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iPhone devs killing future apps over Apple policies, pricing

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By Charles Starrett

Contributing Editor
Published: Thursday, July 30, 2009
News Categories: Apps + Games

Following the rejection of Google’s official Google Voice app and the subsequent removal of all third-party Google Voice apps from the App Store, a number of developers have voiced their concerns over the long-term viability of the platform, with at least one vowing to move on to other platforms. Second Gear developer Justin Williams, maker of the iPhone app FitnessTrack, has written a lengthy piece describing some of the core problems currently facing iPhone developers, most notably lack of feedback for developers and an unsustainable pricing structure. Williams finishes the post by stating that he is “seriously considering” selling off his two iPhone properties and leaving iPhone development behind because he believes the App Store “as it presently stands is not capable of providing a reliable and consistent means of income.” A brief summarization of the piece is available in the form of a Twitter update, which reads, “Baseless app rejections, an unsustainable pricing structure, piss-poor developer relations and a blackbox review system. Where do I sign up?”

In response, Craig Hockenberry, who, along with his Iconfactory colleagues, received an Apple Design Award for the iPhone version of Twitterrific, said he is “seriously doubting the long-term viability of this business,” while Frasier Spiers, developer of the Flickr app Darkslide who announced last year that he would not write another new application for the iPhone as long as the App Store stayed as it was (and is), has used Twitter to describe the App Store as “high risk, low probability of reward, [with] many insurmountable factors totally [outside] your control.” Finally, Layton Duncan of iPhone development house Polar Bear Farm has written an equally-lengthy piece further discussing App Store issues, and announcing that “[a]s with many other serious iPhone developers recently, we’ve made the hard decision to kill all but one project in progress, and stop investing any resources in creating new applications. We’ll continue to sell and fully support our existing iPhone offerings, however we’re already moving to platforms which show signs of real viability.”

The overarching problems—developer feedback, consistent approval policies, and the current pricing and promotion structure—are cited as problems that developers can do nothing to fix without Apple’s help, leaving them with only the option to stick it out or leave. In addition to stopping the release of entirely new applications, the loss of more iPhone developers could impact updates to current releases, rendering yesterday’s apps incompatible with new versions of the iPhone OS.

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Comments

1

Apple needs to take a good, hard look at the App Store and improve the overall experience for both the consumer and developer.

The most frustrating thing for me is finding good, quality apps among the tens of thousands out there. The keyword search Apple just introduced is a step in the right direction.

I mean, how many fart applications do we really need for the iPhone and touch?

Apple’s approval policy seems so haphazard. In one moment, it’s completely free enterprise, giving rise to tons of fart applications, and in another moment, it’s completely draconian, rejecting apps that compete with Apple’s native apps or services offered by AT&T.

Personally, I’d like to see fewer apps overall, but have them of higher quality with a reasonable price that rewards developers for innovation.

Posted by cxc273 on July 30, 2009 at 8:50 AM (PDT)

2

Apple should invite all of these people to Cupertino and have a round table meeting with the top developers and top iPhone execs to discuss what needs to happen.

The App Store could be soooooo much better… but then again, it’s only like a year old, so it’s really in it’s infancy.

Posted by ort on July 30, 2009 at 9:00 AM (PDT)

3

Awesome.  Maybe the bad press being generated by the people responsible for generating that 30% of revenue coming from apps will wake Apple the f**k up.  It’s one thing to take the approaches Apple has to approving/removing certain apps from the store; it’s quite another to do so and to essentially say to developers and the consumer, “We removed it/denied its acceptance into the store because we can.  We’re Apple and that’s all you need to know.”

I have an iPhone 3GS and I love it; but I honestly hope app developers go elsewhere.  Companies like Apple apparently only learn from, and are stirred by, one thing - revenue loss.  Maybe if enough devs leave, less people will buy the phone, more people will lose interest in it, and Jobs in his infinite egostroking will have no choice but to answer for what the crap his company is doing.

Posted by KC on July 30, 2009 at 9:32 AM (PDT)

4

The app store like anything else can be improved upon. I am sure steps are being taken to improve the store.I have 148 apps on my phone with over 40% of those being paid apps.(no fart apps ).in every business model there will be a period of growth then a leveling off. The app store is just in the begining of it’s growth curve.everybody should just hang on for the ride.the developers will be rewarded as time goes by….....just my 2cents

Posted by John on July 30, 2009 at 9:33 AM (PDT)

5

The tone of this article makes it sound like there’s going to be a mass exodus of iPhone developers because of the perception that Apple is being too draconian with the app acceptance/rejection process.  I think not….this is only less than a handful of devs (compared to THOUSANDS of iPhone devs) that are complaining.

