Tag Archives: appstore

Flappy Bird on steroids

On this week’s Core Intuition, we talked a lot about Flappy Bird (and also Threes, and a few other things). One of the points I tried to make is that some of the negativity pointed toward the developer was totally uncalled for. Marco Arment says it well in his post on this topic:

“Flappy Bird’s success was hilarious, but it also appears to be completely earned. I’ve read the posts suggesting he cheated at the ranks or reviews, but I haven’t seen any that supported those claims enough.”

As I read Marco’s full post, and re-listened to what Daniel and I said on the podcast, I do wonder if developer Dong Nguyen had been so overwhelmed by the success that the line blurred for him between the death threats and the joke “this ruined my life” app reviews. You’d have to have a pretty thick skin to not let it get to you, even if I hope that most users had a good sense of humor about the whole thing. It’s true that the game is crazy addicting, but unlike some games — the worst of which are driven by consumable in-app purchases, gimmickly rigged to get users to feed money into the game — Flappy Bird is addicting in kind of the best way, because it’s something we’re all playing and can laugh about together.

And Nguyen cares about more than just money. He’s demonstrated an empathy for customers that seems to be lacking in many corners of the App Store. Where some developers said he was leaving money on the table by not having more ads, and other developers were quick to rush in with rip-offs of his app, Ngugen wasn’t afraid to admit it was out of control and pull the app from the store. Do you think any of the other developers who renamed their app to include the word “flappy” would have pulled their app? Not a chance.

I hope Nguyen can bounce back from this and ship more games. With so much attention now, it’ll be fascinating to see what they look like. Or if he’s stashed away some of that $50k/day and wants to just chill out for a while, that’s fine too.

Ending the App Store top 200

I was chatting with some developers this week, complaining about this post on spamming the App Store and wondering if we’d ever have a better App Store, when I finally realized how we get there. The block for me had always been the top 200 lists. We all know that you can game them, buy your way in, and apps that make it in even on their own merits have a huge advantage over everything else, sometimes for months. But I couldn’t conceive of how you could actually get rid of them and if it would make the store better or worse.

The answer is in Beats Music. They have no overall top 200 list! Instead, they have a bunch of people — musicians and writers who deeply care about music — curating playlists. The top 25 playlists in a genre are so buried in the app that I had to search them out just to write this blog post, because they seem to carry no more weight than any other playlist. Much more common are playlists like “our top 20 of 2013”. That’s not a best-selling list; it’s based on real people’s favorites.

There are literally hundreds or maybe thousands of other playlists. Intro playlists for a band, related artists that were influential to a singer you like, playlists for a mood or activity, and more. This extra manual step makes it much easier for an algorithm to surface great music: just look for playlists that contain songs you already like, and chances are good that you’ll discover something new.

I wrote about Beats Music earlier, how it underscored to me that Apple needs to find the next product category to fall in love with, just like they used to feel about music. Of course we know that Apple already loves apps. Show that by doubling down on featured apps, staff picks, and app playlists.

How would this fix the junk problem in the App Store? Simple. No one in their right mind would ever feature one of these ad-filled, “re-skinned” cheap apps. Great recommendations mean less reliance on search, making scam apps more difficult to find by accident. (This focus is so complete in Beats Music, for the first couple days of using it I didn’t even realize you could search for a specific song or album.)

This idea isn’t new. Here’s Jared Sinclair on app playlists, with the twist that they’re based on apps you have installed and use:

“App playlists should be rigorously simple: just a list of apps. Not all the apps ever downloaded, but the apps that a given user currently has installed on their device. The assumption is that if somebody has an app on their device, they probably like it.”

That would be great. But seeing Beats Music ship with almost no traditional music charts at all — in an industry that has embraced the top 40 for decades — tells me that the Beats approach would also work for apps. I think you need both an “installed” playlist and many more fully curated playlists to actually replace the top 200 in the App Store.

