Friday, July 10, 2020

The Raison d’Être for the App Store

John Gruber (tweet, Hacker News):

Feel free to file Google’s release this week of an update to their iPad Gmail app with support for split-screen multitasking under “better late than never”, but this is so late it borders on the absurd.


I worry that this sort of “Who cares, it’s better than nothing” attitude has seeped into Apple itself, and explains how we wound up with barely modified iPad apps shipping as system apps on the Mac.


I’d like to see all the vim, vigor, and vigilance Apple applies to making sure no app on the App Store is making a dime without Apple getting three cents applied instead to making sure there aren’t any scams or ripoffs, and that popular apps support good-citizen-of-the-platform features within a reasonable amount of time after those features are introduced in the OS.


The primary purpose of the App Store should be to steer third-party apps toward excellence, to make the platform as a whole as insanely great as possible. When Steve Jobs introduced the App Store in 2008, he said, “We don’t intend to make any money off the App Store. We’re basically giving all the money to the developers and the 30 percent that pays for running the store, that’ll be great.” Really. It’s impossible to square that mindset with the App Store of today, where the highest priority seemingly is the generation of ever-increasing revenue in the Services column of Apple’s quarterly finance spreadsheet.

I’m against adding subjective quality requirements to the App Store, but requiring split-screen seems more like the objective requirements to support 64-bit or the iPhone X notch. It could nudge apps in a good direction without being onerous or unpredictable.

Dave Mark:

I do think it’s possible Apple’s hand will be forced by Antitrust investigation/regulation. But the financial forces, the pressure from shareholders for year-over-year growth, will not change. Some balancing force needs to come to bear here, pressure to make Apple value a world where, as John says, their most used apps are best-in-class.

Quality doesn’t come from App Store guidelines or antitrust requirements. It depends on the people in positions of power having the resources, motivation, and taste. That goes for Apple as well as third-party developers.

Jeff Johnson:

Job’s quote about not making money off the App Store was striking, but IMO the money quote was “what made Apple users Apple users is that they complained vociferously if they had to use a terrible app.”

Devs didn’t used to need the App Store review “stick”. Users were the stick.


Update (2020-07-30): Troy Gaul:

It’s a little odd that @gruber’s article lamenting Apple not using the App Store to enforce higher quality apps that support platform features fails to mention the reason for this change and its timing is that an App Store rule now required it[…]

Ryan Jones:

Here’s the official text on multitasking.

John Gruber:

So split screen is “strongly encouraged”, not mandatory.

16 Comments RSS · Twitter

Gruber says that people using Google software has poor taste:

Google makes a lot of software with terrible user experiences for users who have poor taste.

And the he goes on to say that Apple should force Google to make better apps. But what he completely misses is that the poor user experience of Apple software is what makes [some] people switch to the Gmail app. It's not about being force to use it, it's just that it is the better app for the most important tasks.

The user experience of searching through thousands of emails to quickly find the accurate ones just isn't great in Apple Mail app, compared to the Gmail app. Now, this is of course because Google owns the backend of the Gmail service, but not just only that. And a simple but important task like viewing an email with a lot of attachements just fails in Apple Mail, but not the Gmail app. I would never had switched to Gmail app if the user experience wasn't so bad in Apple Mail. But good search and viewing attachements wins out over all else.

And that brings me to another piece that Gruber recently wrote, about AirPods. He admits that the design of the case is much better for regular AirPods and they are more comfortable, but says the noise cancellation wins out over all else.

For me personally, though, the utility of noise cancellation wins out over all else. I too find the regular AirPod buds more comfortable in my ears, but the acoustic advantages of AirPods Pro lead me to prefer them strongly.

So before accusing Google software users of having poor taste, Gruber should understand that they can have perfectly good taste but the horrible user experience of Apple software for crucial tasks is what makes some people choose Google apps instead, even though the design is less than stellar and does not conform to iOS.

Leo Just Leo

Ah, smug Gruber. Maybe he shouldn't comment on Google at all.

The real issue that both AppStores face is that POLITICS was introduced into their review cycles. This is when both AppStores really started declining. You simply cannot "curate" "police content" "ban hate" for and comply with every country in the world...AND have a focus on developer quality.

If I want to make a fart app, or an Alex Jones podcast app (an actor who is in IMDB) neither Apple nor Google should be in the way of that, UNLESS they're (also) a publisher with editorial (not quality or privacy/security) veto rights over my app.

