Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Age of Writing iOS Apps for Love

Brent Simmons:

If I estimate the number of iOS apps in the App Store, and get the difference between the estimate and the actual number, that difference will be larger than the number of successful apps.

(I define successful as a good-faith “makes enough of a profit to make it worth continuing to work on the app.” Most apps fail to make a profit at all, of course.)

I haven’t done an actual study. But do any developers doubt that I’m right? And when developers think this way, they take their app ideas and toss ’em aside.

Cabel Sasser:

Crushingly, maddeningly, this is very correct.

Update (2015-07-03): Allen Pike:

However, when expressing frustration with the current economics of the App Store, we need to consider the effect of this mass supply of enthusiastic, creative developers. As it gets ever easier to write apps, and we’re more able to express our creativity by building apps, the market suffers more from the economic problems of other creative fields.

John Gruber:

But the bottom line is that indie development for iOS and the App Store just hasn’t worked out the way we thought it would. We thought — and hoped — it would be like the indie Mac app market, only bigger. But it’s not like that at all.

Curtis Herbert:

I’ve long felt that we as a community let our enthusiasm for building something we love and stories of days past blind us to a simple fact that other industries realized long ago: being independent is hard and many of us that try will not succeed.


What we don’t always consider is that the customers looking to buy software for Mac were already paying a premium for hardware (remember when the Apple Tax was a real thing?), so we had a self-selected audience of customers willing to pay for premium goods. Mac devs didn’t yet have to appeal to the mass-market cost-obsessed Dell users.

They were willing to pay a premium for hardware because it came with the promise of every detail being obsessed over, and that appealed to those kinds of people. Customers hence expected the same attention to detail from their software. Back then they weren’t overwhelmed with choice, so new apps with this focus on quality were something to talk about.

Jason Brennan:

The problem is that people aren’t paying for apps because people don’t value apps, generally speaking (I’ve written about this before, too).


What I am saying is if you want a sustainable business, you’ve got to provide value for people. Your app needs to be worth people paying enough money that you can keep your lights on.

Charles Perry:

We developers need to get over it and stop blaming the App Store for our business troubles, because when it comes down to it, the App Store has only two purposes: credit card processing and software delivery. That’s it. Yeah, I know the App Store was originally sold to developers as a marketing channel, but it hasn’t been that for many years.

This is true, but I think the reason people are tempted to blame the store is the sense that it doesn’t have to be this bad. People don’t expect it to be easy, but it’s frustrating that Apple has stacked the deck against the kinds of apps we want to see. There is no obvious reason to do this, and Apple has not been forthcoming about why it is doing so, even as it apparently does not like the results. Yet we assume this is purposeful because there has been no change of course in six years. As Simmons writes:

I’d add, though, that each market has a shape, and the shape of the iOS App Store is in Apple’s control. They can’t control the behavior of people, but the shape of the market has an impact.


There’s no silver bullet, but there are numerous good ideas that, taken together, could make a significant difference.

Manton Reece:

However, if you take everything Charles says as truth, it reveals an even more serious problem: the 30% that Apple charges for distributing bits on their truck is outrageous. It’s flat-out wrong to charge such a high percentage if they are providing no value above credit card processing and file hosting.

Update (2015-07-05): Kevin Walzer:

I’ve done enough work on Windows and Linux to know that I can certainly develop for those platforms, but there’s a reason I stay with the Mac--even using a cross-platform toolkit. It is by far the best environment for developers. I absolutely love developing for the Mac, even in spite of Apple’s many restrictions, even as I move out of the Mac App Store for good.

If my work on the Mac isn’t very rewarding financially, it can at least be rewarding in terms of enjoyment.

Update (2015-07-12): Oluseyi Sonaiya:

This outcome was entirely predictable.


Put more bluntly, Apple is not your friend.


This is an unpopular opinion among Apple fans, users and developers alike, and I think it’s because of Love. The iOS indie space is filled with and shaped by former and current Mac indies, especially from the years when Apple was not the dominant platform vendor, as well as lifelong fans of the company and its products. These are people who love Apple, and I think it blinded them to the fact that Apple now works at cross-purposes with them.


Yes, Apple is just people, but Apple is also a corporation and corporations are rather ambivalent about people. Despite the sincerity of individuals at nearly any level of a large corporation, the aggregate force of shareholder interest, profit and competition will frequently drive a corporation to act against you. Dijkstra warned us not to anthropomorphize our programs. Neither should we anthropomorphize our platforms, or the corporations that control them.

Michael Burford:

I saw a report (and promptly forgot where) that about 12,000 new games come out each month. […] Right now, Apple features about 15. And they do want to mix it up so it is not all the same type: some action games, some puzzles, some driving ones, etc. So you don't have to be in the top 15 out of all 3,000 to get featured, its more like the top one or two out of the style of game you make, so say the top 2 out of 500.

Matt Henderson:

People who buy Rego love it, and discover all sorts of interesting ways to use its versatility. One guy journals his travels. Another tracks her photo shoots. And yet another tracks drilling locations in Kuwait!

But if I divide our development time by the revenue we’ve made, it works out to an hourly rate of about 1/4 of minimum wage.

2 Comments RSS · Twitter

As you know, I've gone back and forth on participating in the Mac App Store, but recent events have caused me to conclude it's no longer worth my time. Specifically, I haven't had a sale in a couple of months, bringing a steady decline to its natural conclusion.

Given such results, the technical limitations of the Mac App Store are no longer worthy of accommodation: the sales revenue is far outweighed by the frustration I encounter.

As a result, I am hopping out of the sandbox for good, and will continue to nurture and hopefully improve my modest sales out of the app store. I can't do any worse!

Landon Fuller

If the App Store only has two purposes -- credit card processing and software delivery -- then why can't I:

- Pay 3% instead of 30% of our revenues, like we can with traditional credit card processing?

- Offer upgrade discounts to customers?

- Have a direct relationship with our customer base -- newsletter signup, beta availability, etc?

- Use alternative payment models, such as upfront purchase + enterprise yearly support/maintenance renewals?

- Release software when we're ready to release it, without worrying whether it will be accepted by Apple (or *knowing* that it won't be accepted by Apple, given that so many areas of technology are verboten under sandboxing).

I don't think it's fair to say that the App Store is an un-opinionated replacement for payment processing and software delivery -- it exerts far more control over what we sell, and how, than almost any 'shareware' sales mechanism that predated it.

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