOS app updates, the messages showed up even when users had the latest, two-month-old updates to those Google apps. The messages have since been removed through a server update.

Presumably this was an automatic alert that appears when Google’s app updates hit a certain age and are meant to catch people who have not been in the App Store for a while. Google probably chose a time frame (about two months) that they thought would never pass without sending some sort of app update. Now, for some mysterious reason, this period has passed, and Google’s servers briefly accused Google’s app developers of putting users “at risk.”

The theory that Google has stopped iOS app updates as a result of the new privacy tag has been around for about a month now. Back in early January, Google had some probable denials. The company’s annual freeze-code freeze had just thawed, and with COVID and all the changes from home, it’s understandable that perhaps productivity was down. On January 5, TechCrunch reported that “a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company has a plan to add privacy labels to the entire app directory” and that “the labels are expected to start rolling out as soon as this week or next week.” On January 12, this was repeated in an official blog post.

It’s a month later now, and while some Google apps have since been updated with app privacy labels, most of the most popular apps have still not been updated. YouTube, which has its own CEO and is mostly run as a separate company, is the most popular app with privacy labels, but the other heavy hitters like Gmail, Google Maps, Search, Chrome, Drive, Photos, Keep and Duo have it all has been frozen since the privacy requirements were launched.

How bad have Google’s iOS updates been?

Thanks to online app version stories, we can dig through a good deal of data on Google’s iOS app freeze this year. The App Store has an official version history for the past year, and Archive.org will provide us with a comparative copy of last year’s iOS updates. Since Google’s iOS and Android apps are extremely similar, we’ll also compare how Android updates have rolled out over the same time period (via APKMirror’s version history), which will help correct for any COVID – related work from home difficulties.

It’s pretty clear that Google’s iOS productivity has flattened over the last two months. Gmail was last updated on iOS on December 1st, but the Android version of Gmail has received four updates since then: December 10th, January 19th, February 2nd and February 9th. During the same period last year, the holiday code for Gmail on iOS freezes ended on January 13, with four updates arriving before February 11, 2020. The same story applies to Google Maps: the iOS version was frozen on December 1, while the Android version (not including beta releases!) has had nine updates between then and now.

So many Google apps are for us to make a big table. These are updates since December 8 (the date of enforcement of Apple’s privacy labels) according to the sources cited. These figures show iOS app updates from December 8, 2020 to February 11, 2021, iOS app updates from the same period a year ago, and Android updates from December 8, 2020 to February 11, 2021. We do not count Android beta versions, though it would double some of these Android release numbers.

App updates
since 12/8
iOS
(this year)
iOS
(last year)
Android
(this year)
Gmail 0 5 4
Google Maps 0 6 9
Google search 0 5 27
Chrome (stable) 0 2 6
Google Drive 0 9 8
google Docs 0 5 9
Google Sheets 0 6 8
Google Photos 0 9 16
Google Keep 0 4 8
Google Duo 0 5 6
Google Home 0 3 3

Quite a few of these apps (Drive, Docs, Sheets, Keep, Duo) were updated on December 7, the very last day to get in app updates before the new privacy requirements, which does not look good.

We asked Google if it has any comment on the “outdated” event, and why iOS app updates take so long. We will update this article if the company responds.


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