Archive for June 19, 2020

Friday, June 19, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]

SummerFest 2020 for Indie Mac Apps


Many of us need to reimagine our workplaces and our workflow. We have kids to raise, degrees to pursue, new jobs to find.

Summer is the time for new plans and fresh projects and great new ideas. Whether you’re mapping out your next novel, finishing your dissertation, planning a product, or writing memories for your grandkids, these great tools will help.

As is our custom in this season, we’re hosting a gathering of software artisans who are working to transform research and writing for a new era. We’ve all finished our latest updates, we’re working together to save you lots of money.

Here’s your chance to get SpamSieve, Take Control books, and other cool apps like TextExpander and Timing at a discount.

See also: The Back on Track collection of Mac apps.

Looking Back at WWDC 1990

Brendan Shanks:

On May 7-11, 1990, Apple Computer held the second-ever [or fourth?] Worldwide Developers Conference at the (then-new) San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, CA. A newsgroup post indicates that the attendance fee was $195 per day, and hotels were available for $56-135 a night.

For some historical context, Macintosh System 7 was introduced a year earlier at the 1989 WWDC, and would be publicly released a year later in May 1991. It was a major focus of the conference.


This video is peak weird-90s-Apple. Just watch it.


The conference disc was Volume 3 1/2 of Apple’s then-new Developer CD series, and included the slides of all presentations as well as two HyperCard stacks: one serving as an overall catalog/launcher of the presentations, and another holding a full directory of all 2154 attendees.

Phil Schiller was a presenter, and there were multiple sessions on the Apple IIGS.


App Store for the Past

Matthew Guay (tweet, Hacker News):

Of all the things the App Store offers, SaaS finds perhaps two things helpful: Discovery and downloads. And they could live without either.

Subscription software businesses have to build a customer relationship, with unique accounts per-user. Might as well build out payments while you’re at it. Accounts negate the need for license keys, and make piracy a thing of the past. And, odds are, your SaaS is a web app—so a browser’s all you need, no access to device and operating system-specific APIs needed. A mobile app would be nice to have, with offline support and notifications and share menu integration. Discovery in the App Store search would be nice, too. But all the other things that make the App Store valuable to, say, developers building games don’t matter to business SaaS vendors.


Apple seems to see the App Store as a digital retail store, where 30% and guaranteed shelf space would be a bargain for consumer packaged goods.

Nathan Anderson:

They don’t want to “leverage the App Store”. They want to provide their customers who happen to use iPhones with a good way to use their service, which is an APP. The only reason they want to list in the App Store in the first place is because THEY HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE.

Ben Bajarin:

If Apple allowed you alternate payment methods and took no fee, but your app would never be featured or promoted in the App Store would you take that trade-off?

Tim Ritchey:

What I find frustrating about the App Store situation is not the rules, or 30% cut, but that from the start Apple has contorted software business models into their media-distribution infrastructure. We are clearly limited to decades-old ideas about how songs and movies are sold.

M.G. Siegler:

We’re getting too far into the weeds with all this. It seems pretty simple at a higher level: App Store rules and policies were created for the world as it was a decade ago. The world is not as it was a decade ago. Apple should create new guidelines for the world as it is now.

This isn’t the Constitution. Apple holds the unilateral ability to change what it wants. They’ve been doing it in piecemeal fashion -- Amendments? And worse, seemingly for preferred partners/deals, which has just pissed people off more over time. Rewrite the whole thing for 2020.

Chuq Von Rospach:

Also, I think Apple is wrong defining “hey!” as a consumer not business app. It’s primary market is single-owner and <10 employee small business. Apple seems to define “business” as “has an IT team” and that’s horribly outdated.


Update (2020-06-22): Brent Simmons (tweet):

This means that, for many developers, the very best thing about the App Store — the thing that actually helped their business — is gone.

And it’s not just gone — it’s probably actually more difficult doing this stuff via the App Store than doing the same things (trial, IAP, subscription) using non-Apple systems such as Stripe.

(And, as a bonus, Stripe isn’t going to review your app’s business model and tell you no.)

Matt Birchler:

Good points here. I think one thing people assume is that taking payments anywhere besides the App Store is a nightmare for security and ease for the user/developer. I happen to work for a payments company and viamently disagree with that.