If these devs actually follow through with their threats to abandon the platform, IT’S THEIR LOSS.  From what I see, none of the apps mentioned in this article are of the *killer* app variety, in fact most of them look like “me-too” apps.  As #2 mentioned, the App store is really in it’s infancy, just like the iTunes store was; it will only get better with time.  Consider that the alternatives (Pre, WinMo, Android, nokia and samsung stores, etc…) are at least a year behind the App store; who’s to say that they don’t end up adopting similar policies.  The App store is the gold standard by which the other app stores will be compared against.

I believe that these minor annoyances that these handful of devs are complaining about will sort itself out.  If the devs don’t agree, I say GOOD RIDDANCE.

Posted by Don Funk on July 30, 2009 at 9:47 AM (PDT)

6

I agree that the app store needs a LOT of work. I as a consumer would like to see a way to filter out the BS apps like the fart apps and worthless apps that I have to dig through to find something useful. I admit I have a few stupid apps but I do not want to see those unless I want to. There is one developer or someone who is releasing apps for real estate searches. Each frickin agent is getting their own and all it does is show their number and a link to their web site. I found several good real estate apps I could search and review right on the phone but that is not my point. The point is there are too many worthless apps clouding things up. When 50 new apps are released and 90% of them are like the BS real estate apps, it’s crap. That’s just one example I found. Another is things like Boyfriend caller or Girlfriend caller where you have an icon to call someone. How many of these do we need? Every conceivable person Mom, dad, sister, BF, GF, Jesus has a separate app just tom call. How about one app and let the person rename it what they want and pick the icon they want rather than filing up the app store with handfuls of worthless apps.  That is how there are so many apps in the app store. Take out the stupid worthless apps and I’ll bet it will cut the app store total in half. Probably even less than that. And the top 25…that’s a worthless when you get all the little kiddies downloading the fart apps that isn’t a good representation of those of use who want some real use out of their iPhone. The iPhone is a great phone the best I have ever had and I love it but unless the app store gets fixed, it will kill the phone and things like the palm pre and Android will pass it up.

I’d like a way to separate us adults from the children. We do not have the same interests and I don’t want to wade through child ratings, comments, best of or any of that crap.

APPLE FIX THE APP STORE!!!

Posted by Johnny L on July 30, 2009 at 10:07 AM (PDT)

7

I’m confused. The devs seem to be complaining about the pay structure as well. When the app store was first born that was one thing all the devs raved about. Has the world changed that much in just a year, or am I misunderstanding something?

Posted by urbanslaughter on July 30, 2009 at 10:29 AM (PDT)

8

@7, When there were only a few thousand apps at the start it was great.  You could be much more competitive and aggressive going for higher price points.  Now their app gets thrown into the mix with 60,000 pieces of trash and 5,000 real applications.  The categories are also messed up bad.  The main page in each category where apps are listed by release date updates literally maybe 2 times a week yet I see all kinds of new apps on the front page and top 100 sections that are not there. 

Unfortunately developers writing blog and twitter posts about their issues and ilounge (sorry) aren’t really the press that will get people to change.  Only the hardcore users have any idea about the real app store.  The average user is probably thrilled by all the 99 cent apps and games or free stuff they can get and don’t know that the iPhone platform is hurting real developers. 

@6, that’s another problem.  Look at the weather section and there are 40 “radar” or local things from the same developer.  I wonder if Apple even pays attention to the apps they approve. 

I for one was totally addicted to the app store since it launched last year.  But this week has really soured me towards it.  The Google Voice stuff has really irked me more than I thought.  Before the iPhone I went through 4 years of getting new phones every 3-4 months off ebay.  I’ve had the iPhone for 2 straight years and had never considered another phone.  But now with all the new Andriod phones and even the HTC Touch Pro 2 coming I may be searching for new pastures soon.

Posted by Sting7k on July 30, 2009 at 10:44 AM (PDT)

9

Apple is part of the problem, and it should make changes to improve the App Store experience for developers and consumers. But let’s face it, some of the wounds these devs feel are self-inflicted.  For instance, I can name a bunch of Twitter and fitness apps that are better than Twitterrific and FitnessTrack.

