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Posts tagged with "app store"

Apps as Services

John Gruber, writing on the App Store changes Apple announced earlier today, makes a good point about app sustainability:

Developers have been asking for a way to do free trials and to sustain long-term ongoing development ever since the App Store opened in 2008. This is Apple’s answer. I think all serious productivity apps in the App Store should and will switch to subscription pricing.

You might argue that people don’t want to subscribe to a slew of different apps. But the truth is most people don’t want to pay for apps, period. Nothing will change that. But for those people willing to pay for high quality apps, subscriptions make sustainable-for-developer pricing more palatable, and more predictable.

The ideal scenario after Apple's new subscription APIs: users will be able to try out different apps for free thanks to subscription trials, see which one suits their needs, and then subscribe, optionally choosing from different subscription levels. The best app wins. Developers don't have to worry about new versions of apps to sell users on a major upgrade, and customers can keep using the app they like.

The problem, as I see it today, is that Apple is being (intentionally?) vague about which kinds of apps will be able to adopt this new pricing model. On their new Subscriptions webpage, Apple refers to "successful auto-renewable subscription apps" as the ones that offer content or "services". They also mention that apps will soon be "eligible" for subscriptions – a wording that might suggest increased scrutiny on Apple's part to see whether an app can implement a subscription or not.

Today's changes have been reported as Apple's answer to the requests of developers who have been asking for paid upgrade pricing, but, as far as I can see, nothing on Apple's website indicates that any type of app – regardless of its functionality – will be able to switch to subscription pricing. As with most App Store changes, it's probably best to take a wait-and-see approach here – there will be sessions at WWDC to clarify many of the aforementioned questions.

Subscription pricing is not for everyone or every app. I don't see myself "subscribing" to an image cropping app that I might need once a year – and Apple is saying as much, too. But I also wouldn't mind becoming a paid subscriber of the apps that I rely on to get work done on my iOS devices, even if they don't offer a service in the traditional sense. Apps like Workflow, Ulysses, or Copied save me time every day. Their continued development is the service for me – I want them and need them to exist, no matter Apple's classification of their "service". I'm willing to pay a subscription to keep using the best tools for me, and I don't think I'm alone.

I'm optimistic about subscription pricing for App Store apps. Not every app is a good fit for a subscription, but increasingly more of them are.1 Apple's new subscription tools should help developers sell their software to their best customers on a regular basis, and I'm curious to see how the indie developer community will react. It's great to see excitement around the App Store again.


  1. Case in point, Sketch↩︎

Major App Store Changes Announced

Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, sat down with The Loop and The Verge to announce sweeping changes to the App Store, including changes to App Review, business models, and app discovery.

We have already seen the effect of the changes to App Review. According to Schiller, as a result of changes to the review process, Apple is reviewing 50% of apps within 24 hours and 90% within 48 hours and reviewing over 100,000 apps per week in aggregate.

Apple is also opening up subscriptions to all app types. Participants in the program will be able to offer auto-renewable subscriptions to services and content using in-app purchases. Under the new subscription models Apple will split subscription revenue 70/30 with developers for the first year a customer is subscribed to an app. For customers that subscribe for more than a year, the split with Apple will increase to 85/15 in favor of the developer. Subscriptions will be available world-wide at over 200 price points. Developers will not be able to increase a subscription price without existing customers’ authorization, but will be able to charge new customers an increased price.

We wrote about app discovery just last week and made a laundry list of suggestions about how it could be improved. The app filtering that was first noticed on the Apple TV App Store last week will be rolled out to all the app stores so apps that are already installed on your iOS device will be hidden, ensuring that visitors to the App Store only see new apps. Apple is also adding access to the share sheet via 3D Touch so users can share apps with others from their Home screens.

In addition, as rumored by Bloomberg in April, Apple will soon begin accepting search ads from developers. At the time the possibility of search ads was raised by Bloomberg, many developers were unhappy. Schiller in his interview with The Loop, said that:

Our store is not for sale—that’s not how we handle things,” said Schiller. “We are only going to do this if we can, first and foremost, respect the user and be fair to developers, especially small developers.

Schiller elaborated that there will only be one ad per search that will be clearly marked and contain the same App Store content returned by unpaid search results. Apple also stated that it would not collect analytics about click rates or share any such data with developers. Search ads will be launched through a beta program later this summer.

