Apple App Store and my distaste for it

As a consumer I am sort of ambivalent about the iOS app store and iTunes online services, at least, when accessed from OSX or an iOS device.

But as a developer I’m really irate whenever at each WWDC keynote some Apple top dude parades out how much they paid developers. It tells me that to Cupertino, this money is somehow a result of Apple’s work in making it possible. But that is far from the truth–maybe in conjunction with Apple, developers create software that transform iPads and iPhones into wonderful devices and personal appliances. But that sounds like bullshit. Is Time Cook really saying that app developers won’t make money writing software without them? Like, it provides an ecosystem, but to make money writing an app in iOS is no different than writing it for Android, Windows or Linux/OSX. If anything Apple makes it harder because app store policies are entirely Apple-serving and blind to basically any non-mass-consumer use cases.

To use an analogy, the fish doesn’t worship the water it swims in. Maybe the fish dies without the water and is grateful for it, but it also dies when the water is too hot, too cold, or has too much or too little oxygen. It dies if it cannot find food or is eaten by a predator. If the fish is successful, it is in no real way owed to the water it swims in. This is just nature. This is what devs have to contend for. Maybe when back in 2008 or 2010 as a new market space, the App store ecosystem bred a lot of new success stories and added value to developers in total. But today there’s absolutely nothing special about it, besides all these draconian restrictions, limitations, and pervasively depressed prices. The hard work today’s App developers put into their work is what makes them money, just like as if they put the same work into Android, Windows, OSX, or any other large ecosystem that is suited for their software. In more and more cases, they make a living in spite of what the App store does to their sales and business models.

And I think the underlying motive is clear. In order for Apple to make the iPhone and iPad successful during the early days, it has to court a lot of successful apps that cater to consumers. That started its low-price origin in the App Store. Store policy leaned towards things that floated iOS devices as multi-tools of wonder instead of sustainable software marketplace that cherished diversity. The 30% tax is just insult on top of humiliation. By completely mediating the customer connection with developer Apple was able to curate one experience, but at the same time the edge of this one single experience becomes ultimately iOS’s own fish bowl. Which is fine for water, less so for the fish in the tank.

It just rubs off on me wrong that somehow Apple is doing developers a favor when they are pretty much the most self-serving ecosystem out there. Maybe it works for them, but at some point the prisoner’s dilemma is going to kick in. Last night I was channel surfing and heard Jalen Rose proverbially mention that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. I’m not sure Apple really wants to go together; so it’ll be interesting to see if they’ll be forced to do so.