Frenzic is a textbook case of wasted opportunity. It lies DOA, while games like Harbor Master, Doodle Jump and Globall keep building their brands with regular updates. Why buy Polar Bear’s Note Pad when you can get apps like Evernote and Awesome Note instead?

The main lesson here isn’t how bad Apple is; but how easy it is for under-performing devs to fall during an app stampede.

Posted by dave on July 30, 2009 at 10:58 AM (PDT)

10

I’m as a iPhone 3GS user,Apple did a wonderful job.Otherwise other company was selling a crap and wireless copanies also.Now app store has more than 65000 app.And it is very usefull.Apple have opened a new market for developer,a new job oppertunity.So if they have problem with the Apple application store sysytem,they should have showed more patience.Becuase Apple is belive in quality,they dont care for other competitor.So I’m sure that they will improve the whole process for App store approval and may be they are improving.

Posted by JD on July 30, 2009 at 12:22 PM (PDT)

11

Yes, the idea, and for some people, the execution of the app store is great.

But if Apple semi-randomly decides to screw you, for whatever reason, you are boned.  And there’s nothing you can do about it.  And Apple has been randomly screwing people.  From reject letters sent more than a month after an app was last executed by an apply tester, to letting your app be sold on the app store for months, then removing it and letting people who purchased it get refunds, putting you (the developer) on the hook for returning 130% of all the money you may have received from Apple.

Posted by dave on July 30, 2009 at 1:04 PM (PDT)

12

Dave, @11, not sure I’m buying this (or I’m not getting what you’re saying). How could you possibly be expected to pay back more than you earned? If that IS the case, then it was explained in the developer’s agreement and you must have known going in.

Posted by urbanslaughter on July 31, 2009 at 8:51 AM (PDT)

13

Was #10 written on an iPhone?  Sure reads like it.

Posted by zyzyzyzyzyzyx on July 31, 2009 at 8:53 AM (PDT)

14

@11, Apple keeps 30% off the top.  The developer never sees it.  Developers who get their apps pulled like in the case of GV Mobile then get flooded with refund demands.  But they only ever saw 70% of the funds, they have to come up with the other 30% out of their own pocket if they want to do the right thing for their customers.  It’s a shame, Apple keeps it money while the developer gets screwed and is made to look bad if they don’t give the refunds.

Posted by sting7k on July 31, 2009 at 10:01 AM (PDT)

15

Correction to 14.  Directed at 12, not 11; sorry.

Posted by sting7k on July 31, 2009 at 10:02 AM (PDT)

16

@14 that’s what I’m saying. If the Devs refund the money, then they give back 100%, not 130%.

Posted by urbanslaughter on July 31, 2009 at 11:34 AM (PDT)

17

@16 but it is 130% for the developer. They only receive 70% of the money the app sell for. If the customer receives a 100% discount from the developer then the developer is paying 30% more than he made selling the app in the first place. Yes 70+30=100, but when your 70% share is 100% of your profit then you pay back the 30% you never got from selling the app you’re essentially paying each customer 130% of what you received for each sale.

Posted by iphoneconsumer on July 31, 2009 at 4:25 PM (PDT)

18

To be pedantic, since a dev only gets 70% of the full price of the product, they’d have to pay back about 143% on what they received for each sale. (142.85714…% to be even more precise.) If the app is $10 then the dev gets $7 and has to refund $3 over their $7 gain—3/7 = 0.4285714.

To reply to #5, it’s not just going to be a backlash from the devs. I’ve got a little less than 6 months left on my contract and I’m quite willing to walk away from AT&T and the iPhone if things don’t improve. Was going to go with the 3GS, but it’s not worthwhile to support a company that’s just going bad (AT&T has been bad for a long time).

Posted by unsatisfied iphone user on July 31, 2009 at 6:27 PM (PDT)

19

If Apple made custom motorcycles they would no doubt be the Russell Mitchell Exile Choppers of the business. They make a product that looks and functions the way they want it to and to hell with what everybody else thinks.

The App store on the other hand, feels more like the guys at Orange County Choppers - they design and build a product that appeals to the customer.

There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but trying to combine the two doesn’t work out very well. Apple needs to either open up and give third party devs more control, or start doing all of their app development in-house. 

Posted by Paul on July 31, 2009 at 9:07 PM (PDT)

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