Are Developers over-reacting to App Store rules?

Ars Technica has a great article on developers fleeing the App Store platform -

  1. The developer who coded Facebook for iPhone (while working at Facebook) left because his Three20 framework used private API calls and apps using his framework got rejected because of that. 
  2. Second gear’s Justin Williams left because Apple didn’t approve Google Voice and he makes a lot more from the Mac software he writes. 
  3. Rogue Amoeba had a tough time getting a fix/update approved because they used images of a Mac to show the iPhone was connected to a Mac.

While these may or may not be valid reasons, and three defections certainly don’t warrant writing a ‘developers fleeing App Store platform’ article, it brings up two very interesting questions -

  1. Are web and software developers too idealistic and simply can’t handle a company (any company) being dominant?  
  2. Are people forgetting (or conveniently ignoring) all the advantages the App Store provides them?

Let’s start with the latter first since it’ll give me time to think up something politically correct for the former question.

How can developers find reasons to be mad with a company that gets them 70% of sales?

Think about the effort from the developer’s side -

  1. You write an app for the iPhone.
  2. You work on marketing.
  3. You submit it and after an admittedly long-winded approval process you get it out there.

After that – all you have to do is marketing. Here’s what you get in return -

  1. An audience of tens of millions of users that is growing all the time.
  2. An audience of good intent – People who actually pay.  
  3. The opportunity to sell your app around the world. Developers have no idea how big of a deal this is.
  4. 70% of revenues being deposited in your bank account.
  5. The delivery, the updates, everything handled for you.

We have developers complaining about a 2-4 week, somewhat arbitrary review process – Before the app store you had to get publisher and distributor arrangements and put in so much more effort and let’s not even get started on trying to distribute internationally.

It’s now so easy that even I am putting together some apps – its letting a lot of people create apps and a lot of people access these new apps.

Who cares if the review part is complicated – every other part is very, very smooth.

Single Biggest Thing – You get 70%. Ask an author who is getting 15% royalties what that means.

Are Developers Idealistic or do they just hate #1 companies?

There’s no politically correct way to say this.

There just seems to be a trigger built into the Internet to hate companies that become dominant.

  1. Microsoft is obviously hated.
  2. Apple is becoming evil because their app review process is arbitrary. Perhaps it has more to do with Apple’s dominance with Apps.
  3. Google will be next. As soon as Google gets 80% market share a whole new generation of developers will hate it.

There seems to be a cycle -

  1. ‘Idealistic, open-minded, free spirited’ developers hate the big company – Evil Goliath.
  2. They support poor little David – secretly hoping it can take down evil Goliath.
  3. If David wins and becomes dominant then it becomes Goliath and developers find reasons to hate Goliath.

There are only two possibilities -

  1. Even the most pure-hearted David becomes evil as soon as it gets power. 
  2. It’s a reflection of some human instinct to ensure no entity becomes too powerful.

If you doubt 2. ask yourself how you would behave if you were in Apple’s shoes – Imagine what it would be like and ask yourself what you’d do to keep the channel intact and viable.

Perhaps Apple is the beautiful company and its products are the best only as long as there’s evil Microsoft lording over it.

As soon as Apple become dominant in Mobile Apps, we need another David (which Google is eager to provide) that we can crusade behind.

Idealism and the Internet

As Wikipedia run a fund-raising drive (again, this time it’s for forever) there are a few simple questions that need to be asked -

  1. Why are so many people on the Internet afraid to make money when they deserve it?
  2. Why are people upset when a company wins the race and cashes in?
  3. Why do these ‘free’ people want others to follow their beliefs?

The biggest confusion in my mind is why idealistic people want other people to follow their ideals.

Is the anger with the App Store misplaced?

Take Second Gear. There are two reasons for why they left the App Store -

  1. Google Voice being rejected. 
  2. Making 25 times more on the Mac than on the iPhone.

Why so much concern about one billion dollar profits a month company not letting another billion dollar profits a month company exploit its channel?

