Friday, March 29, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Software Before the App Store

Pahull Bains:

Shaan Pruden has worked at Apple for three decades. Since 1989, she has seen the company through all its greatest hits—the Mac, of course, but then the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, Apple TV and now Augmented Reality. “I think that’s why I’ve hung around so long,” laughs Pruden. “We keep reinventing ourselves.” 30 years ago, when Pruden first joined Apple’s Edmonton office, heading up support for Macs on campus, it was a different world. “We went through some dark days there in the early run before Steve came back,” she remembers. “And then after he came back it’s a remarkable journey that we’ve been on.” Pruden is now the company’s Senior Director of Developer Relations, with a team that works with developers in every category on the App Store.

On a day-to-day basis, that means talking constantly with different developers around the world to offer them support and guidance. “We’re sort of a product advisor, almost like a product manager if you will, except it’s not Apple products, it’s other people’s products (laughs) and we help them put their best foot forward on our platform.”

[…]

“I actually see it very different from even 10 years ago. I think we’ve made tremendous strides and I think the reason is because software used to be the domain of a handful of companies. I don’t know if you remember, but the way you used to buy software was in a box at a store. There was no way you could come up with an idea for an app and create it and put in a shiny disc and sell it yourself. It just wasn’t going to happen. So the App Store really democratized software. Anybody with a great idea can write an app and put it up on the App Store and be in 150 countries all around the world overnight. That’s just amazing.”

As Paul Kafasis and John Gruber note, there was actually a thriving period of downloadable software in between the era of CDs in stores and the advent of the App Store. And this period was arguably more democratic. Anyone could post anything on the Web, whereas App Store guidelines are unevenly enforced and the store makes it harder to browse the long tail of apps than Apple’s previous downloads directory did.

Update (2019-03-29): Drunken Dogcow:

Holy crap, talk about historical revisionism. The only option before the App Store Messiah was revealed to us was boxed software in retail stores? Weird, some of us remember getting shareware off the internet and even from compilation diskettes/CD-ROMs that came with magazines.

Come to think of it, I was downloading software with Fetch and paying for it in the early 90s, before Apple even shipped Macs with CD-ROM drives.

Jeff Johnson:

It’s painfully clear that Apple executives want to erase the golden age of indie developers from history and pretend that it never existed.

Jay Lapeche:

The App Store was a death blow to my software business (which was a side hustle). Prices plummeted, and competitors blossomed. Competitors who liked to make things for free 😀

Michael Love:

This offends me deeply, as somebody who was making a good living selling mobile apps for almost a decade before the App Store launched.

“The App Store really democratized software” No, PalmGearHQ did that. And they only charged a 20% commission and didn’t stop you from selling through other channels too (in fact in the early days they didn’t even stop you from linking to an outside purchase page).

And by 2007 I had enough name recognition that I could sell exclusively through my own website, not paying a commission to anybody, and I made about 85% as much money that year selling Palm and Windows Mobile apps on my own store as I made my best year ever on the App Store.

So no, you didn’t “democratize software,” you merely figured out a way to make it all go through your stupid channel with its Excite-era search engine and its heavy flogging of addictive F2P crapware and apps-that-don’t-actually-teach-Chinese and give yourselves a 30% cut.

I also shipped a Mac shareware game called Ergo in 1994, when I was in middle school. Was featured in MacAddict magazine, sold 14 copies at $15/pop, more than many iOS games ever make :-) Payments through Kagi, which I’m pretty sure also charged a much lower commission than 30%.

8 Comments

You could download software even before the internet: I downloaded Wolfenstein 3d from FIDOnet and even then, there was shareware.

> "So the App Store really democratized software. Anybody with a great idea can write an app and put it up on the App Store and be in 150 countries all around the world overnight. That’s just amazing."

Yes, sure. It's like VersionTracker never existed, like Apple never had a section of its website where 3rd party developers could enlist their apps.

> On a day-to-day basis, that means talking constantly with different developers around the world to offer them support and guidance. “We’re sort of a product advisor, almost like a product manager if you will, except it’s not Apple products, it’s other people’s products (laughs) and we help them put their best foot forward on our platform.”

That's funny because this is not what 3rd party developers are saying when it comes to WWDR. It looks more like they are talking constantly with a very small selection of developers, most of them being either big corporations or smaller companies run by former Apple employees.

I remember before the app store when I submitted my software to the list which Apple kept on their website. (The one you could get to when you clicked on the Apple menu on your Mac and selected "Get more software..."). It was a way better way to get exposure than the app store ever was.

The release of the app store really made a dent in my software sales.

Damn, the kool aid must be exceptional these days.

Am I the only one who thinks that the Mac apps available these days are generally worse quality and/or worse selection compared to 10, 15, 20 years ago?

@Ben G
To be fair, it’s hard to push for great UX when Apple have increasingly been pushing against that, while also leaving framework bugs to work around, etc.

And yeah, I agree with Michael Love: it’s insulting for Apple to pretend that indies had nowhere to turn before the App Store. Even before I had a Mac, I remember reading through all the Macworld magazines at my library, jotting down the websites for all the apps I wanted to get.

Even before people hat Internet at home, or connected to BBSs, you could buy CDs that contained hundreds of shareware apps for a few bucks. You'd register them by literally putting bills in an envelope and sending it to the developer. That software selection was better than what's in the App Store today.

I remember installing OS/2 "Warp" back in circa 1995 and being blown away by the amount of quality shareware available for, what was even then, a relatively small platform. All easily discoverable via a single web page (or a web search of course). Exciting times.

And gnu/linux seems to rub along quite well without an "App Store"...

That link, for the article in discussion, goes to fashionmagazine.com/lifestyle/tech. Look, I get fashion magazines can have a tech angle, but it's rarely going to be anything heavy hitting, basically its' just all puff pieces. I got in trouble last time I mentioned this viewpoint, but if anyone thinks Apple being covered in such outlets is anything but PR for an expensive lifestyle accessory company; well, I'll just sit in my corner and disagree.

As to the points in the article, yes, yes, of course it's Apple lying through their teeth as they destroy the very things they keep claiming to want to promote. I love how Apple spins the foibles of their platform as reasons to use it. I won't use iOS because I detest the iOS app store. The first time I paid for an app and it was pulled by Apple from the app store in less than two weeks? Yeah, I was done. The fact I cannot work around the App Store in iOS was particularly frustrating. The App Store is hamstringing personal use devices, not empowering them.

I've never bought any apps on the Mac App Store, never will at this point without a Mac, but I had Macs for years and still never used it to make purchases. However, I've paid for Mac apps for decades before I stopped buying into the platform. Sometimes in store, sure, but many were online purchases, many predating the Mac App store, and a healthy sampling afterwards as well.

I truly have no idea what the Apple talking head is referring to in her comments. Even on mobile platforms I have used app stores and direct purchases in the past. Either way works fine, each having pros and cons. The difference with Apple, there is no alternative. How can Apple even pretend to know what's best if they have never offered sideloading as a true alternative to their walled garden?

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