Apple is a hardware vendor. Who (sometimes capriciously) "reviews" apps. They simply do not have the cycles to "curate content" nor should they. They should (re) focus back on User Experience and Quality.

And BOTH AppStores should focus on user security and privacy instead of "developer codes of conduct" or other nonsense like that. At this point I trust AdGuard and other security people like Patrick Wardle over Apple or Google to protect my privacy as an end user.

I think I would be happy if Apple made the App Store extremely restrictive and imposed heavy rules to requiring apps to adopt SDK features and meet accessibility standards.

Then they could allow sideloading

Apple absolutely should make subjective quality a requirement for Apps getting into the App Store, and cut down the contents of the App Store to about 0.1% of what it contains now.

But at the same time, they should also allow sideloading.

That way, people can again trust that the App Store is a reliable source of high-quality apps, but developers will no longer live or die by Apple's acceptance criteria.

Of course, the problem here is that Apple makes a ton of money from highly monetized exploitative gambling games, so they have a direct incentive to let the absolute worst apps into the App Store.

>an actor who is in IMDB

I have to admit, that's the first time I've seen Alex Jones described simply as "an actor who is in IMDB." Getting on IMDB isn't exactly a huge honor, or any kind of distinction.

Let's just give some context here. Alex Jones accused the families of Sandy Hook victims of being actors only pretending to have had their children murdered. As a direct result, these people, who already went through hell, were then stalked and threatened by Jones' listeners. There is no world in the multiverse where Apple, as a private company, should be required to provide an outlet for this.

@Lukas Yes, a highly curated store plus sideloading would be my preference. But that doesn’t really solve the problem that Gruber highlighted. Wouldn’t Apple still put important apps like Gmail in the curated store no matter the quality?

The InfoWars situation is weird because it seems to be entirely personal. That is, the app is banned because of its association with Jones, based on his behavior years ago and that he’s apologized for. The app was only going to stream new content, not the old Sandy Hook episodes. It was a window to content that doesn’t yet exist—and therefore can’t be evaluated—and would also include content from other hosts. Usually with an App Store rejection there is a path to approval, i.e. following a specific guideline or removing certain content, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Presumably, if Apple had clearer rules about UX requirements, and actually enforced those rules, Google would follow them.

Wasn't Jones' app removed from the App Store in 2018, but he only acknowledged that he was wrong in 2019? I don't think he actually apologized, he made a sworn deposition because he was getting sued, and in that deposition, he said that "his opinions were wrong, but never wrong to consciously hurt people." Maybe I'm mistaken about the timeline, or he apologized at a different time.

At any rate, even a cursory scroll through infowars shows that the site is still full of dangerous misinformation (e.g. an article claiming that vaccines cause autism), which presumably also applies to Jones' podcast. I don't think there's anything wrong with Apple's decision to just outright ban the app, since there's no possibility that, after everything that has happened with Jones, the app will get past the "objectionable content" rule, even though it may not precisely fit any of the examples the rule lists. The objectionable content in that app is not a bug that can be fixed, it's the whole purpose of the app.

I think there's a discussion to be had about whether Apple should ban any app that isn't actual malware, given that there is no other way to publish iOS app, and if that's the discussion, then I would agree that Jones should not have been banned. But in the context of the current rules, I see no problem with just outright banning the app without an option for reevaluation.

@Lukas Yes, I think you have the timeline right, but nobody believes that the app would be accepted if it were submitted again today. There’s plenty of dangerous misinformation (amongst other dangerous things) on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter; and various media apps have published misinformation on vaccines and COVID-19, but none of those apps are in any danger. Apple has decided that Jones has bad intentions and is irredeemable, which is not really part of the current rules, except insofar as the rules leave an out for Apple to do whatever it wants.

I don't think the comparison between the Jones app and YouTube quite works, since the rules are explicitly different for user-generated content, where Apple acknowledges that the publisher of the app doesn't have full control over the app's content. I do agree that there are other apps that should also be banned if Apple applied the rules consistently, though.

Wow, there's a lot going on in this essay. Too much to really even respond to.

I will make one comment, though: I don't think most market-dominating software like Gmail and iOS will ever be "insanely great" as long as they are made by institutions whose main objective is securing and extending their own power. Much is said here about "taste" and "losing the way," but a simpler and probably more helpful tool for thinking about this is simply that we expect institutions to act in their own interests.

One of the most childish things about Gruber is how judgemental he is towards people with different opinions, and often in subjective topics. It's ridiculous.