Apple will need to ramp up their staff to do this, but if a new company like Beats can do it, surely a company as huge as Apple can also try. And they’ll have help from app fans everywhere. Writers are already doing this: see Federico Viticci’s must-have iPad apps of 2013 (could easily be an app playlist) or all the photo apps mentioned on The Sweet Setup (favorite photo apps playlist) or TechHive’s 5 apps for budgeting (my playlist would’ve added MoneyWell).

Apple shouldn’t wait until Thursday to feature a few great apps. Feature apps all the time. They’re on the right track with some of the “best of” sections in the store, and with the “Near Me” feature. Go a little further and it will make all the difference to bubble up great apps, and let the junk in the App Store fade away. For the first time I can imagine the store without a top 200 at all, and it looks amazing.

Tweet Library 2.4

The latest version of Tweet Library was approved by Apple last night. It features an updated design for iOS 7, a new app icon, and a bunch of bug fixes. I also dropped the price to $4.99, universal for both iPhone and iPad, and it’s a free upgrade for all existing customers.

The App Store screenshots weren’t updated yet, so I put together some screenshots using Sunlit here.

I’m pretty happy with how this release turned out, but there’s still more work to do. I’ll be following up this release with some additional improvements specifically for iOS 7 soon. You can grab version 2.4 from the App Store here.

Searching abandoned apps

Ben Lachman has some good suggestions after my post and David Smith’s on what to do with abandoned apps, saying that apps should be more clearly labelled as “abandoned”. Which device you’re using could also have an impact on search results:

“Search results could be weighted by the device you are using quite heavily. Just like how on iPhone you don’t see iPad-only apps when searching the app store; on iPhone 5 you should be very unlikely to see apps that only support 3.5-inch screens.”

Makes sense to me. Also check out his comment at the end, that kids these days may have a very difficult time revisiting the classic apps from today, 20 years from now.

Jurewitz on features, pricing

Michael Jurewitz wrote a great post last week on minimum viable products:

“As you look at your products and how you make them remember these key points. You don’t need all the features under the sun. You don’t need technical excellence (assuming you also avoid technical debt). You need to solve a worthwhile problem in a delightful, thoughtful, and simple way.”

What he’s saying is it’s okay to be limited, but make that limited part totally polished. Cutting back features doesn’t mean you also cut back on quality. It reminds me of the quote from 37signals: “build half a product, not a half-ass product”.

This is good advice that I need to take to heart. I don’t have much problem shipping. But my apps often have some rough edges at 1.0.

Also don’t miss Jurewitz’s great 5-part series on App Store pricing. I’m linking to Michael Tsai’s summary here, since it provides nice quotes and links to each part in the series. I saw the talk that these blog posts were based on twice, at Çingleton and NSConference, and this has to be the best translation of a conference session into blog form I’ve ever seen. Not to be missed.

App Store old app maintenance

David Smith on cleaning up the App Store:

“The App Store currently has around 800k active apps listed. I suspect a significant number of these haven’t been updated in more than 12 months. An app that is listed for sale but is no longer under active development creates the possibility for bad user experience. It is like a grocery store that leaves expired produce on its shelves.”

He makes a good argument for removing old apps from the store, but I’d probably hesitate going all the way to actively take them out. There is certainly too much clutter in the App Store — too many apps that aren’t providing much value, some with little chance of an update. But I also dislike the already fragile state of App Store inventory. iOS apps require much more active maintenance than traditional, direct download Mac apps, which can be hosted anywhere and stay available without constant attention from the developer.

At one point on episode 14 of The New Disruptors podcast, Glenn Fleishman talked with John Gruber about apps as a unique art form unlike paintings or novels or even film because apps are never done. John Gruber from that show, talking about software:

“To me it is an art form. But it is the one thing that is continuously diddled with. You write a novel and it’s done, it’s out there. Once it’s published, it’s published. You make a movie, it’s done. George Lucas gets a lot of flak because he keeps revisiting his old Star Wars movies and making a change here and there, but it’s not like every year he comes out with a new version of Star Wars. […] But software — an app that has a vibrant and still-growing user base — it’s the same thing, constantly being iterated. It’s the only art form that is like that.”

