The concept of perpetual beta is to have a software which never leaves the development life cycle, allowing developers to release frequent updates and new features(which have not been tested) to its users. This is similar to Raymond’s idea of “release early, release often” where he made a point on continual software development and improvement focusing on listening to customer feedbacks.
But why release an application that is not entirely ready into the market? The reason is simple: to let developers have a rough gauge of the market’s excitement towards their new creation in the form of early feedback(critical feedback would really improve the application prior to release) and establish a footprint in what they feel, is a rapidly growing market with potential to succeed. WhatsApp is an example that fits the pattern of perpetual beta.
WhatsApp is a cross-platform mobile messenger that allows you to send and exchange messages (like your usual SMS) using your current data plan(over the 3G network). It means that texting your friends and family would be free of charge as long as the amount of “bytes” used to send messages is within the limit of data which you have suscribed from your telco. WhatsApp is downloadable on Android Market, Apple Store, Nokia Ovi Store and BlackBerry App World.
- Exchange text messages
- Send images/audio files
- Add/Remove friends
- Integration with your phone book: Automatically searches for friends(their phone numbers) who uses WhatsApp and adds them to your friend list.
- Group chat of up to 5 users (user limit will be increased in future versions) from WhatsApp version 2.6 onwards.
Some best practices and concepts of perpetual beta can be found in WhatsApp. For example, WhatsApp developers follows that “release early, release often: ethos by updating the software regularly whether its due to bug fixing or adding of new features like group chat in version 2.6. I am a frequent user of WhatsApp myself and the updates seem to be never ending because my smartphone is always prompting me to upgrade the software version almost every week. There were occasions where WhatsApp did not work properly (bugs) in some of the newly released smartphones and they had to release quick fixes to patch up the software.
WhatsApp also engages its users as co-developers and real time-testers by monitoring user feedbacks and bug reports through their “Send logs” function. Users simply need to touch the button and they will be prompted to send a mail or log (text file) to WhatsApp with real time device information and location data recorded as part of the log. If there is a bug issue or a feature that they would like to see in WhatsApp, they can convey this message to the developers easily. Over the years, WhatsApp has been very popular among smart phone users because it “listens” to users to improve the product, making the application user-centric.
Video of WhatsApp running on the iPhone