Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Commoditized Complements and Fear of Apple

Michael Burford:

So for iPhone Productivity apps, any app that is out of the top 200 is selling single digit copies a day at best. So of the thousands and thousands of productivity apps, most are making virtually nothing. With a very large percent making absolutely nothing.

But the lucky 10 or so at the top are likely selling hundreds or thousands of copies a day.

Eli Schiff (Hacker News, Slashdot):

Arment understood then why the session went this way, and why still to this day close to nothing has been done to make the App Store more hospitable to developers—Apple has not perceived any incentive make it so: “Apple thinks this is good enough. And that’s the scariest part of all.”


According to reporting, “1.6 percent of developers earn more than the other 98.4 percent combined. And the bottom 47 percent of engineers earn less than $100 per month.” Yet somehow, independent app development has often been described as a ‘gold rush’ despite it being quietly understood by developers, even as early as 2009, that this was hardly the case.


It is clear that the recent influx of independent app developers into larger organizations and venture-backed startups coincides with independent development for the App Store being ever more exposed as an unprofitable venture. Developers who would otherwise be quite comfortable coding apps on their own now feel compelled to turn to large organizations in order to find gainful work.


The reason for the obscurity of most independent apps is that Apple’s rejections and consistent featuring of free and cheap apps have incentivized a race to the bottom that makes developing for the App Store an unsustainable venture. It is not only indie developers feeling this squeeze, large companies also feel they have to appease Apple. They recognize that if they do not get featured by Apple, they will get buried.


For developers today, there is actually disincentive to providing support for their apps in order to make them dependable. Every time a developer release bug fixes in an app update, prior reviews are wiped and the reviews are left blank for the new version. Instead the best option for developers is to create ‘free’ viral apps with casino-like in-app purchases.


Things went south In 2012, when Ivanovic launched a new version of the Pocket Casts app on the Android Play Store first, rather than Apple’s App Store. The launch was a real success, and he publicly shared the good news. Before he knew it, his Apple Developer Relations representative stopped all contact. The representative would not even answer his emails. Ivanovic had been completely shut out.


We recently had our iOS Developer Program terminated, for what I can only assume was a gross misunderstanding on Apple’s behalf. And I can only assume because Apple won’t actually tell us why they terminated our account. We just got a standard form reply with zero detail. Whenever we call Developer Support, they can’t/won’t tell us anything. We have absolutely zero information on why they permanently expelled us from the App Store.

Update (2015-03-25): Responses from Marco Arment, Russell Ivanovic, Matthew Drayton, and Daniel Jalkut.

Update (2015-03-28): Follow-up from Eli Schiff and a response from Nick Heer.

Update (2015-04-03): Allen Pike (via iOS Dev Weekly):

A critical article about some Apple technology or policy is like a kind of thought virus. If you make a compelling argument, you can seed it on the open internet, and by its nature the article will spread among people who care about Apple and its success or failure. Naturally, this includes Apple employees. While it may be impossible from the outside to discern who is responsible for a particular iOS 8 usability issue, a thoughtful critique of the problem has a decent chance of making its way to that team and driving change for the better.

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Any third-party developer or user who think Apple (or any other business) has *his/her* best interests at heart is a bloody fool. They are obligated to themselves and their stockholders, nobody else, and they won't hesitate to screw you over if it's to their advantage to do so.

Conversely, we don't owe Apple anything either. If it's not to your advantage to play Apple's game by Apple's rules, just don't. At worst, you'll have to bail for another platform, but that's how markets work.

Re. updates: So apparently Ivanovic was personally stiffed by a toxic Apple employee. Wonder if he's tried submitting a formal complaint about that individual? It's the sort of information that ought to trickle through to Apple HR and the employees's own management chain.

Whether it makes any difference or not… it'd probably depend on how unpopular the miscreant has made himself within the company. Alas, like stubborn stains, narcissists, martinets, and other destructive types can be perplexingly difficult to shift in corporatea. (Whatever business intelligence is a function of, it certainly ain't the number of brains involved.)

Then again, perhaps Ivanovic should feel at least a little flattered by such direct attention. It's not every day that someone from Apple (or any other vast impersonal organization) thinks you significant enough to warrant screwing you over at a personal level. 99.9% of the time it's not personal at all, just the normal progression of big business: they're just rolling straight over you without even being aware that you exist at all.

"Any third-party developer or user who think Apple (or any other business) has *his/her* best interests at heart is a bloody fool. They are obligated to themselves and their stockholders, nobody else, and they won't hesitate to screw you over if it's to their advantage to do so."

Sure. But developers and users are wise to seek out businesses whose incentives align better with their interests than Apple's currently do.

For example, in the pre-iPhone days, Apple was very solicitous of its developers, no? And that wasn't because Apple was their friend, but instead because Apple's incentives aligned with developers' interests. (With a few minor exceptions like the Watson and Konfabulator bad behaviors.) That's all changed now, of course, for both developers and users.

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