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.
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.
Following yesterday's release of the Apple TV Tech Talks videos, I came across this project by Aaron Stephenson that lets you watch WWDC sessions and Tech Talks on the Apple TV itself. You'll need Xcode to install it, but, if you're a developer, it's a good way to watch videos on the big screen and take notes/try code on a Mac – WWDC sessions go back to 2011 and you can mark videos as favorites, too.
Over the past few months, developers around the world learned how to design and develop apps and games for Apple TV directly from Apple experts. Now you can share in the experience by watching all the session videos from the Apple TV Tech Talks.
Good starting point for developers who are considering tvOS apps, and useful for
those who have already launched TV apps, too. You can watch the videos here.
Developer Christian Tietze has published an excellent book titled Make Money Outside the Mac App Store. It focuses on the FastSpring payment and storefront service. If you're a developer looking at using FastSpring to avoid the hassles and 30% cut of selling through the MAS (or are already using FastSpring and want to implement more advanced features), this is a great guide covering implementation, piracy protection, and more.
Rogue Amoeba's Paul Kafasis, writing on the latest version of their audio recording app, Piezo, and their decision to exit the Mac App Store:
A major reason for the initial creation of Piezo was our desire to allow recording from other applications on the Mac within the limits of what Apple’s Mac App Store rules allowed. We were pleased to provide audio capture to customers of the Mac App Store, and for a time, things worked just fine. However, Apple eventually changed the rules, requiring that all applications distributed through the Mac App Store be sandboxed. This was a problem. Piezo’s need to capture audio from other applications precludes the possibility of it being sandboxed. This new requirement effectively stopped our ability to upgrade Piezo in any meaningful way.
We’d like to provide customers with the option of buying Piezo through the Mac App Store, but it’s more important to us that we provide a quality product with full functionality. In the case of Piezo, that now means exclusively distributing the application via our site. Users have always had the option of downloading and buying Piezo direct, so this didn’t involve much in the way of additional work. The biggest issue was simply choosing to remove Piezo from the Mac App Store. Ultimately, we feel the decision was made for us by both technical and bureaucratic factors outside of our control.
It says a lot about the Mac App Store that, whenever another app exits it, our reaction isn't "why" but "of course".
A sad but true post by Lauren Goode at The Verge:
What do Endomondo, MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, Runtastic, FitStar, and RunKeeper all have in common?
Aside from all being smartphone apps that track your health and activity, all of these apps have been acquired by bigger companies — bigger brands — over the past couple of years, the latest being RunKeeper, which was just bought by running shoe maker Asics. Endomondo, MyFitnessPal, and MapMyFitness went to Under Armour. Runtastic was acquired by Adidas. FitStar was bought by Fitbit, which at the time wasn’t yet a public company, but in its own right has swelled to become the market leader for activity trackers.
Large companies operating at scale with free services and lots of users who don't bother to pay for extras? It's photo management, all over again.
If history does repeat itself, we'll continue to see, as Goode argues, consolidation of independent services being acquired by bigger brands. The good news: smaller, more focused health and fitness utilities seem to have a profitable niche in which they can thrive, while still retaining the ability to save data into HealthKit. I appreciate how Apple's Health puts everyone on the same playing field – from brands to solo developers (the real indies in this case) like David Smith.
At which point, though, do we expect Apple and Google to make their own all-encompassing fitness and meal tracking apps for smartphones? Apple may be pushing the Watch as their premier fitness device, but they know how much people use their phones for these tasks, and a future Sherlocking wouldn't surprise me at all. Just like it happened with photos.
Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors on the the third beta of tvOS 9.2 seeded to developers earlier today:
There's now support for onscreen text entry via dictation in countries where Siri is available. When updating to tvOS 9.2 beta 3, users will be prompted to enable or disable dictation. With dictation, Apple TV users can dictate text and spell user names and passwords rather than typing them. With dictation enabled, the tvOS search bar alternates between a blank search field and an option to hold the Siri button to dictate text.
Feels like another feature that should have been there since tvOS debuted. Maybe the ability to actually link to tvOS apps will be next.
A notable addition to CloudKit announced by Apple today – an API for server-to-server requests:
In addition to providing a web interface for users to access the same data as your app, you can now easily read and write to the CloudKit public database from a server-side process or script with a server-to-server key.
Benjamin Mayo explains what this means in practice:
Until now, interaction with CloudKit has been limited to the APIs Apple provided in apps. Although this was useful, it lacked the options for more advanced use — most modern apps rely on servers to perform tasks whilst users are away. With the addition of the web API, developers can create many more types of applications using CloudKit as the backend. For instance, an RSS reader app can now add new feed items to the CloudKit stack from the server. Before, this action could only occur when a user opened a CloudKit-powered app, which was essentially impractical and meant developers had to use other tools.
Somewhat coincidentally, the announcement follows the news of Facebook shutting down Parse, the popular backend-as-a-service tool for developers. I've tried a few CloudKit apps over the past year that would have benefitted from a web counterpart checking for changes in the background – hopefully this change will enable more functionality for those types of apps. A feed reader built entirely off CloudKit with timely updates would be interesting.