Aaron Vegh:

This is an important point that seems to be missing: I’ve ready many say “it’s easy” to use In-App Purchase. It absolutely isn’t. It’s complex, the developer side of things is buggy af, and Apple could make it way easier, but hasn’t.

Brian Webster:

I’ve sold Mac software direct for 15 years and it’s not that hard to set up. Many payment systems to choose from, and took me like a couple days to create a basic registration code and in-app purchase system. One that I have full control over, and can do upgrade pricing with.

The main downside is folks who lost their registration (time spent for both me and them). But on the other hand, you can actually talk to your customers! And give refunds! Or discounts! Or whatever you want!

Brent Simmons (tweet):

So while it’s true to say that all of an iOS app’s users come via the App Store, it’s only true because there’s no other option.

If I could distribute my iOS app outside of the App Store, I would. I’d switch in a heartbeat. Even though it’s free and money isn’t my issue. It would make my work as an app maker easier.

Marco Arment:

Today’s crowded App Store is merely a (bad) search engine you send people to from your own marketing.

For Overcast, I’d still opt into the App Store and IAP. The tradeoffs are worthwhile to me. But that’s far from universal.

It’s a great system for many apps, but it should compete on its merits.

Have You Contributed Any Revenue?

App Review Board (also: Hacker News, 9to5Mac):

Thank you for being an iOS app developer. We understand that Basecamp has developed a number of apps and many subsequent versions for the App Store for many years, and that the App Store has distributed millions of these apps to iOS users. These apps do not offer in-app purchase — and, consequently, have not contributed any revenue to the App Store over the last eight years. We are happy to continue to support you in your app business and offer you the solutions to provide your services for free — so long as you follow and respect the same App Store Review Guidelines and terms that all developers must follow.

Once again, they sent the verdict to the press before sending it to the developer.

Wil Shipley:

This sounds a little too close to a threat for my liking.

Daniel Jalkut:

cracks knuckles ... your ... contribution ... has been a little light lately. It would be a real shame if ... something were to happen to your apps.

Brent Simmons:

That bit about “not contributed any revenue to the App Store over the last eight years” is supposed to make the Basecamp folks say “Oh, yeah, you’re right, we forgot, so please go ahead and screw us because we deserve it”?

Loren Brichter:

How about you compete with letting folks have a direct relationship with their customers (on hardware they bought) and offer a compelling reason to go through your dollar store.

Nick Heer:

Apple’s email is an extraordinarily condescending series of statements that seems to emphasize that third-party developers are allowed to develop for Apple’s products through the grace and generosity of the company. But how many people would buy an iPhone if there were no ecosystem of third-party apps, or if free apps were not allowed? The App Store’s policies have incentivized business models that do not require customers to pay money for downloading apps. How many Macs has Apple sold because that’s the only platform supported by the company’s developer tools?

This is the kind of thing a company writes because it can — because anyone who wishes to have an audience for their product or service on about half of Americans’ smartphones has no choice but to tolerate whatever inconsistent hell they are put through.

Daniel Jalkut:

If I worked in Apple Developer Relations, engineering, product marketing, or App Store editorial, I’d be FURIOUS at whoever in the company is fomenting a developer-hostile public image the week before WWDC.

Marco Arment:

Whoever at Apple wrote this — a few days before WWDC! — should never be allowed to communicate with developers again.

Troy Swanson:

Imagine curating an ecosystem of high quality applications that are a value add to your billion dollar hardware market and saying some shit like this

Steve Troughton-Smith:

That passive-aggressive bullshit ‘you’re not worth anything to us’ paragraph in writing, from Apple. Oof

Marc Edwards:

A few days out from WWDC, and this is Apple’s message to developers. It reads as “you have no value to us unless you’re earning us tons of cash”.

“We are happy to continue to support you in your app business” is a hell of a quote. That’s going to echo through the heads of developers as they weigh up the pros and cons of supporting Apple’s next platform.

Will Cosgrove:

Apple loves to point out ‘free loaders’ on the App Store that don’t charge for apps. But if these apps didn’t exist on iOS, users would leave the platform and they’d get zero dollars from them.

