Friday, June 12, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]

How to Improve the App Store

Apple, in an e-mail sent to developers:

We love feedback.

Tell us about your experience managing, marketing and distributing apps for the App Store.

Wil Shipley’s feedback hits most of the big issues. (He doesn’t discuss the guidelines or App Review.)

Here are some more examples of problematic search ads.

Ryan Jones:

1. What is your age?
2. What platforms do you dev for?
3. DO YOU LOVE AR?!?!! PLEASE?!?! RIGHT NOW?

It’s weird how pushy Apple is being with augmented reality.

Ryan Jones:

1) No ad extortion on my app name

2) No fee for the first $1M in gross revenue

3) Mandatory, consistent, Apple-designed in-app paywalls

4) Ongoing policing and customer reporting of bad actors. One warning, and then one month suspension of new app sales.

Previously:

Update (2020-06-22): Here’s a text version of Shipley’s feedback (via Hacker News):

Apple’s biggest competition right now is the web. More and more “apps” are just thin, non-native veneers on top of web sites (cf Zoom, Slack, Steam, etc). The issue for Apple is, why would anyone choose Apple devices if the exact same apps are available on all devices? Apple should be doing everything it can to support good third-party developers that make the real Apple apps that make Apple devices unique, and provide cool Apple-only experiences. But, again, all the developers I know who do this are dying off, because of the App Store’s policies. Even Omni Group had layoffs a couple months ago.

See also: Gus Mueller, Leo Kelion, Nick Heer, Tyler Hall, Stephen Warwick.

Mark Mayo:

Ads in app store search results feel anti-user, anti-developer. Every time I search for an app I’m shocked at the complete garbage that’s camping on the trademark of the app I’m looking for. You expect it from Google/Android, maybe, but not from Apple.

Jason Dunn:

Many iOS software developers are in a difficult place due to Apple's policies. I've never understood why #Apple expects developers to just keep updating an app forever, generating no new revenue. Big software upgrades should be charged for. Apple's policies here are problematic.

Douglas Fischer:

I had 2 apps rejected last year with issues “proved” by Apple attaching screenshots of other apps instead of my apps. They can’t even test the correct app. People who defends Apple review inconsistency really don’t know what they’re talking about.

Guilherme Rambo:

OMG this happened to me as well. One of my releases was rejected because app review wanted to know “how the app uses face data”. The app didn’t, they sent me the rejection for another completely unrelated app.

Mario Zechner:

I had to reneg a licensing contract recently just so an App Store reviewer would fuck off. The reason? I added the word “official” to the app description. Which was covered by the original contract. Which I sent the reviewer. “No, it must be worded like this”. 3 weeks wasted.

Matt Auerbach:

Apple just called and informed our appeal has been rejected. He wasn’t able to give any details. After asking how apps like Slack and Mixpanel work without IAP he said he doesnt know…they are considered a professional db? I asked what defines a prof db, and he hung up on me.

René Fouquet:

The last minor update to App List has been “In Review” for over three weeks now. I already asked for a status update over a week ago, which was answered with “we need more time”. I have now written another Email. It does feel like talking to a concrete wall though.

The official Apple dev forums are full of horror stories with apps that have been “In Review” for MONTHS.

Ryan Jones:

I refund @weatherlineapp and @FlightyApp users from my personal credit card too. Can’t use business card because it breaks accounting.

Certain situations Apple rejects or can’t help, and it’s the only way to make it right for the customer.

Paul Mayne:

At Day One, our solution for App Store refunds (over the past 3 years) has been sending the customer a payment from my personal PayPal account. A 60% loss for us every time.

Daniel Pasco:

I can say, with deepest sincerity, that nothing would make me happier than dedicating every bit of my energy to investing in their platforms, and crafting great user experiences for them.

But I can’t do that it I’ll go broke in the process. And that sucks.

Josh Centers:

People assume those of us criticizing Apple are just whining. No, I’m lamenting what will be the slow decline of an ecosystem so many of us love.

What made Apple great wasn’t just great products but decades of investment in building a developer community. And Apple is bulldozing it.

Timo Perfitt:

here is what other vendors do for me that apple doesn’t

Kevin Vitale:

This perfectly describes my decision to dial back my focus on iOS over a year ago, even at a time when SwiftUI & Combineamp; were finally moving the platform in the direction I wanted for so long. The community is going through a generational shift.

rgm:

Likewise. I just stopped investing my time in mastering a platform with exactly one demonstrably capricious way to ship a few years ago. And it does suck. I would love nothing more than for Electron/React Native et al to be stupid ideas.

Riccardo Mori:

My problem with the App Store, surprisingly, isn’t the 30% ‘Apple Tax’, but the fact that Apple doesn’t treat all developers equally.

It’s the fact that the rules aren’t enforced consistently. It’s the fact that certain participants are granted privileges.

See also: HEY Rejected From the App Store.

19 Comments

>It’s weird how pushy Apple is being with augmented reality.