Is developer’s idealism blinding them to a few basic facts -

  • Having a few (or quite a few) false negatives and rejecting deserving apps is better than letting a few very dangerous apps in. 
  • That if the channel is compromised it hurts Apple AND developers. 
  • Perhaps the App Store isn’t the channel for them.

What this is really about

It’s about a mixture of two things -

  1. A ‘Free Everything, Do anything’ culture that the Internet fosters. 
  2. Not understanding Win-Win.

Please, think about it a bit before you choose to disagree.

Free Everything, Do Anything

Everything is free online. There’s free speech and free things and you don’t have to pay and you can do whatever you want.

The Internet is consumer rights run amok. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a platform put together by Idealistic Universities that think everyone else is good and pure hearted (for the most part) like they are.

People indoctrinated in this culture don’t know how to react when they run into a wall called commercial reality.

There are two stark extremes here -

  1. You can be Wikipedia and be asking for donations.
  2. You can be Apple or Microsoft and have 50 billion in assets.

Either path is OK. You just have to accept what path a company chooses and not judge them and not want them to follow your ideals and what would make you happy.

Free Everything, Do Anything is not the only way to be, and you can’t force it on anyone.

Win-Win and accepting that you aren’t going to get everything according to your wishes

At some point it becomes a bit much. Manton Reece thinks there are only two possible solutions -

  1. Accept all applications. 
  2. Allow applications to be installed on the iPhone without being in the App Store. 

Are you kidding me?

Apple built the iPhone after an incredible amount of effort and took a huge risk. They hit the big time. 

They don’t owe developers anything.

Yet – they are offering developers 70%.

Apple have a platform that provides customers, a channel, 100+ countries, distribution, everything. Plus they give developers 70% of revenue.

Developers still find reasons to complain because Apple is overzealous about protecting its channel.

Apple, Amazon, Microsoft - all companies that just can’t win. Every company that becomes much, much better than its competition falls into the same ‘Evil’ category.

5 Responses

  1. You are missing the big deal about the iphone. By itself it isn’t that big of a deal. With apps it is. So you want good apps.

    Many of the complainers are not the small free apps but the large development houses that produce fairly good quality apps.

    The abitrariness is really important. If developers don’t know what is going to get through or not, they are going to put their time in other markets. Worldwide, the iphone is still fairly small. Yes it is fairly big in app sales but many of those apps are near zero.

    I have been buying apps for a decade with PDAs and Windows Phones. Some are free but many are in the $10 to 15 range. So there can be a higher profit on other platforms.

    Developers don’t want to walk away from Apple because it is a good model. But if Apple doesn’t get their admission and review process cleaned up then there will be more high profile developers leaving. And that is exactly what is needed for Apple to pay attention to the process.

  2. With all due respect, there is so much wrong in your article that I don’t know where to begin?

    Developers should be thankful to Apple for giving them 70%?

    Developers are leaving the platform because they don’t like being treated like “ungrateful kids”. You calling them “ungrateful” just reinforces the point.

    And it’s not about the percentage… many developers leaving the platform where doing free apps. It’s about getting respect, about a company abusing a position of power and strongarming their partners.

    It’s like telling a beaten wife that she should be grateful her husband pays the bills.

  3. Well thought-out article.

    However, I agree with Adam S’s point above that it is a big deal if high-profile developers are leaving.

    People wouldn’t care less if small-time developers with no notable apps are leaving in droves. But it’s the handful of high-profile developers that put out high-quality apps that forms the actual backbone and raisin d’etat of Apple’s App Store.

    If enough these developers leave, I seriously doubt anyone would want to use App Store anymore.

    So while “3 defections” don’t sound like much in terms of numbers, it may be a bigger deal since they were well-known developers.

  4. I have no problem with anything Apple is doing, EXCEPT for the hypocricy.

    When an app that I spend ALL my time and money creating gets rejected which has FAR LESS levels of “questionable content” (as defined by apple) than an app that has already been approved, that’s what pisses me off completely.

    If they were more consistant, then it wouldn’t be an issue.

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