Michael Love:

iPhone succeeded because of our apps. The notion that Apple did this amazing thing that we’re all lucky to be part of is total BS; developers had every bit as much to do with the success of the iPhone as Apple and yet they have the audacity to keep extorting us.

Russell Ivanovic:

This whole “has generated no revenue for the App Store” line holds no water. If Apple removed all third party apps from their iOS store today, what would iPhone sales look like for the next 2 years?


App Store ecosystem is why I bought a $1000+ phone. If Apple ruins it I might as well buy Android

Chuq Von Rospach:

Recruiting developers to consider the [Palm] platform was simple: we promised to be “not Apple” as much as we possibly could.


Investing in a more balanced set of policies for the App Store could have avoided this fight, but Apple seems to believe it’s invulnerable.

Jeff Johnson:

If you think of Apple’s cut as the cost of running the App Store, then how in the world is it fair that paid indie apps are subsidizing the cost of running the App Store for free apps by megacorps such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter?


It Doesn’t Work

Matthew Panzarino (also: MacRumors, Hacker News):

“You download the app and it doesn’t work, that’s not what we want on the store,” says Schiller. This, he says, is why Apple requires in-app purchases to offer the same purchasing functionality as they would have elsewhere.


“We didn’t extend these exceptions to all software,” he notes about the “reader” type apps — examples of which include Netflix. “Email is not and has never been an exception included in this rule.”


I asked Schiller if this meant Apple felt entitled to a portion of the revenue of every business that had an app, regardless of whether that business was an iOS-first.

“I get why there’s a question here,” he says. “But that’s not what we’re doing.”

Except that FastMail and Superhuman have been doing the same thing for years. And there are tons of other apps that don’t work unless you have a particular kind of account or hardware device. “Reader” apps, as Apple describes them, are not a coherent category.

Matt Birchler:

I feel like this is recursive logic. The app does this becuse they had to bend over backwards to not tell the user how to sign up. They did that because of existing App Store rules that force them to not help the user here.


The amount of contortion this line of logic requires is unconscionable, and is the kind of reasoning that make people believe salespeople do not trigger automatic doors.


I have no idea if it will take the US or EU torching it for things to change, but it baffles me that the bundling of a web browser was considered a bigger problem than this.

John Siracusa:

Wow, this is extremely flimsy. Who is Apple protecting with this stance? The poor iOS user who might download the free Hey app and be shocked to learn that it doesn’t function without an account

…or maybe it’s about that 30% cut of in-app purchases? Yep, a real stumper.

Nick Heer:

The reason I emphasized how Hey works at the top of my piece from earlier this week is because it isn’t an email client, it’s a Hey service client — and Apple sees those as wildly different categories. […]

Zendesk is another product built on email standards that doesn’t do anything unless you sign in — there is no way to register within the app. But it’s allowed in the App Store either because it has bulk pricing options or because it offers access to a professional database. It’s also not marketed as an “email client”.


But the App Store is worse without the Hey app for those who use Hey. I can’t imagine tacking a standard IMAP client onto the app, as Apple suggests, would improve it.

Nick Heer:

You can find dozens of similar examples if you start poking around. It sure seems like a lot of apps have been approved by mistake. If App Review can’t understand the rules about when it is okay to only show a login screen upon launch, how are developers supposed to know? Inconsistencies reflect human nature but so, too, should Apple’s responses to such inconsistencies.

Nicholas Van Exan:

Totally not the larger / important / competition law point, but how do they arrive at the conclusion that Hey is not a “Reader” type app but cloud storage apps are? Cloud email is literally cloud storage. I’m literally paying to access my emails, stored on cloud servers.

Kara Swisher:

And how — given that access to the mobile universe is controlled by just two companies: Apple and Google. As one person intimately familiar with the mobile ecosystem noted to me, Apple and Google are the “two tollbooths” for us all.


Yet Apple has also changed rules in ways that many developers find capricious and unfair and, more to the point, scary. While complaints have been raised for a long time about what Ben Thompson of Stratechery calls Apple’s “rent-seeking” practices, many developers do not want to speak out for fear of falling afoul of Apple and, worse, getting banned from its store.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

The app is only crippled on the App Store because that’s what they had to do to fit Apple’s written and unwritten rules. By the book. It’s not ‘an email app’, it’s the Hey app; Apple’s framing is BS, and it’s disappointing to see people fall for it

Christian Selig:

Ugh, this is so painful to see from Apple.