Another example: I hate Trump, but Gruber talking about his supporters sounds like my teenage nephews.

Leo Just Leo

This seems to be a symptom of the Left, they're more worried about "cancelling" "problematic people" like Jones and this seeps into their work. Lukas really should go back to IMDB and look up Jones, he *is* an actor (and "showman") and his was a test case; if tech companies could "cancel" him with no pushback then they could cancel anyone with little to no pushback.

In fact, Apple is spending more time "cancelling" "problematic" developers and content than they are on quality. It's literally more important for AppStore to cancel Gab than it is for Apple to ship Crapalina without data loss bugs that remain unfixed to this day. It also seems to be no problem to sit on macOS security bugs for 6 MONTHS while time is spend on... something else.

Maybe Apple would be better served hiring more SQA than sending out weepy emails that they "need help" testing for free, while devoting resources to "cancelling" people and content. Or as they call it, "curating."

As to the Jones "cancellation" itself, wasn't personal Michael, this was a test of whether large corporations could regulate speech (and whistleblowing). Apple has made forays into media and banking, now they are adopting the agendas of those industries.

On top of that if there's some (legal in the USA) speech that is "problematic" to Germany, China, the KSA of course the FAANGs (and Twitter) can now limit that speech in ways that government cannot.

Tim Cook can be "proud" that he is now the most powerful force in "big tech" shaping speech in United States if not the world, and everything that Apple used to do: Quality, "Thinking Different" et cetera takes a back seat to this newfound power.

@Leo Well, I don’t think the App Review people making those decisions are the same people that would be fixing Catalina bugs. But I do agree that these days Apple is active in too many areas, and that it’s taking leadership’s focus away from product quality. What I mean by “personal” is that it’s based on Jones’ history. All the tech companies could agree to censor him. If you imagine a different host doing the same InfoWars show (with a different name), I think it would be accepted into the App Store (until there was another high-profile scandal).

>This seems to be a symptom of the Left, they're more worried
>about "cancelling" "problematic people" like Jones and this
>seeps into their work.

This is a simplistic interpretation of what's happening right now.

"The Left" isn't an actual group with a coherent view, and "cancelling" is just people deciding that they no longer want to support people who exhibit incredibly destructive behavior, or corporations that enable these people.

>Lukas really should go back to IMDB and look up Jones, he *is* an
>actor (and "showman") and his was a test case; if tech companies
>could "cancel" him with no pushback then they could cancel anyone
>with little to no pushback.

Oh, I get what you're saying now. This is the defense Jones attempted, the claim that nothing he said should be taken seriously, because he's just a "performance artist." That's not how that works, being on IMDB does not magically make you exempt from the effects of your words. His behavior is indistinguishable from somebody who is actually serious, and his viewers clearly take him seriously, so it really doesn't matter at all if he was serious or just pretending.

>now they are adopting the agendas of those industries

Apple's "agenda" is to make money. It's pretty obvious that they dumped Jones' app because their image whas threatened by him, there was no other agenda. Like Michael says, there are plenty of similar apps that should also be banned, if Apple applied the rules consistently.

>On top of that if there's some (legal in the USA) speech that
>is "problematic" to Germany, China, the KSA of course the FAANGs
>(and Twitter) can now limit that speech in ways that government

That is anyways the case. The day the App Store was released, Apple outlined things that would not be allowed in the App Store even though they are perfectly legal. The question is not whether you draw a line, the question is where you draw it.

I think Gruber should do a little homework and check some software from Apple (a company with an increasing service push right?):
- website version of iCloud Notes in Windows and Linux: with a perfectly up-to-date Firefox, with 50Gb of RAM, SSDs and plenty of CPU it is almost unusable, a real pain.
- ooh iCloud photos have a Windows application ... yeah right: I spend days and days trying to upload my photo collection from Windows, nothing seemed to change (no progress shown). I waited several days until the application said everything was loaded, guess what: not a single pictured appeared in iCloud photos.

Why I was trying to use Windows and Linux with iCloud? My MBP began with random shutdowns, showing a disk error that needed repair and saying everything was fixed after running DiskUtility, then closing the application (DiskUtility) and running repair again showed the same error needed to be fixed (but only after closing the program...).

Microsoft and Google make better websites and applications running in MacOS that anything that Apple has done for other platforms.

@Butchmo: Agreed, and that is why I have a rather large set of words set that will cause a Daring Fireball post to be filtered out of my feed. Trump, guns, firearms, etc.

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