Archive for July 26, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who at the Table is an Indie iOS Developer?

Brent Simmons:

There are a ton of Mac and iOS developers in the Seattle area — and almost all the iOS developers are making money either via a paycheck (they have a job) or through contracting.

The only local indie iOS-only developer I could think of was me — and even that won’t be true for much longer, as we’re working on Vesper for Mac.


[…] indie developers — people who make all or most of their money via products they create and sell — are fairly rare these days. Most of the local developers I know work at Omni, Black Pixel, or Apple or do contracting.

See also the responses from Rich Siegel, Ole Begemann, James Thomson, David Barnard, and Daniel Jalkut.

Update (2014-07-28): Brent Simmons:

But with how prices have fallen — how people are now accustomed to not paying anything until they’re hopelessly addicted and need the $4.99 packet of imaginary things that will get them to the next level — I can’t recommend to anybody that they quit their job to just write their own iOS apps.

Update (2014-07-29): Marco Arment:

The app market is becoming a mature, developed industry, with vastly increased commoditization compared to its early days. Competition is ubiquitous, relentless, and often shameless, even in categories that were previously under-the-radar niches. Standing out requires more effort than ever, yet profits are harder to come by than ever.

Full-time iOS indie developers — people who make the majority of their income from sales of their apps, rather than consulting or other related work — are increasingly rare. I thought Brent Simmons would get flooded with counterexamples when he proposed that there are very few, but he didn’t.

Update (2014-07-31): Nick Bradbury:

I also gave up pursuing the indie life because I wanted to make the switch to mobile development, and I didn’t see much future for indie mobile developers. The economics of the various app stores coupled with the plethora of free software didn’t paint a rosy picture for one-person companies building consumer apps.

Michael Burford:

Sales are still not $0. At the current rate, it could have supported just me a bit longer (at a pretty low income, a fraction of what I'm making at a regular job as an iOS programmer) but the writing is on the wall. I found something new rather than waiting 6 months or a year when things could be much more desperate.

Its crazy that even working somewhere else full time, and doing Headlight work in my spare hours, it is still likely one of the bigger Indie developers--which is a sad sign for all app developers.

Peter Burford:

One of the main systemic problems with the AppStore is that it grew out of a music store. Music works very differently than software. As music gets old it may become less popular, but it never becomes obsolete. There are people in the world that are listening to Mozart, or Sgt. Pepper's, or London Calling, or OK Computer (or...hell, why not: New Kids on the Block) for the first time today and enjoying that music just as much as the people who listened to those songs when they were new. But no one is loading up Asteroids, or VisiCalc, or Doom, or Word 2.0 and feeling the same way people did when those pieces of software were new. Software doesn't work that way. You may feel nostalgia, but you won't feel mind-melting awe.

David Smith:

The word ‘Indie’ has taken on a somewhat mythical connotation within our community (whether conscious or unconsciously). It can take on the persona of this genius engineer, tirelessly toiling away on their work, sweating the details, making the hard decisions and then (after much noble blood, sweat and tears) emerging with a gleaming product. They then take this product out into the world and it begins to generate “passive income” sufficient for them to continue their artisanal craftsmanship. I must say I love this story. It sure does sound nice. It lets us elevate and aspire towards a rather delightful ideal. However, as someone for whom this title is oft ascribed I can say the reality is almost nothing like this.

Mark Bernstein:

In fact, not only is no one making a living from building mobile software: almost nobody is even scraping by.

This is deeply disturbing. There ares millions of the devices out there. They do amazing things. Mobile apps do incredible stuff, things nobody expected. And these are some terrific apps.

Update (2014-08-01): Mark Bernstein:

If you think all the failures in mobile software arise from the shortcomings of the products and/or their creators, then you think that you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not.


But, speaking of the seeds of time, it sounds increasingly like none of the seeds are growing. One advantage of looking at indie products is that it’s hard to fudge: a big company can explain away weak sales in product A because A helps sell product B and B is what really matters. Are Pages and Numbers profitable? Who knows? My guess is that Apple has no idea, and we really have no idea. But if few or no isolated mobile software apps are thriving, we’ve got a real problem.

Michael Göbel:

It was a nice bubble. It lasted for almost four years and some of us made some decent money.

In 2012 I made more money than I earned the other eight years before that combined. In 2013 I ‘only’ made half of it and I better not talk about the current year; it will be half of the half.

The App Stores are dead. At least as long as you don’t write games or ripp off your customers.