As we concluded in our story on app discovery last week:

There is no silver bullet that will improve discovery overnight – it’s a problem that needs to be attacked on multiple fronts simultaneously.

That statement holds true not just for app discovery, but the whole of the App Store. There is much more that Apple can and should do to improve the App Store, but the initiatives announced today are a good start. With this sort of major change being announced shortly before WWDC, I can’t help but wonder what Apple has in store for the WWDC keynote.


“Where’s the App for That?” – Fixing App Store Discovery

When the iPhone debuted in 2007, it was by no means a forgone conclusion that there would ever be an App Store. Steve Jobs reportedly resisted the idea over concerns that it would ‘mess up’ the iPhone,1 yet about one year later, the App Store debuted with around 500 third-party apps.

The App Store grew like wildfire. By January 2009, there were about 15,000 apps. Though modest by today's standards, 15,000 was already enough apps that it felt like there was one to fulfill every possible need you might have. Apple celebrated the success of the App Store the next month by launching a TV ad campaign featuring the catchphrase ‘There’s an app for that.’

Fast-forward to today and the scope of the App Store of 2009 feels quaint by comparison. There are now approximately 1.5 million apps in the App Store – a 100-fold increase in just seven years. But while the App Store has been an undeniable success for Apple by almost any measure, that success has come at a cost. With so many apps in the App Store, discovery has become such a serious problem that today’s version of Apple’s 2009 catchphrase may as well be ‘Where’s the app for that?’

The good news is that change is afoot in the App Store. Last December, Phil Schiller took over responsibility for the App Store. In April, Apple launched a site dedicated to helping developers build their businesses, which includes a way for developers to contact the App Store team directly about promoting their apps. In mid-May, app review times dropped dramatically, from around a week to under two days, instantly changing the launch cycle for developers. Then, just in the last week or two, Apple quietly started hiding Apple TV apps from its Featured pages and top charts that customers have already downloaded, making room to display more new apps.

According to rumors Apple has about 100 people working on changes to the App Store. With WWDC just around the corner, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how Apple could improve App Store discovery and gathering ideas from other developers. I’m optimistic that meaningful progress can be made to make developers’ apps more discoverable, but these are hard problems. There is no silver bullet that will improve discovery overnight – it’s a problem that needs to be attacked on multiple fronts simultaneously.

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Apple Shortening App Review Times

Apple appears to be shortening review times for new app and update submissions to the App Store. According to data collected by independent app review tracking website AppReviewTimes and as reported by Bloomberg today, review times have approached 2 days as opposed to the 7-10 days it took Apple to review apps in the past.

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What to Do When the Mac App Store App Just Spins and Spins

Recently I found myself in a bind: the Mac App Store app on my Retina MacBook would launch, but would not show me anything except a little spinning circle near the top-left corner. I left it like that overnight and when I came back the next morning it was still spinning. Fixing it was tricky, even for an experienced Mac user like myself, so I thought I’d share what worked for me in case you ever find yourself in that situation.

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Life and Death in the App Store

Casey Newton has a must-read story on the struggles of Pixite (makers of Pigment, among other apps) and the modern app economy:

For a time, Pixite was a shining example of the businesses made possible by the app economy. Like thousands of other developers, Pixite’s founders took what had been a side project and turned it into a full-fledged career. But the company’s recent financial problems illustrate a series of powerful shifts in the industry toward consolidation and corporatization.

For all but a few developers, the App Store itself now resembles a lottery: for every breakout hit like Candy Crush, hundreds or even thousands of apps languish in obscurity. Certain segments of the app economy remain vibrant — ludicrously profitable, even. Apps for massive social networks, on-demand services like Uber, and subscription businesses like Netflix and Spotify remain in high demand. Then there’s gaming: Last year, 85 percent of all app revenues went to games, according to App Annie. Supercell, the top-grossing developer of Clash of Clans, reported revenue of $1.7 billion in 2014. (It spent $440 million on marketing.)

The folks at Pixite have made some mistakes along the way, but the general shift on the App Store is undeniable.

