Apple is estimated to have paid out more than $100 billion to developers over the last decade of the existence of the iOS App Store, but this does not mean developers are happy with how Apple has been managing the platform.
With Apple being accused of selling expensive hardware and giving software away for free, iOS developers have felt more like grist for the mill rather than Apple’s valued partners.
Prompted by another Apple developer survey, Wil Shipley, head of the Mac developer house The Omni Group, have posted a manifesto of demands for Apple to re-engage with developers and help keep their businesses viable.
- Don’t run ads for competitors in App Store search results. Don’t run paid ads at all! They just shouldn’t exist. Right now if a customer searches for my iOS app by exact name, the FIRST result to come up is a competitor (roughly in the same space) who paid for an ad. Which is bonkers because my iOS app is a free add-on to my macOS app, so the competitor’s product wouldn’t hep the customer. You’re doing a huge disservice to your customers, and you’re pitting developers against each other. We already pay almost 1% of our profits to the App Store, it’s ridiculous that in return for that we have to also buy ads just to have our apps appear at the top of searches for them. Get rid of ads.
- Allow us to charge a nominal fee to for major upgrades to our apps. Right now new versions either have to be made into all-new apps, *or* we have to give away all new versions for free. There’s no way to charge an upgrade free. If I buy a Mac or iPhone from Apple I can trade it in towards a new one when I upgrade, but users can’t do the same thing for software. All the developers I know are suffering right now because Apple has prevented us from offering special upgrade pricing. It’s completely unsustainable to ask developers to continue supporting their apps but also to forbid them from charging for upgrades.
- Apple’s current system creates an environment where “shovelware” wins — companies that make tons of limited-utility apps quickly and throw in ugly ads and don’t support the app can make money, but companies that spend years writing something truly great can’t survive. Only the very most successful apps can continue to be supported, everything else on the App Store will be stuck in version 1.0 forever. This hurts everyone. If you do a search on the App Store for almost any category of app you’ll see the results — tons of knock-off apps full of ads or scammy subscriptions, as if anyone wants that.
- Stop telling developers subscriptions are our way forward. While some apps from huge companies can afford to rev every year without fail, most of us can’t. Also, most of us can’t force customers into subscriptions like Adobe or Quicken can — we don’t have the name recognition. I’ve literally never met one person who has enjoyed subscribing to software and losing access to it once they stop paying. Paying rent on software is as fun as paying rent on an apartment.
- Lower the cut you take from 30% to 20%. Other online stores are already doing this. Apple writes great software, but Apple can’t be the only innovator. Having thousands of third-party developers coming up with great ideas is the way Apple thrives. Right now *GOOD* third-party developers are dying out. Yes, there are a billion terrible apps in the App Store, so it’s easy to say, “Oh, we have developers.” That’s what Microsoft told themselves for years, “We have tons of (bad) software! There’s no problem!” Apple is following the 1980s Microsoft model of poisoning off their good developers and hoping the sheer volume of shovelware will make up for it.
- 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.
We have all been asking for years now for these changes. I’ve filled out three or four of these surveys before. I know Phil specifically says he doesn’t want to hear about upgrade pricing any more, but Phil also is working for the world’s richest company, which sells hardware and gives software away. Those of us who only sell software can’t afford to give it away.
Shipley makes some interesting points about a platform becoming saturated and moving to the lowest common denominator apps, and that the rise of web front ends for online services have significantly reduced the differences between platforms.
However, with falling phone sales, it seems unlikely Apple will be willing to increase cost for end-users in favour of supporting developers.