Jason Brennan:

The real reason why it’s so hard to sell iOS apps is that iOS apps are really just websites. Implementation details aside, 95 per cent of people think of iOS apps the same way they think about websites. Websites that most people are exposed to are mostly promotional, ad-laden and most importantly, free. Most people do not pay for websites. A website is just something you visit and use, but it isn’t a piece of software, and this is the exact same way they think of and treat iOS apps. That’s why indie developers are having such a hard time making money.

Update (2014-08-23): Allen Ding (via Brent Simmons):

From a financial perspective, in the words of the wise, it’s been a toxic hell stew. Pretty ironic for an app meant to help people with expenses.

Laying it out there and admitting the app has been a failure isn’t easy, but it is the truth. The revenue from the app has barely been able to cover the cost that I paid for ads. About the only good thing you might be able to say is that the magnitude of the financial failure isn’t quite as depressing as some other apps which sometimes make nothing even though they deserve much better.

iTunes 12 and the Case of the Missing Sidebar

Kirk McElhearn:

I’ll miss the sidebar, and I wonder why Apple is removing it. For those who use it, it’s a convenient way to access much of your iTunes library. According to screenshots published on a variety of websites, there is no longer even a drop-down menu at the top-left of the iTunes window when the sidebar is hidden; you access the various libraries and devices by clicking icons in the navigation bar.

Jim Tanous:

It’s clear that Apple is trying to steer users away from the sidebar, and the company’s default album view is visually impressive. But longtime iTunes users who prefer the “traditional” iTunes layout may be fighting a losing battle with Apple. It’s great that the company preserves some forms of sidebar and list views in iTunes 12, even if they’re harder to find and lack some functionality, but how much longer will Apple continue quietly relegating these layouts before they’re gone completely?

The sidebar’s gone, but the modal preferences window remains. I’m not really attached to the old sidebar, but I found it essential to turn it back on in iTunes 11, and the new design does not seem to be a clear improvement. It seems even less friendly to those of us who like to navigate by menus or keyboard shortcuts, rather than by clicking tiny, unlabeled buttons.

Sidebar Translucency in Yosemite

Neven Mrgan:

Translucency in 10.10 is gross with fullscreen apps (which I dig). What does that blotchy, blurry sidebar “show” me?

This seems like an endless cycle with Apple. Introduce a new appearance that values form over function, one that in many cases it doesn’t even look good, unconvincingly try to justify it as useful, gradually tone it down over the releases, and eventually add a new horror. We’ve seen this movie before. Can’t we just skip the first several steps?

Flipboard Explorer


FLEX (Flipboard Explorer) is a set of in-app debugging and exploration tools for iOS development. When presented, FLEX shows a toolbar that lives in a window above your application. From this toolbar, you can view and modify nearly every piece of state in your running application.

List All Unprefixed Objective-C Classes for a Given SDK

Cédric Luthi has written a useful script that uses nm to inspect compiled frameworks.

How To Make Tilt Scrolling That Doesn’t Suck

Marco Arment:

My solution is to have tilt scrolling always default to off, make the user toggle it on every time they want it, and use the phone’s current orientation as the zero point when they tap the button. Critically, this means they can toggle the button off and on again to reset the zero point whenever they want, like if they change positions while sitting or in bed.

Amazon has apparently chosen instead to set this when the article is first loaded, but that will never work well enough in practice. I assumed my method was common sense, but apparently not.

Apple “Frustrated” That “People Don’t Want to Pay Anything”

Jared Nelson:

The second really interesting thing to come out of this interview is that, according to Watson, Apple is also sick of the race to the bottom mentality and rampancy of free to play games. “Apple is frustrated, along with everybody else, about the mentality that’s gone rampant in mobile app markets, where people don’t want to pay anything,” says Watson. “They think that four dollars is an exorbitant amount to pay for a game, which is very illogical considering most people’s lifestyles. They’ll spend $600 on an iPad, and $4 on a coffee, drop $20 on lunch, but when it comes to spending four or five dollars on a game, it’s this life-altering decision. I’m frustrated with that too.”

I don’t see any evidence in the article that Apple is frustrated. Apple literally encouraged the race to the bottom with its initial App Store pricing guidance (99 cents or free). And it continues to encourage it through the lack of trials, the types of in-app purchases it allows, and the types of apps that it features.

Update (2014-08-01): Lukas Mathis:

But I think there are other aspects to this: Apple intentionally commoditized apps, and still encourages unsustainable app pricing despite publicly claiming the opposite.