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Developers: Apple’s App Review Needs Big Improvements

Since the App Store launched in 2008, every app and every app update has gone through a process of App Review. Run by a team within Apple, their objective is to keep the App Store free from apps that are malicious, broken, dangerous, offensive or infringe upon any of Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines. For developers who want to have their app on the iOS, Mac, or tvOS App Store, App Review is an unavoidable necessity that they deal with regularly. But in the public, little is heard about App Review, except for a few occasions in which App Review has made a high-profile or controversial app rejection (such as the iOS 8 widgets saga) or when App Review has mistakenly approved an app that should never have been approved (such as the app requiring players to kill Aboriginal Australians).

Earlier this year we set out to get a better understanding of what developers think about App Review. We wanted to hear about their positive and negative experiences with App Review, and find out how App Review could be improved. It is hard to ignore from the results we got, from a survey of 172 developers,1 that beneath the surface there is a simmering frustration relating to numerous aspects of App Review. There is no question that App Review still mostly works and very few want to get rid of it, but developers are facing a process that can be slow (sometimes excruciatingly so), inconsistent, marred by incompetence, and opaque with poor communication. What fuels the frustration is that after months of hard work developing an app, App Review is the final hurdle that developers must overcome, and yet App Review can often cause big delays or kill an app before it ever even sees the light of day.

Developer frustration at App Review might seem inconsequential, or inside-baseball, but the reality is that it does have wider implications. The app economy has blossomed into a massive industry, with Apple itself boasting that it has paid developers nearly $40 billion since 2008 and is responsible (directly and indirectly) for employing 4 million people in the iOS app economy across the US, Europe and China. As a result, what might have been a small problem with App Review 5 years ago is a much bigger problem today, and will be a much, much bigger problem in another 5 years time.

App Review is not in a critical condition, but there is a very real possibility that today’s problems with App Review are, to some degree, silently stiffling app innovation and harming the quality of apps on the App Store. It would be naïve of Apple to ignore the significant and numerous concerns that developers have about the process.

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Apple Rejects ‘The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth’

Owen S. Good, writing for Polygon:

An iOS version of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth was rejected by Apple on grounds it depicts violence toward children, the game's publisher said Saturday evening.

Tyrone Rodriguez, the founder of Nicalis and a producer and developer for the game, tweeted this image of Apple's rejection notice, which notes that "Your app contains content or features that depict violence towards, or abuse of, children, which is not allowed on the App."

You know your App Review has a problem when even Nintendo has accepted the same game a year ago. This wouldn't be the first time Apple's App Review team has shown less respect for mature themes expressed through videogames (the same themes being generally okay for other types of entertainment) and I hope this rejection gets reversed. The Binding of Isaac is a fantastic game and Apple should be thrilled to have these kinds of indie titles on the App Store.

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Panic’s iOS Apps in 2015

Cabel Sasser, writing for the Panic blog on their iOS apps and how they did on the App Store in 2015:

iOS Revenue. I brought this up last year and we still haven’t licked it. We had a change of heart — well, an experimental change of heart — and reduced the price of our iOS apps in 2015 to normalize them at $9.99 or less, thinking that was the upper limit and/or sweet spot for iOS app pricing. But it didn’t have a meaningful impact on sales.

More and more I’m beginning to think we simply made the wrong type of apps for iOS — we made professional tools that aren’t really “in demand” on that platform — and that price isn’t our problem, but interest is.

So, once again, we will investigate raising our iOS app prices in 2016, with two hopes: that the awesome customers that love and need these apps understand the incredible amount of work that goes into them and that these people are also willing to pay more for a quality professional app (whereas, say, the casual gamer would not).

You have to wonder if Apple should come up with new ways to incentivize the creation of these types of pro apps, or if Panic shouldn't have lowered prices in the first place. Maybe it's a bit of both.

I don't think Panic made the wrong type of apps for iOS. Panic's apps are fantastic pieces of software, and Apple should be proud of having them on the App Store. Panic's commitment to their iOS apps is laudable, and their taste, unsurprisingly, impeccable. Coda 2 and Transmit are some of the finest productivity software you'll find on the App Store.

As usual, I'm going to say that a possible solution lies somewhere in the middle. I'd like to see Apple improve the App Store with tools and developer relations that help companies like Panic, and I'd urge more developers to place the correct value on their apps. The Omni Group is a good example to follow here. It may sound old fashioned, but I think quality software deserves an appropriate price.

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