“You download the app and it doesn’t work without a paid account. We don’t want that kind of experience on the store. pause … Except for Netflix.”

Michael Love:

Uber seems to have adopted the legal position that they’re a service connecting passengers with drivers and don’t operate a physical business at all; from that perspective there’s not much difference between taxing their service fees and taxing Hey’s subscription fees.

Ken Kocienda:

“Let’s make the App Store insanely great.”

What if that were Apple’s philosophy? It doesn’t seem like it is.


If it were, I can’t imagine that it would come down to splitting hairs over ambiguously-worded rules or inconsistently-applied policies.

The priority would be to get great apps on the platform, and to encourage developers who want to “Think Different” to invest their time and effort into making new iOS apps and services that nobody thought of before.


Love that Apple devotes a lot of time detailing why a perfectly reasonable app can’t exist on their platform

And at the same time continues to promote coloring book apps which charge $15/week with a 3-day free trial

Which one makes the App Store better?

See also: You Download the App and it Doesn’t Work (via David Heinemeier Hansson, Hacker News).


Update (2020-06-22): Jeff Johnson:

People claim that the main benefit of the App Store is safety, but if that’s the case, then why do developers of non-malware apps get hassled so much by Apple?


This is the difference between protection and a protection racket.

See also: The App Store Doesn’t Make Apps Safe.

Update (2020-07-09): See also: Matthew Panzarino, who talked with Phil Schiller, on The Talk Show. I was even more confused after listening to this. He says that App Review’s “it doesn’t work” was a side comment, not an actual reason for rejection. So then why did addressing “it doesn’t work” by adding a trial help? And he says that the rules aren’t changing; e-mail apps were never considered “reader” apps. So then why were Superhuman, FastMail, and other e-mail apps approved before? Lastly, why is Hey considered different from apps like Basecamp and Zendesk? As best I can figure out, Apple did change an unwritten rule recently, and Hey is essentially being granted a special exemption.

Highway Robbery

Nilay Patel (tweet, MacRumors, Hacker News, David Heinemeier Hansson):

Apple is acting like a monopolist and a bully, according to the chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee.


“Because of the market power that Apple has, it is charging exorbitant rents — highway robbery, basically — bullying people to pay 30 percent or denying access to their market,” said Rep. Cicilline. “It’s crushing small developers who simply can’t survive with those kinds of payments. If there were real competition in this marketplace, this wouldn’t happen.”

The 30% is a lot, and there are certainly problems with the guidelines and conflicts of interest, but the larger problem is that the App Store is the only way to distribute software. iPhone is not a gaming console. Phones are the new personal computer—more than that for many people, really—but you don’t get to choose what apps to run on them. Even if you find the app yourself via the Web, even if you trust it, even if it’s sandboxed, even if no money is changing hands, you can’t download and install it unless Apple approves of it.

Toyota doesn’t prevent you from installing your own tires or hanging ornament. Your electric company doesn’t ban certain devices from receiving power—or require a percentage of whatever you produce using its energy. Your Web browser doesn’t prevent you from viewing certain sites. But, somehow, people have accepted that a sort of network neutrality for your phone or tablet would not only infringe on Apple’s rights but would put you at risk.

Jason Fried (tweet):

Money grabs the headlines, but there’s a far more elemental story here. It’s about the absence of choice, and how Apple forcibly inserts themselves between your company and your customer.

Does the world’s largest company really get to decide how millions of other businesses can interact with their own customers? In fact, Apple’s policy distances you from your customer.

When Apple forces companies to offer In App Purchases in order to be on their platform, they also dictate the limits to which you can help your customer. This has a detrimental impact on the customer experience, and your relationship with your customer. It can flat out ruin an interaction, damage your reputation, and it can literally cost you customers. It prevents us from providing exceptional customer service when someone who uses our product needs help.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Now Apple is telling us how to design our products too! They don’t just want to dictate distribution, they also want to dictate product design, and define what an “acceptable” email client is.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Apple would like to think people are just upset about their tax rate, but it’s not just that — it’s about interfering with perfectly reasonable apps for self-serving reasons and pretending they’re protecting customer interests, and channeling ‘innovation’ down pre-approved paths

Daniel Jalkut:

I’ve come around quite a bit on the subject of Apple’s stronghold over developers with the App Store. I now believe side-loading, and perhaps even the ability to install 3rd party STORES should be a requirement for consumer and developer protection.

