Sunday, October 12, 2014 [Tweets] [Favorites]

BBEdit Leaving the Mac App Store

Jason Snell:

On Saturday Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software gave a presentation in which he announced that the next version of BBEdit would not be sold in the Mac App Store. (The existing version will remain, and existing Mac App Store customers can upgrade to the next version directly with Bare Bones.)

Siegel’s talk was notable for its restraint and care. This was not a scorched-earth denouncement of the Mac App Store. […] But, of course, all of these frustrations were cumulative. And, Siegel said, many of those frustrations occur at the very end of the development cycle, when the final code is being shipped and the marketing plan is being executed. He likened it to Max Q, the aeronautical term for the period of maximum atmospheric stress on a flying vehicle.

See also: Mark Pavlidis, Scott Morrison, Jason Snell, Marko Karppinen, Paul Haddad.

Update (2014-10-13): Federico Viticci:

The departure of BBEdit from the Mac App Store is yet another example of the platform’s limitations and it’s sad, but it’s probably for the best and everything will be okay. The Mac App Store isn’t meant for apps like TextExpander or BBEdit, and Apple doesn’t seem to be willing to change its underlying nature.

Joe Rosensteel:

The decay of the Mac App Store over the last few years is pretty subtle. Developers are not leaving en masse, all at once. One by one, as new updates are being developed, they weigh the pros and cons for them, and their customers, and they pull out.

Just look at the main page of the store’s app and you’ll see bric-á-brac. of apps. They’re showcasing the Twitter Mac app right now. Yes, hey everyone, drop everything and check out this crazy thing called Twitter! The best part is the little bit of text. “New Features Added” — A.K.A. We totally don’t care about marketing at this point.

Update (2014-10-14): Milen Dzhumerov (comments):

The Mac App Store was released in January 2011 and it marked the beginning of a great new distribution channel. Even though it lacked some bells and whistles, the developer community was hopeful the problems would be addressed in due course. Unfortunately, it has been years and there’s no evidence that the core issues would be addressed in the future, at all. When notable developers are abandoning your platform, cannot do the right thing for their customers and are delaying their MAS submission, something is very, very broken. I believe that the inaction is harmful to the whole Mac community, affecting consumers and developers alike.

Let me make it absolutely clear why I’m writing this. First and foremost, it’s because I deeply care about the Mac platform and its future, it pains me to see developers abandoning it. The Mac App Store can be so much better, it can sustain businesses and foster an ecosystem that values and rewards innovation and high quality software. But if you talk to developers behind the scenes or explore the Mac App Store, you’ll find something completely different.

Kirk McElhearn:

I’ve heard similar stories from lots of other developers. The entire process – from submission to approval – is fraught with difficulties, with seemingly arbitrary rules that are applied at random. […] This is especially problematic for small developers, who only have one or two people to do all the work, and end up wasting far too much time on problems that shouldn’t exist.

Update (2014-10-15): John Gruber:

The one that gets me, and which seems under-remarked-upon, is how Apple’s own apps in the App Store are exempt from sandbox restrictions. Third-party apps are never on equal footing with Apple’s, but with sandboxing, it’s almost absurd.

Update (2014-10-16): Myke Hurley and Jason Snell discuss BBEdit and the Mac App Store.

Update (2014-10-17): Drew McCormack offers a contrary take. I’ve never understood his aversion to trials, using words such as “ransom” and “blackmail”; why he is so concerned that upgrades couldn’t “inject” releases when that isn’t possible now, anyway; or why he thinks Apple is providing sandbox exceptions, when the abandoned and withdrawn apps tell a different story. Of course, it would be nice if Apple dropped its cut to 15%, but I doubt that would make most developer’s top five list of changes they want to see.

Update (2014-10-30): Michael Grothaus:

Eliminating a popular distribution channel seems like an odd move for any developer, but Realmac is just the latest Mac dev to hold off releasing their apps on the Mac App Store. Bare Bones Software recently decided not to release BBEdit 11 on the MAS and Panic Software has opted not to sell its popular Coda app on the MAS any longer.

