Nice change for tvOS app developers announced today by Apple:
The size limit of a tvOS app bundle has increased from 200 MB to 4 GB, so you can include more media in your submission and provide a complete, rich user experience upon installation. Also, tvOS apps can use On-Demand Resources to host up to 20 GB of additional content on the App Store.
On one hand, this prepares the platform for 4K support and larger file sizes in the future, and it makes another step towards legitimizing the Apple TV as a micro-console (in addition to bigger app downloads, developers can also require controllers in their games for tvOS 10).
However, the 64 GB version of the 4th generation Apple TV has been around for over a year now with little explanation from Apple as to why customers would want to spend more for increased storage, and this feels like lifting a limitation because why not.
I'm curious to see what happens now, particularly in terms of game releases on tvOS. This is a welcome change for game developers, but we haven't seen any major tvOS exclusives so far.
Interesting announcements from Amazon at its AWS event this week: the company is rolling out a suite of artificial intelligence APIs for developers to plug their apps into. These tools are based on the AWS cloud (which a lot of your favorite apps and services already use) and they leverage the same AI and deep learning that has also powered Alexa, the software behind the Amazon Echo.
Here's April Glaser, writing for Recode:
Drawing on the artificial intelligence that powers Amazon’s popular home assistant Alexa, the new tools will allow developers to build apps that have conversational interfaces, can turn text into speech and use computer vision that is capable of recognizing faces and objects.
Amazon’s latest push follows moves from Google and Microsoft, both of which have cloud computing platforms that already use artificial intelligence.
Google’s G Suite, for example, uses AI to power Smart Reply in Gmail, instant translation and smart scheduling functions in its calendar. Likewise, Microsoft recently announced it’s bringing artificial intelligence to its Office 365 service to add search within Word, provide productivity tracking and build maps from Excel with geographic data.
It's increasingly starting to look like "AI as an SDK" will become a requirement for modern apps and services. Deep learning and AI aren't limited to playing chess and recognizing cat videos anymore; developers are using this new kind of computing power for all kinds of features – see Plex, Spotify, and Todoist for two recent examples. I've also been hearing about iOS apps using Google's Cloud Vision a lot more frequently over the past few months.
I think this trend will only accelerate as AI reshapes how software gets more and better work done for us. And I wonder if Apple is considering an expansion of their neural network APIs to match what others are doing – competition in this field is heating up quickly.
Each year around the Christmas holiday, Apple’s App Review team takes a break from reviewing the thousands of apps that pour into the App Store on a typical day. During the break, new apps and app updates are not accepted. This year is no different. According to Apple’s Developer news site:
The busiest season on the App Store is almost here. Make sure your apps are up-to-date and ready for the winter holidays. New apps and app updates will not be accepted December 23 to 27 (Pacific Time), so any releases should be submitted, approved, and scheduled in advance. Other iTunes Connect and developer account features will remain available.
Allen Pike has a good summary of how limited the media player framework is on iOS, especially for developers who want to create apps that integrate with Apple Music:
In the meantime, these limitations mean that any music app that attempts to play Apple Music tracks will be seriously limited, require odd workarounds, and behave problematically depending on user behaviour. In the spirit of giving users a quality experience, we’re stuck with the same limitation that other sophisticated audio apps have today: no Apple Music.
The explanation is a bit technical in places, but I think we can all relate to some limitations he details: apps can't modify Music playlists on the user's behalf, queue management is severely limited, and fading a song out is a private API.
There could be an entire ecosystem of music utilities and alternative players based on the streaming service – think how professional DJ apps, tagging services like Shazam and SoundHound, or music discovery apps could take advantage of a direct integration with Apple Music. I hope Apple will consider some of these suggestions for next year.
Fun video from the Úll conference of developers reading 1-star reviews of their own apps. Props to whoever did this, too.
Fahad Gilani, developer of 2Do (one of my favorite task managers on iOS), has decided to adopt a 'free with In-App Purchases' model after years of a traditional 'paid upfront with free updates' app. He writes:
It’s about choices, or the lack thereof. I’m disappointed to say this, but after having to continually support and develop 2Do on various platforms for over 8 years, the free updates model has begun to lose its lustre. Folks that know me (and there aren’t too many of those in the wild), know how I really feel about subscriptions, in-app purchases and anything that nags the user for more money than they’ve originally paid.