There are always bugs, always missing features, and always (as is David’s point above) new hardware to adapt to. It’s an art form that won’t stay still, so maybe there is an inherent impermanence to it.

But if apps are an art form, an important part of our culture, then it shouldn’t require so much work to make sure they don’t disappear forever, so quickly. This happened to me just this week, actually. I forgot to renew my iOS developer program account and my apps were automatically removed from sale for a few hours while I scrambled to pay my $99 again.

Maybe there’s a compromise solution in here somewhere. Instead of being removed from sale, abandoned apps could switch to an archived state. They would no longer show up in top lists or even search, but could still be found with a direct link. With the right kind of fallback like that, Apple could be even more aggressive about gearing the App Store user experience around new apps and modern devices, without sacrificing what is good about the long tail of old apps.

Tweet Library price follow-up

Last month I tried an experiment, lowering the price of Tweet Library for the first time in 2 years. It wasn’t selling well and I wanted to do something to determine if I was just stubbornly pricing it too high or if there was a deeper issue with the quality or marketing of the app. So let’s follow up on whether this was a success or not.

Here’s the graph of revenue for a 2-month period: one month before the price cut and one month after. There was also a new version released about a week after the price cut, but it didn’t appear to have a significant impact on sales.

Tweet Library price cut

Downloads were up 175%. Profit was up 40%. My gut feeling is that I should have dropped the price to $7.99 instead of $4.99, but I’m wary of changing anything again right now. We’ll see what next month looks like.

Clipstart 1.4.2 (on MAS)

Just approved in the Mac App Store, Clipstart 1.4.2 fixes upload issues with YouTube and especially Vimeo, which was broken in previous releases because of Vimeo API changes. I expect this to be the final Mac App Store release for Clipstart. As I blogged about before, all Mac App Store customers can upgrade to the direct download version for free.

Here’s what you should do if you bought Clipstart from the Mac App Store:

  • Update to Clipstart 1.4.2 using the App Store app.

  • Run Clipstart at least once, then quit it. This allows it to copy the Mac App Store receipt so that it’s accessible to other versions of the app.

  • Download the latest version from the main Clipstart web site and replace the existing copy in your Applications folder with the direct download.

And if you’re thinking about buying Clipstart for the first time, please get it directly from the web site and checkout via PayPal. There’s also a demo with support for 2 uploads and tagging 20 videos.

I’m now turning my attention to version 1.5, which will improve a few things and add support for Gatekeeper on Mountain Lion.

Clipstart 1.4.2

I released a small bug fix update to Clipstart today, version 1.4.2, to fix an issue with YouTube uploads when using your Gmail address sign-in instead of the YouTube account username. This version should also show up in the Mac App Store after it goes through Apple’s approval process. You can see the full release notes for recent bug fixes here.

As I said earlier this year, there will only be a couple more releases of Clipstart in the Mac App Store. My current plan is to switch completely over to direct-only sales with version 1.5. The new versions run without prompting for registration if you’ve already purchased and run a copy from the Mac App Store.

Direct download as a bargaining chip

In the closing paragraph of “my Mac App Store follow-up post”:http://www.manton.org/2011/06/mac_app_store_followup.html, I suggested that eventually most developers will exclusively distribute through the App Store. John Brayton, the developer of “CloudPull”:http://www.goldenhillsoftware.com/ for Google Docs backup, “called this out on Twitter”:http://twitter.com/johnbrayton/status/83214489025134592:

“Good post, but disagree that selling outside the MAS won’t be worthwhile. IMHO we should be using our own stores as bargaining chip.”