Just what is going on? Many major Mac developers say the Mac App Store is in need of changes to make it truly worthwhile for developers to sell their apps there. Here’s what three of them told me what Apple needs to do to fix things.

Update (2014-11-21): Jared Newman interviewed myself, Milen Dzhumerov, and James Thomson for an article in Fast Company.

Update (2014-11-24): Luc Vandal:

There are so many reliability and stability issues with both OSes that at some point we cannot trust them anymore and that’s a shame because these new features are truly great.

Update (2015-01-06): The video of Siegel’s talk is now available.

20 Comments

Most of Apple's stores suck if what you want is the virtual equivalent of a marketplace.

Apple's gone after Appshopper for being too much like the app store when AS has been vital for me keeping track of a wishlist which notifies me of updates and pricing changes.

I'm fatigued by IAP and the necessity, in some cases, to purchase the same content twice when there's a Mac and iOS version.

Developer bundles are a step in the right direction but in typical Apple tradition they are limited (no iPhone/iPad bundles).

While technology and digital is supposed to free us from the shackles of physical products distribution we still have a mindset that wants to balkanize and constrain everything.

Apple waxes on about how innovation in their DNA while ignoring the incredible opportunity to create mini-platforms within their ecosystem and focus on power and simplicity. Let's hope they're thinking about this.

It's been said before, but probably bears repeating: Apple would prefer all Mac software (except perhaps its own) to be free. This would give them a great competitive advantage over Windows.

Of course, they know that developers need SOME revenue to survive. But by disallowing reduced-price upgrades, they make users buy the same software over and over. Developers acknowledge the unfairness of this to users, so they try to compensate by setting the prices of their software as low as possible. Result: a race to the bottom. See paragraph 1.

One more for your list: my Dejal Simon app can not support sandboxing, and the Mac App Store editions are already several versions behind the full one, so will be removed as of the next update. I do want to continue supporting the App Store for my more consumer apps, though. See http://go.dejal.com/mas for details.

More than one commentator on this meme has talked about balance, and yet almost all of the points raised by critics are critical only of the MAS (notwithstanding generic disclaimers regarding the general value of the MAS). The party without a voice in the debate is the user. Users do not have a platform to express their issues and an echo chamber to magnify them. And it is naive to think that app developers, however good they are as individuals, are looking out for the interests of the customer; or that the "free market” will ensure that.

The phrase "race to the bottom" also describes BBEdit uncannily well. I'm sure the dozen or so septaugenarian DeBabelizer Pro fans still paying for this thing will figure out a way to get your money to you somehow so you can go on building Web* sites like it's 1997.

I'm not a developer, but as an avid app consumer I cannot stress enough how important the App Store is to end users from a convenience point of view.

After my iMac's hard drive crashed on me recently, it was a delight to just be able to redownload all the software I had purchased. Compare that to digging through years worth of e-mail, hunting for serial keys and hoping they hadn't been lost in the restore process. And then hunting for the correct app versions all over the interweb, because of course for most of them I didn't have access rights to the most recent versions.

This is what makes these stories double sad, and I sincerely hope Apple gets its act together sooner than later.

We've been with MAS from day one, and currently have more than 20 apps in the App Store. What is blatantly obvious to us is that Apple regards MAS simply as a tool for selling hardware. As a developer, that is almost palpable: You must Sandbox your app, you must not use some arbitrary words in your description, your app can be rejected for seemingly arbitrary reasons.
But even when your app has been accepted, you are in for a lot of frustration: you can't respond (not even privately, although apple could easily act as a mediator to keep the customer's identity private) to bad reviews. You can't charge for upgrades. No bundles (yet) for MacOS. No free trials. No rebate coupons. And a permanent frustration: the MAS 'Featured' page. It seems that the same handful of developers are featured over and over again, but nobody knows how these developers/apps are selected. The other way to get to the front page is by downloads, so it's extremely tempting to give away your software: a gamble that almost never works for the developer but now has left the customer with the impression that good software must be free.