Past several years what I’ve truly been waiting for is a solution that’s in-between in-app purchases, subscriptions and paid upgrades. Instead, what we got out from this year’s WWDC was “Subscriptions for all!”. I don’t know about you, and your opinion on this may differ, but I’d personally hate to see the 10+ apps I use frequently to turn into a $2.99+ monthly subscription. I appreciate that there’s a difference between a Service and an App, but nowadays everyone’s begun to portray their app as a service. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not comfortable with that thought; even as a developer.
And here's how it's going to work, starting with Android and moving to other platforms:
In short, even after the trial expires, the app will continue to offer all of its features, except for Sync, Backups and Alert Notifications (i.e. turn into a dumb, but useful to do list). In order to enable those, the user could upgrade to the full version by paying once.
Nothing changes for folks that have already purchased the app. You won’t have to pay again (on Android there isn’t currently a way to determine if you’ve already paid for the app, however I’ll figure something out so it remains free). The app will still be priced the same, only the model changes a bit to allow it to be previewed for free.
This comes a week after The Omni Group has announced that all their apps will become free downloads with trials and unlocks handled by one-time In-App Purchases. I sense a trend consolidating for developers of productivity software on iOS; I hope Apple is okay with this use of In-App Purchases and that it'll scale in practice. If this allows developers of pro iOS apps to build better sustainable businesses for years to come, I'm all for it.
Ken Case, writing on The Omni Group's blog, has announced a notable change for the company's download model on the App Store:
The underlying problem, as noted above, is that downloading the app has a fixed cost. We’ve always set that cost to be the standard price of our app, leaving us no way to charge less. But what if we take a fresh look at this problem, and make our downloads free? You know, like every iPhone app in the Top Grossing List has already done? It’s not that they don’t sell anything—or they wouldn’t be on that list. They just don’t sell the original download. (Which we’ve never done on our own store either.)
With the original download free, we can implement any pricing options we want to offer customers through In-App Purchases. We can offer our standard unlocks of Standard and Pro, of course. But we can also offer a free 2-week trial which unlocks all of the features of Pro and Standard, letting you freely choose between them. We can offer a discounted upgrade to the new Standard. And we can offer free upgrades to the new versions to any customers who recently purchased the old app.
Well, I’m pleased to share that that’s exactly what we’re going to do—starting next month, with the App Store edition of OmniGraffle 7.
You don't get a better sign of the times than this. The Omni Group was the poster child of finding success on the iOS App Store with paid upfront pro software priced like desktop apps. But as Case argues, most apps in the Top Grossing charts have switched to a "free with In-App Purchases" model. That seems to be the clear path forward for developers who want to build sustainable software while also ensuring users can properly test their apps and take advantage of discounted upgrades.
It doesn't surprise me that The Omni Group – unlike other developers who keep hoping Apple retrofits the App Store for purchase mechanisms of a decade ago – went ahead and took a fresh approach to figure this out. The new policy isn't limited to the upcoming OmniGraffle 7: every Omni app for Mac and iOS will move to a free download with one-time In-App Purchases to buy the full feature set.
Omni's solution seems elegant and straightforward. The apps are free to download and they can be used as viewers when unlicensed; the free trial is an In-App Purchase set at Tier 0 that counts down 14 days; the full apps are unlocked with Standard and Pro levels of In-App Purchases. The only negative aspect I can think of is that In-App Purchases aren't available to Family Sharing, but that's on Apple to fix.
If Omni's approach works well in practice (and I can't imagine why it wouldn't), I can see a lot of developers following their model.
David Smith is an independent developer who launched his first iOS app in 2008. He's seen a lot of change in the App Store since then, which he chronicles in an insightful post on his blog. Smith examines the revenue his apps have generated since 2012 and the pattern is unmistakable. Around 2013, the majority of his revenue flipped from being primarily from paid sales to advertising.
Looking back, Smith concludes that:
...the change is mostly been in the App Store market, rather than in my own attitudes. In many cases adding advertising to my apps has been something I’ve fought and resisted as long as possible. But in the end the pragmatic answer has been to not swim upstream and instead follow where my customers have moved to.
The market has been pulling me along towards advertising based apps, and I’ve found that the less I fight back with anachronistic ideas about how software “should” be sold, the more sustainable a business I have.
Smith readily acknowledges his experience is just one data point in a large App Store. If you've followed the fortunes of independent app developers over this period though, his conclusion rings true.
Be sure to visit Smith's website to see the charts breaking down the components of his apps' revenue. The short-term impact of app launches on overall revenue is an interesting footnote to the post's main focus.