Daniel Pasco:

App store policies - and the pricing drought - have unquestionably eradicated innovation. Most people that could do something significant are reticent to do so as it’s extremely rare to be able to make enough to sustain a product, let alone make a profit.

Michael Love:

One can certainly take the position that it’s not robbery, but in 2008 I paid Palm/Microsoft $0 for the privilege of writing mobile apps for their platforms, and in 2010 I paid Apple 30% of my revenue.

They didn’t greatly increase my sales, they didn’t greatly decrease my customer support burden, they just came in with a new platform, lured all my old customers over to that platform and then demanded I fork over 30% to keep selling to the same people I was already selling to.

My personal experience of the App Store has been very, very similar to the Mafia protection metaphor that @dhh has been pushing, there’s nothing unfair or vitriolic about calling it what it is.

Kyle Howells:

I own multiple physical hardware products (cameras, drones, remote control cars, light bulbs), which are very expensive paper weights without their bluetooth companion apps.

Apple can put those companies out of business and take away my access to my stuff by rejecting their app.

John Gruber (tweet, Hacker News):

Even if you think Apple is doing nothing wrong, it’s not healthy or sustainable if the developers of a huge number of popular apps are only in the App Store because they feel they have to be there, not because they want to be there, and if they feel — justifiably or not — that Apple is taking advantage of their need to be there. Tim Cook rightly loves to cite Apple’s high customer satisfaction scores as a measure of success. I think if Apple measured developer satisfaction scores on the App Store, the results would be jarring.


New Apple Developer Forum

Apple (also: MacRumors):

The Apple Developer Forums have been completely redesigned, so they’re more engaging to use, automatically surface the most relevant content, offer simpler navigation, and make it easier to categorize and search for content. Connect with fellow developers and Apple engineers as you give and receive help on a wide variety of development topics, from implementing new technologies to established best practices.

I don’t understand why this forum exists. Every incarnation has been slow and far less pleasant and useful than Stack Overflow, both because the site doesn’t work very well and because most questions remain unresolved. This new version is even less information dense than before and drops support for e-mail and RSS.

Why fragment the community instead of embracing Stack Overflow like other companies have? Why not license Stack Exchange or Discourse or some other top-quality engine—or even use a mailing list?

People expect that the value add for Apple’s forum is that it will be the place where these conversions happen (it wasn’t, and this won’t change that) or that they’ll get official answers from Apple engineers (that hasn’t been the case, either, except for a very few saints who sometimes post).

Craig Hockenberry:

Was there ever any doubt that Apple would screw up links to referenced material in a forum redesign?

One of the reasons that developers prefer Stack Overflow is because permalinks never change and can be used in comments.

BJ Homer:

If you’re wondering how to browse the new Apple Developer Forums without just having to search random keywords, here’s the full list of tags, which serve as the organizational structure of the forums[…]

I wish that were linked from the home page.

See also: Meet the new Apple Developer forums.


Update (2020-07-27): Riley Testut:

of course Apple’s developer forums don’t allow you to post URLs, because why would they

Update (2020-08-19): Ryan Ashcraft:

It feels like it was designed by someone who didn’t understand the customer.

First off, there’s no personalization. The top posts/tags/users on the home page are completely useless to me. They don’t even stay fresh! This post has been at the top of the page since launch.

Basic forum features that help keep engagement high are completely absent. For example, there’s no ability to follow posts or receive notifications when your posts get replied to.


The search function drops parens, even if placed inside quotes.

Jim Truher:

I found it most frustrating that the datestamps on google results ended up resetting to June 20th, 2020. Made it impossible to tell what posts/questions were new, and which ones were years old.

Becky Hansmeyer:

I don’t understand how they shipped it this way, especially since it’s a completely solved problem (hello, Stack Overflow!).

Brian Webster:

I’ve lost track at how many attempts Apple has made at developer forums by this point. 3? 4? They rewrite the thing from scratch, it’s terrible, they don’t do anything to improve it, then repeat the same damn thing 3 years later.