Apple is working on AR glasses. Wearable AR will be the final big platform that will displace all other platforms. Apple will need software for its AR glasses to be successful. Apple can't tell developers to start developing for AR glasses now, because they want to have a big surprising iPhone-like announcement. So they're doing the next best thing.

May be I am pessimistic.

But at this stage if Apple needs developer's feedback to tell them what is wrong with App Store I rate it as a massive failure. It is 2020 they cant even do App Store search right.

[…] Apple Asked Developers About Their App Store Experiences […]

The way this is all set up is basically begging developers to put any logic they can behind web services/web apis and having the native apps act as dumbed down clients. With the payment processing/licensing happening elsewhere.

If many many developers would run a mob feedback operation with all of them telling the exactly the same demands, in the feedback forms and on their blogs and sites, it would make a dent.
And Wil Shipley’s feedback can be used as a template

Developers have no leverage against Apple. That's intentional. What Apple is doing right now works just fine for Apple.

When Apple allowed tools like Office and Photoshop to become powerful, platform-defining products, that put them at the mercy of companies like Adobe and Microsoft. Allowing such tools to exist on iOS would give more power to developers. There's no reason for Apple to give more power to developers, because iPhones are selling just fine. So nothing substantial is going to change, no matter how many feedback forms people fill in.

@Lukas "Wearable AR will be the final big platform"

I still don't see how Apple will work around the #1 issue of Google Glasses: a camera that works all the time in public space.

"Developers have no leverage against Apple."

They could have leverage if they decided not to have feature parity between iOS and Android (with more features on Android of course).

"Allowing such tools to exist on iOS would give more power to developers."

Isn't Office available on iOS these days?

>a camera that works all the time in public space.

I don't think that's going to be an issue anymore in a few years. People are filming everything already anyways, there are security cameras on every wall, and the police is wearing body cameras that are permanently turned on (for some values of "permanent"). People will stop caring about this kind of privacy. In fact, they might look forward to a world where everything is filmed all the time.

Obviously, there will be some new social norms about when you turn off your glasses, but that also exists with phones. Society changes and adapts. The advantages of AR are so incredibly high that people will accept a lot of tradeoffs.

>They could have leverage if they decided not to have
>feature parity between iOS and Android

That's anyways already the case (e.g. with Apps that have integrated stores), but unless the differences are pervasive and considerable, people won't care. In fact, they might not even care if they are pervasive and considerable.

>Isn't Office available on iOS these days?

With "such tools", I didn't mean Office and Photoshop in particular, but platform-defining applications in general. In the 90s, the Mac platform would have effectively been dead without Office and Photoshop, and Apple had to grovel at the feet of these companies to keep them from abandoning ship. There is no such iOS app today, and Apple doesn't want there to be one. If Microsoft stopped making Office for iOS today, it wouldn't affect the platform at all. Even apps like Twitter have so little lock-in with the general public that people would just keep buying iPhones, and go to a different social media platform.

Lukas, I think I broadly agree with what you're saying about Apple wanting to do everything in their power not to have their platform become, like, a dumb pipe for certain essential applications. Yet aren't there apps with network effects strong enough that Apple finds themselves in this position already? Twitter, perhaps not, but surely something like Whatsapp, Youtube, Zoom, Facebook Messenger, if it disappeared from iOS, would rock the boat a little?

I don't know. Would anyone actually not buy an iPhone just because WhatsApp isn't there? Or would people just use one of the thousands of other messaging services? It's not like Office, where you were forced to use it because you had to be able to open .doc files, and if a platform didn't have Word, then it just wasn't an option.

I still don’t see how Apple will work around the #1 issue of Google Glasses: a camera that works all the time in public space.

We don’t know that Apple Glasses will have a camera. (Nor do we know that they exist at all.)

If they do, though, Apple will almost certainly make the messaging around privacy very clear, something Google simply did a poor job at.

I don’t know. Would anyone actually not buy an iPhone just because WhatsApp isn’t there?

Yes, absolutely.

The iPhone would have a real hard time in China without the WeChat app. It’d be less popular in Europe without WhatsApp. It’d be less popular in the US without Facebook.

Or would people just use one of the thousands of other messaging services?

No. You can’t even convince families to use FaceTime even when the entire family is on Apple devices anyway, because they heard from someone that WhatsApp is great, so that’s what they use.

It’s not like Office, where you were forced to use it because you had to be able to open .doc files, and if a platform didn’t have Word, then it just wasn’t an option.

It’s not the same in terms of file formats, but the lock in is absolutely there.

>You can’t even convince families to use FaceTime even
>when the entire family is on Apple devices anyway,
>because they heard from someone that WhatsApp is great,
>so that’s what they use.

But that's kind of my point. WhatsApp isn't special. People use it because they heard from someone that they should use it. That's a very weak bond. If WhatsApp suddenly doesn't work anymore, and they only use it because somebody told them to use it, then they'll just use the next thing somebody tells them to use.