“In a thread to the MacSB mailing list”:http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/macsb/message/18381, John has a related version of this reasoning:

“Selling independently provides protection against Mac App Store policy decisions that could affect my app. If Apple decides tomorrow to kick me out of the Mac App Store, I would take a hit but I would still be able to sell my app.”

I couldn’t agree more, to both points. There may be some advantages to going App Store-only — less initial setup for checkout and licensing, no confusion about which version to buy, or where to upgrade — but indie Mac developers should be doing everything they can to control their own destiny. Having your own store is just good business sense.

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.

Where Apple went wrong with free apps

John Gruber has a solid summary of the issues around in-app purchase. Regarding the closed platform:

“iOS isn’t and never was an open computer system. It’s a closed, controlled console system — more akin to Playstation or Wii or Xbox than to Mac OS X or Windows. It is, in Apple’s view, a privilege to have a native iOS app.”

This is the root of nearly every strength and problem with the App Store. I’ll never be happy about it. But in-app purchase restrictions are even more complicated than that. It started not just with the controlled environment but the decisions around free apps.

Michael Tsai points to this Peter Oppenheimer quote from late February that Apple runs the App Store at “just a little over breakeven”. I’ve argued that Apple’s 30% tax is about growing that to significant profit at the expense of developers, but in the back of my head I’ve also been concerned that maybe it’s just to keep the App Store from falling into the red. Maybe they are really struggling under the weight of what they created, and long app review times and lack of focus around the Mac App Store launch are just symptoms of that.

If this is true, then I’m more sympathetic to Apple’s predicament. They aren’t being greedy; they’re just trying not to lose money. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t make a mistake.

Steve Jobs, announcing the App Store in March 2008:

“You know what price a lot of developers are going to pick? Free, right? So when a developer wants to distribute their app for free, there is no charge for free apps. At all. There’s no charge to the user, and there’s no charge to the developer. We’re going to pay for everything to get those apps out there for free. The developer and us have the same exact interest, which is to get as many apps out in front of as many iPhone users as possible.”

I remember being surprised when I heard this. We take for granted now that much of the App Store’s success is because of free apps, but I’m not sure it had to be that way. The iTunes Music Store launched with a full paid catalog of music. Many of the hits in the App Store, like Angry Birds and Doodle Jump, have never been free.

But watching Steve Jobs from 2008, you can tell Apple was worried that what happened to the Mac (lack of third-party apps and games) might happen to the iPhone as well, so they gambled the profitability of the App Store away to encourage as many apps as possible. That was their choice.

Again, from Steve Jobs: “We keep 30% to pay for running the App Store.” Not a profit center. Not a business. Just to pay for running the store, so that the user experience for app discovery on the iPhone is second to none.

Today, we know that Apple has never planned well for free apps. You don’t need to look much further than their reversal of allowing in-app purchase in free apps to see that they are making this stuff up as they go along.

When Steve Jobs said it, offering free apps for so little seemed almost foolish, like Apple was compensating for the high 30% by giving too good a deal to free apps. Why not charge some hosting fee? Or why not give up exclusive distribution and let free apps be installed directly by the user without forcing everything through the App Store? Unlimited bandwidth, promotion in the store, and everything else just for the $99 dev program fee was a pretty good deal.

And now I wonder if Apple hasn’t been backpedaling ever since, trying to make up for that mistake: free apps are a burden. iAd was the first correction, because a share of revenue from free apps was going to Google instead of Apple. In-app purchase is the next correction, because real value can be delivered in a free app with transactions handled elsewhere.

Apple can’t accept a future in which too many apps are technically free — something that has already happened on Android — unless they are also taking a cut when money changes hands outside of app download.

Matt Drance clearly spotted the loophole that forces Apple to be so strict with in-app rules:

“30% to Apple across the board — app sales, IAP, and now subscriptions — is consistent, clear, and uncheatable. That cheating bit is significant: a 10% commission for subscriptions, for example, would see developers adopting the subscription system en masse so they could keep more money. Apps that were once $2.99 would suddenly be asking for installments like late-night infomercials.”

