Picture the creative meeting where this was decided. A few people around a conference table, half-empty coffee cups, a few post-it notes. "Let's see, what would The User want to do..." Silence. After a while, from the other side of the table, "Well... it would be... ehhh.. some users might... like to... ehm...shut down the, ehm, quit." "Ah, excellent! Let's write that down on the whiteboard!" "Anything else?"
This example aside, maybe it's not such a bad thing that applications step it down a little. While it's natural that an application wants to tell the user as soon as possible that, "Hey! Guess what, there's a new version of me out!", the problem is that with all the apps you have on your computer, it's just too much distractive shouting going on all the time from a lot of different places.
If I open up Word, I do so because I either want to write something down or read a document. Unless there's a minor crisis (let's say an earthquake) I DO NOT want Office Update to take focus away from the document that's forming in my head and inform me of "critical update #1.6.28343".
Similarly, if I open up say VLC, especially while giving a talk, I do so because I want to show my audience a lovely little video clip, not give them the breaking news that version 2.1.5 has improved the reliability of MKV and MAD file playback.
Mindlessly checking for an update the first thing you do when the user opens up the application is just bad, thoughtless design. You open an application because you want to do something with it, right now. There are so many more ways in which an update could be done in a nicer, more humane way that doesn't get in the way of the user's intent.
A simple solution would be to gather the information and download the update in the background. Then just hold off the notification until the user either decides to quit the application or becomes idle. Or update it automatically in the background. Or, let the OS handle it if that's an option. Apple knew about this problem as well, that's why they implemented the App Store and the Notification Center. That's all pretty great, but then again some of the most notorious apps aren't using that. Looking at you, Microsoft and Adobe.
If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see that VLC comes with a solution to this which isn't without finesse. Clicking that small (and offset) check-box, you can chose to automatically download and install updates in the future (given that you then click 'Install Update'). That's actually a pretty elegant design idea.
Yet, there are two problems with this approach. First, I doubt a lot of people actually notice this potential. With this kind of interface, you get drawn to the "install update" button. Or, if you're in fact giving a presentation, you just click whatever button you can as fast as possible to get this annoying window out of sight. A more general concern with automatic updates, second, is that new isn't always better. If an app goes from say version 1.4.23 to 2.0, it may actually be wise to stick with the old version for a while and let them figure out the bugs before you update. Or you simply don't like the new look and feel. Or, which is getting increasingly common, version 2.0 really means the same functionality as version 1 but now with ads all over the place.
So when it comes to software updates, I'm leaning more and more towards update-as-you-quit as the more humane approach, with minor, bug fix updates automatically installed in the background.
In light of this, maybe SoundTouch's approach could be seen as the humble beginnings of an entirely new breed of interfaces, "apologetic interfaces", characterized by low self esteem and by being aware of their propensity to annoy.
"I'm so sorry for wasting your precious time and valuable screen real estate, Dear User, but before we part I would like to let you know that there is a new me for you. No pressure, just letting you know."
Come to think of it, too much of that could become annoying as well.