Mac App Store follow-up

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. First the good news: “Clipstart”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/clipstart/ is in the Mac App Store. Overall I was very happy with the response and glad to have a new way for customers to find the app.

I’ve received a bunch of good feedback on “my blog post about Apple’s 30% cut”:http://www.manton.org/2011/01/app_store_30_cut.html. A few people are really upset with Apple, and there are posts in the dev forums about Mac apps that still weren’t approved for one reason or another weeks after the store launched. Other developers keep quiet, either for fear of rocking the boat or because they are happy with their sales and don’t see a significant problem.

And then there’s most of us who know Apple can do even better. We’re frustrated when an app (not just our own) is rejected or stuck in review indefinitely, but we just accept that things are a little dysfunctional and cross our fingers that maybe Apple will magically become more transparent.

But it’s not going to happen by itself. It’s not going to happen because the culture of Apple under Steve Jobs is secrecy. Apple is about great products, sure, but they’re so obsessed with the big reveal that it weakens their communication with developers.

From a “MacSB mailing list post about WWDC”:http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/macsb/message/18055 by Dave Howell, written back in February:

“Second, Apple employees are no longer allowed to talk about anything. In the past, half of the value of WWDC was talking directly to the folks who wrote the OS frameworks you have questions about. But now the answer to any question is always either ‘file a bug’ or ‘send an email to devprograms@apple.com.’ They’re all under a gag order.”

The baffling part is that many of the problems in the App Store process are easily solvable. The iTunes Connect team could, for example, make it a priority to answer all email. I don’t know what the organizational structure is over there, and I’m sympathetic to what must be a flood of app submissions, but it doesn’t feel like App Store support gets the same quality treatment that Developer Technical Support does.

Contrast with “Gus Mueller’s point on Twitter”:http://twitter.com/ccgus/status/24200147764256768:

“I’m with you on the 30% + silence issue. With PayPal, they’ll call me back when I email them with problems or questions.”

“Michael Tsai echoes this”:http://mjtsai.com/blog/2011/01/09/mac-app-store-unanswered-questions/ on his blog:

“The main value of Apple’s 30% cut is access to a larger market, but it still doesn’t look good that companies such as PayPal, eSellerate, and E-junkie charge much less and provide great service. I can e-mail or call those companies and get answers right away.”

Good support takes extra resources and it costs money. Luckily Apple has both, and that’s why drawing attention to Apple’s 30% cut was key to my original argument. Developers are playing by Apple’s rules and helping to fund the App Store.

Despite all this, I’m upbeat. In 2011 I want to look for ways that I can help Apple succeed, such as filing bugs. For years I swore off bothering, because it took so long to turn around a fix, if ever, and I had long since worked around a bug and moved on. iOS changes that delay because it improves so significantly every single year.

I’m all for “praising Apple when it’s deserved”:http://www.marco.org/2011/02/04/ode-to-the-app-review-team, but history shows that Apple improves the App Store when people complain. My posts are negative when it’s warranted and worth paying attention to.

The App Store is getting better. (I love that the Resolution Center is there even if I hope to never need to use it.) The writing is on the wall that a year from now most apps will be distributed through the Mac App Store, and the savings and independence of direct download sales won’t be worth the maintenance of two separate forms of distribution for many developers. But if Apple holds all the cards in this relationship, then we must hold Apple to a very high standard.