Apple is trapped by their original decision to shoulder the cost of free apps. They encouraged free apps and now they’ve got one band-aid on top of another — advertisements, in-app purchase, subscriptions — all trying to make free apps work for the App Store bottom line. These changes make developers nervous because all the power lies with Apple.

Free apps and the problem of exclusive distribution are linked. Get rid of free apps, and the store can support itself naturally. Get rid of exclusive distribution, and Apple can be more creative about charging developers who do want to participate in the App Store. If Amazon isn’t happy with Apple’s terms, users can install the Kindle app outside the store and it doesn’t cost Apple anything to maintain.

Apple, want to charge 30%? Go for it. Want to make the submission rules more strict? Fine. Want to adjust how you run the App Store to reflect what’s happening in the market? No problem. Just give developers an out. We are going to be back here year after year with the latest controversy until exclusive app distribution is fixed.

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.

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.

App Store 30% cut

The Mac App Store launched! Like many developers I spent the day taking it out for a spin, thinking about whether this changes everything, and trying to ignore the fact that my app Clipstart isn’t in the store on day 1 even though “I submitted to Apple 7 weeks ago”:http://www.manton.org/misc/clipstart_mas_history.png.

But let’s talk about Apple’s 30% cut, because it’s been on my mind now that I have a real app in the iPad App Store. It’s easy to keep these discussions too vague to be meaningful — 2.9% + $0.30 for PayPal, 8.9% for FastSpring, 30% for Apple, who cares? — so it’s more illustrative to work with real numbers.

The massively-popular Camera+ from Tap Tap Tap “sold 78,000 copies on Christmas day”:http://www.macrumors.com/2010/12/28/camera-reaches-over-78000-sales-on-christmas-day-alone/, but no one else I know sees numbers like that. My own $10 Tweet Library fell a little short of 1000 copies in its first launch month… and unfortunately continued to drop since, but let’s use that to keep the math simple. Selling direct via PayPal would be $590 in fees. To Apple? About $3000.

Apple provides a unique service and it’s their right to charge whatever they want. Developers can choose to pay it or restrict development to more open platforms. I’m inclined to think the 30% is high but not unreasonable for everything Apple hopes to provide.

But here’s where everything breaks down: for $3000 I expect someone at Apple to tell me what the $%!# is going on.

It’s not just review times, or emails that go into the void, unanswered for days or weeks or ever. It’s that Apple isn’t able to communicate about the fundamental issues that will make or break businesses.

• When is the Mac App Store launching? No word from Apple for months, and a press release went to news sites before developers got a heads-up.

• Why has my Mac app been in review for over a month, right up to the very day before the Mac App Store launches? No answer, and nothing to do but wait.

• Where was a beta version of the Mac App Store so that we could understand how it interacted with existing apps before it was too late? Nowhere.

• Why didn’t we receive more “guidance on bundle IDs”:http://openradar.appspot.com/8838369, version numbers, and app naming, obvious questions that only Apple knew the answer to? No clue.

• When will there be promo codes for the Mac App Store to give to the press or help transition customers to the store? No idea, might be never.

A year and a half ago “Craig Hockenberry wrote about paying extra”:http://furbo.org/2009/07/10/year-two/ for fast approvals and a better communication channel. It reflected in words how frustrated everyone was over long app review times. At the time, “I answered”:http://www.manton.org/2009/07/999_hope.html that quality customer service from Apple is something all developers deserve, not just those with cash to burn.

But clearly it’s even worse than that. Apple isn’t currently capable of significantly improving how the App Store works for any price! The App Store does get better, but it does so at Apple’s own pace.

There are many great people at Apple. Individually I know they are passionate about making good products and helping developers succeed, but collectively it seems like no one person is running the show. The developer-facing side of the company needs to have the freedom to become more transparent, to work closely with the iTunes Connect support team when developers need an answer. Apple’s secrecy cripples their ability to have a positive relationship with developers.

