Monthly Archives: February 2011

Neven Mrgan on Apple’s focus

I hadn’t yet read “Neven Mrgan’s post”:http://mrgan.tumblr.com/post/3451376797/30 when I wrote “my own”:http://www.manton.org/2011/02/30_of_the.html yesterday, but he strikes one of the same themes I closed with:

“But with this 30% thing, the 30% I’m really interested in is, will Apple eventually see 30% of its revenue come from various cuts, percentages, deals, and obligations? If so, that means a different focus for the company — a focus on things and people farther removed from me and you. And that makes me a bit bummed out.”

Of course, neither of us is filling in for Steve Jobs, and Apple can do anything they want within the law. But what Neven captures so well here is that many of us hold Apple to a higher standard because Apple has a history of creating great things. This 30% business model doesn’t seem to have any place in that history.

30% of the future

I believe the iPad is the future of mainstream computing, not just of mobile devices. That’s why I picked it as the first platform for Tweet Library. But forcing developers to use in-app purchase shows that Apple’s version of success for the iPad looks much different than mine.

Apple’s tight control over iOS has always been troubling. If there’s no way to install an app on the device without Apple’s approval, then Apple can make or break any business that builds for the platform. It’s an added risk for the thousands of tiny development shops for which the iPhone and iPad are otherwise perfect.

There was such huge growth in the development community because of iOS that I’m not sure anyone was paying attention to where we’d end up. We saw a new phone instead of the future of computing. We saw the gold rush but not the damage, so we let it happen. We let it happen by not sending Apple a clear message: total control over distribution is bad for developers and bad for users.

And now we’re letting Apple take 30% from every company that wants an iOS app to complement their business, whether it has anything to do with software development or not.

From Matt Drance:

“Whatever the fine print says, Apple is no longer letting developers do things it had been letting them do — and build businesses on — for almost two years, and many developers are quite understandably upset about that.”

And Marco Arment:

“A broad, vague, inconsistently applied, greedy, and unjustifiable rule doesn’t make developers want to embrace the platform.”

I hope we’re wrong about the worst-case interpretation — I like this Steve Jobs email much more than the reality of Readability’s rejection — but because Apple fails so spectacularly at communication we won’t know for sure until more rejections come in.

I’m not comfortable with a future in which 30 cents on the dollar goes to a single company, no matter whether it’s from app downloads (where Apple offers hosting and discovery) or content sales and web service subscriptions (where Apple offers little). If the iPad grows like many of us expect it to, siphoning a third of the cash flow around everyday computers will create a completely different economic environment than exists today. It’s unprecedented.

And it would ruin Apple. Not the company’s finances, but its focus. John Gruber wonders what he’s missing, and this is it: Apple is embracing a model that is fine for Readability but runs counter to Apple’s core business. The iTunes Music Store wasn’t a business in its own right; it helped sell more iPods. The App Store shouldn’t be a huge revenue stream; it makes the iPhone and iPad better.

Apple’s strength has always been selling a great product to end users — “the rest of us”. The new Apple has fallen into the trap of thinking they should also be an advertising company and an overpriced payment processor. It’s a slippery slope from here to becoming just another mega-corp that has their hands in everything that can make money instead of standing for something.

Tweet Library filters

“John Chandler wrote a nice post”:http://www.byjohnchandler.com/2011/01/28/filter-friday/ on the filters he uses in various Twitter apps. Here’s a clever one for “you missed it”:

“I try to limit how many people I follow so I can read most of what they say. So, if they preface a tweet with something like ‘If you missed it,’ or ‘In case you missed it,’ I probably didn’t.”

As I mentioned in the comments, I have a few filters I like too, such as filtering out all old-style RTs. I even experimented with filtering out all hashtags. It’s great when I want to completely un-clutter the timeline of gimmicky tweets, but I can keep the filter toggled off when I have more time to read.

The advantage of how I built filters in “Tweet Library”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/tweetlibrary/ is that they are dynamic collections inside the app, kind of like smart playlists in iTunes. This means while it filters the junk out of my timeline, I can still occasionally go and review what it filtered out.

(I just submitted Tweet Library 1.2.1 to the App Store with a handful of bug fixes. Hopefully it’ll be approved soon.)

In-app purchase changes

With the recent release of “The Daily”:http://www.thedaily.com/ and the news of “Sony’s e-book app rejection”:http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2011/02/change-in-apple-policy-has-e-book-fans-worried-about-their-apps.ars, there’s speculation that Apple will change the rules around iOS in-app purchases. The 30% cut makes it difficult for some businesses to move to the App Store without passing a cost increase on to customers.

Other than “no change”, I’ve only heard two possible solutions:

Special deals for the big guys. Amazon and other retailers could negotiate lower rates. But as Marco mentioned on “Build and Analyze”:http://5by5.tv/buildanalyze/11, the App Store treats large and small developers as equals. It’s a real strength that a 2-person game company can compete with Electronic Arts. I hope we never lose that.

Lower percentage for everyone. Not going to happen. Take an app like Twitterrific. I consider it a $5 app, but to the store it’s actually a free app with a $5 in-app upgrade. Lowering the in-app cut would encourage many previously paid apps to convert to free and pay less to Apple.

This is why I believe the only option is for Apple to distinguish between in-app content and features. Content purchases, such as e-books or virtual game items, would be in one class of payment. Feature upgrades, such as unlocking core functionality in the app, would continue to be 30%, same as paid downloads.

Is it confusing for developers? Is it totally subjective and up to the judgement of the review team? Yes. Welcome to the App Store.