And don't get me started on MAS reporting. It's almost impossible to get accurate, updated, fine-grained sales data for your own apps. You can take the available reports, consolidate them manually - but still have no idea how to interpret them because what you don't get is market numbers: How many apps were sold in the same category, price segment etc. Nothing. We'd even pay for this information, as it is incredibly important to know if your app sales have gone down by themselves or if the whole market went down (the responses to these situations would be diametrically opposed, so it is crucial information). We are mostly flying blind when it comes to steering our product portfolio on MAS.

The really sad fact is that most of these issues have been long-standing and are relatively easy to resolve: MAS sales data are available internally, just not to us. Mediating response to reviews is trivial to implement. Less ham-fisted response to Sandbox requests (if you are looking for a *really* bad time, try to apply for a Sandbox entitlement) is something that should be in Apple's own interest if they were in any way interested in quality apps - Sandbox itself is a good thing it it wasn't handled so badly. Bundles are now available for iOS but not MAS. Charging for upgrades is trivial to implement for Apple.

Now, MAS does generate a significant portion of our income. It pains us to see that Apple is taking 30% of our revenues, but treats us like beggars in return. It's not so much that we resent the revenue share, but the way how we are treated, and suggest obvious improvements that are never implemented.

-ch

[…] The issue is nuanced and can be as complex as you want it to be; there are many more blog posts out there that do a far better job of giving context and recommendations of change such as this one here (a must-read for the Mac Developer) and this one too. […]

I wrote some thoughts from my very small and humble perspective as an indie developer: http://blog.desk.pm/indie/

Thanks for this great post and all the links!

[…] It was only a few days ago when Michail Tsai announced BBEdit is leaving the Mac App […]

Ravi, what you missed is that the users' interest align with developers' interests.

Users want the dev to stay around for a long time. Sustainable pricing is the way to do that.

Users want to be rewarded when a new version comes out. Upgrade pricing is the way to do that. In fact, it's been shown that customers are happier paying $50 for an upgrade to a $100 product, than if the the price was just $40 (or even less) and new versions cost the same $40 over and over again. They're saving money, but not being rewarded.

Sure, users want everything cheap and free, but that's not in their best interests.

Without devs, users aren't happy - their interests align.

Ravi: There are a number of small indie developers for Mac that have an excellent record för customer care beyond what one could expect. Not saying they're all that good, but surprisingly many.

[…] The issue is nuanced and can be as complex as you want it to be; there are many more blog posts out there that do a far better job of giving context and recommendations of change such as this one here (a must-read for the Mac Developer) and this one too. […]

Jimmy, Adrian, thank you for the response(s). Indeed there are good indie developers out there with an excellent customer care record. And in an ideal world there interests are aligned with mine i.e., the happier I am with their product the greater their chance of making more money (I didn't miss this point, but perhaps I was too terse in summarising it as "free market"). But in the real world this doesn't always need to hold for a developer to do well. The user suffers from both limited information and selective information. For instance, the MAS itself plays favourites with apps by featuring them in various ways. Tech bloggers promote the products of their friends and those they personally admire or relate to, without that necessarily impacting the loyalty of their readers. The way users gain a voice is typically through aggregation. For better or worse that occurs today via the MAS.

As a consumer I have pretty much stopped buying software from the MAS, unless it is a small one-trick pony piece of software. Any other programs I have went back to buying straight from the developers and other than a little bit of convenience with upgrades and installation I haven't missed it.

The MAS is like too many other Apple services, released and forgotten. I lump it in with iTunes Match. Released with a few bugs. Years later the same bugs that were there upon release are still there. Apple makes great hardware, but for the most part their software and services leave a lot to be desired, with the rare exception.

[…] BBedit verlässt den App Store […]

[…] in limbo when he pulled the plug on the Mac App Store version. This is the sort of Max Q issue that Rich Siegel was talking about last month. The Mac App Store is supposed to make it easier for customers to keep […]

[…] See also: BBEdit Leaving the Mac App Store. […]

[…] After several days and failed attempts, it appears that the right people at Apple are now aware of the problem with my app. Meanwhile, I am fortunate to be able to issue customers licenses to the direct sale version so that they can actually use the app that they paid for. I’m confident that my app download will eventually be fixed, but the important point is that problems like these remain common so many years after the store’s launch. Instead of releases becoming routine, there always seems to be a new frustration. […]

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