I'm in Europe. Even right now, my friends can't agree on which messaging app to use. About 60% prefer WhatsApp, 20% prefer Signal, 10% prefer Facebook Messenger, and 10% just send text messages. So most people anyways have more than one messaging app installed. If WhatsApp disappears from iOS, iOS users will all just move to Messenger or Signal, or something else. There will be pretty much zero pain for this change. There's absolutely no lock-in. It's so easy to install another app, and there are so many good ones, and they're all pretty much the same, and they anyways import your address book, so you don't even have to configure them.

I'm 100% confident that not a single person I know would switch from iOS to Android (or vice-versa) because of WhatsApp, and I think that largely extends to the general population.

The fact that WhatsApp isn't special, that all messaging apps are pretty much the same, is as intended by Apple. They set precise rules for what messaging apps can do, so all messaging apps do the same thing, so there's no lock-in, so there's no power on their side, there's only power on Apple's side.

Let me try to illustrate this from a different perspective.

If WhatsApp came to Apple and told them "we're not porting our app to 64-bit, you have to keep supporting 32-bit apps on iOS indefinitely", would Apple do it?

That's the kind of power Adobe had over Apple in the 90s and 00s.

But that’s kind of my point. WhatsApp isn’t special. People use it because they heard from someone that they should use it. That’s a very weak bond. If WhatsApp suddenly doesn’t work anymore, and they only use it because somebody told them to use it, then they’ll just use the next thing somebody tells them to use.

And if they buy the next phone, and hear that WhatsApp doesn’t work on iPhones, there’s a non-zero chance they’ll go with an Android, not to mention they’ll rationalize it with “it’s cheaper anyway”.

I’m 100% confident that not a single person I know would switch from iOS to Android (or vice-versa) because of WhatsApp, and I think that largely extends to the general population.

I think that’s optimistic.

If WhatsApp came to Apple and told them “we’re not porting our app to 64-bit, you have to keep supporting 32-bit apps on iOS indefinitely”, would Apple do it?

No, but I don’t think that’s a plausible scenario.

That’s the kind of power Adobe had over Apple in the 90s and 00s.

Did they, though?

What Adobe demanded wasn’t that Apple keep remaining on objectively outdated technology. They demanded that they don’t move to an entirely different minority platform of unproven success.

I was too young at the time to really follow the deets, but frankly, the idea that everyone was going to move from Toolbox/Classic straight to Cocoa was pure hubris anyway. It should’ve been clear from the start that Apple needed to provide some kind of compatibility layer, migration aid, etc. Rhapsody seemed to provide none of that. It seemed to outright punish third parties who dared to have an existing codebase. (Not to mention… how was that going to fly with Apple’s own stuff anyway? In this alternate reality, would they have never purchased SoundJam MP as proto-iTunes, because it wasn’t Cocoa? Would they have bought it, then wasted two man-years the financials didn’t have on offer just to port it?)

>No, but I don’t think that’s a plausible scenario.

Yes, but the reason you don't think that it is a plausible scenario is that this kind of power dynamic no longer exists. Apple constantly makes changes that app devs don't want, and the reason for that is that app devs hold no power.

As for whether Apple could have just stuck to the NeXTSTEP dev stack ("Yellow Box"), had Microsoft and Adobe not forced them to change their mind, I'm pretty sure the answer is a clear yes. There weren't a lot of large Mac code bases around outside of Adobe and Microsoft at the time, and we also went through the Internet revolution, which meant that a lot of old applications suddenly found themselves outdated anyways.

In fact, just having Yellow Box, some Mac stuff like QuickTime, and Blue Box, was what Apple initially announced. That was clearly what they intended to do before Adobe just outright refused to port Photoshop to Yellow Box.

Would anyone actually not buy an iPhone just because WhatsApp isn't there? Or would people just use one of the thousands of other messaging services?

[…]

People use it because they heard from someone that they should use it. That's a very weak bond.

No, people use whatever their social connections are using and that's a very *strong* bond. It's the same thing as social networks. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for the old people, Snapchat and Tiktok for the kids. Good luck with that alternative twitter or Facebook plattform with like five users and a bleak future.

It doesn't matter if there are a thousand different platforms, there is zero point in using any other than what your social circles are using. You can't switch from WhatsApp to Telegram if none of you're friends are using Telegram, that would be the same thing as going offline.

>people use whatever their social connections are using

Exactly. That's why it's a weak bond. I have like five different messaging apps installed on my phone. So does everybody else. I have the same people in all of them. I care exactly zero about any of these apps. If tomorrow one of them disappears, these people will still be in four other apps.

WhatsApp needs iOS. iOS doesn't need WhatsApp. If WhatsApp disappears from iOS tomorrow, it will have zero impact on iPhone sales, but it will effectively kill WhatsApp. That's the power dynamic.

How to improve the App Store? Get rid of it.

Who would’ve thought that the point Ben made in comment at #4 on the 13th would’ve been so totally dragged through the wringer this week? 😳 That certainly was what it seemed to be encouraging one week ago...

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