So do I think the 30% cut is too much? No, not for a straight answer. That would be priceless.

$1 apps won’t dominate the Mac App Store

“Marco Arment wrote an interesting piece”:http://www.marco.org/1432156914 on the Mac App Store shortly after it was announced. I was nodding my head in agreement for much of it, until I got to this part:

“And if the Mac App Store is only populated by a subset of today’s Mac software, a few key points (such as ‘Inexpensive’) still won’t be true. This is why I believe that the Mac App Store will be dominated by (and become known for) apps that don’t exist on the Mac today.”

He makes great points, and I think his assumptions about Apple’s rules are correct. But newcomers dominating the store? And $1 apps as the second most popular price point on the Mac? I’m not convinced.

Many iPhone app hits lend themselves to a mobile environment, but the Mac is different because people usually buy computers to get work done. You don’t have your MacBook Pro with you while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. You don’t have it at a party when your friend tells you about the latest game. You don’t hand your computer to your kids when they’re bored in the car and want to play Angry Birds.

If $1 apps will be so common on the Mac App Store, why aren’t they common on the iPad? In the iPad top 10 right now there are only two 99-cent apps. Prices around $2.99 or $4.99 are much more common, and there are plenty of $10 apps as well in the top paid and especially top grossing lists. The iPad app making the most money right now is a $20 music app called “djay”.

I think $10-$20 will be pretty common on the Mac App Store, but not $1, and not even $2 or $3. Something that’s priced so cheap sends a clear message on the Mac: this app is useless and should have been free.

As I said recently on “Core Intuition”:http://www.coreint.org/, I absolutely wish all the best of luck to iOS developers and designers moving to the Mac. I had a great time hanging out with a mostly iOS group at 360iDev last month; these guys are ambitious and smart and bring innovation to the platform because they don’t have the baggage that the rest of us have. 2011 will be a fantastic year for new Mac software and for indie developers!

But take a good look at some of your favorite apps for iPhone and iPad and you’ll see that for the most part they lack the depth to compete with established Mac software. The workhorses on your Mac — text editors, image editors, file transfer apps, version control clients, web site tools — won’t be knocked off by new competition easily.

Maybe 10.7 Lion will be a revolution, but when the Mac App Store first launches on 10.6 it’s going to contain familiar software at familiar prices.

Laughing at the guidelines

Apple’s announcement yesterday of a Mac App Store is big news. As soon as the event was over, journalists reached out to developers to get feedback on what it means for existing Mac shops. Reading the variety of responses is fascinating to me, and I contributed some quotes for articles in “Macworld”:http://www.macworld.com/article/155061/2010/10/developers_mac_app_store.html and “Cult of Mac”:http://www.cultofmac.com/mac-app-store-more-developer-reaction/65036. There’s also a “write-up on Ars”:http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2010/10/mac-app-store-boon-or-bust-for-developers.ars.

Here’s “Wolf’s take on the guidelines”:http://rentzsch.tumblr.com/post/1369652253/mac-app-store:

“My fellow Mac developers are laughing at the Mac App Store guidelines. They’re reporting that apps they’ve been shipping for years — a number of them Apple Design Award-winning — would be rejected from the Mac App Store. These are proven apps, beloved by their users. The current guidelines are clearly out-of-touch.”

Every developer I’ve talked to uses at least some private APIs on the Mac, often to work around bugs or limitations in current APIs. It’s disappointing that the Mac App Store is shipping before 10.7, because 10.7 would be a good opportunity to find out why developers still need private APIs and bake support directly into the next version of Mac OS X to solve common issues.

Can you imagine such rock-solid apps as BBEdit or Transmit being rejected from the Mac App Store? It’s going to be a lonely launch day full of hasty iOS ports if Apple doesn’t show some common sense when approving Mac apps.

Free 1-star reviews

Before I released “Tweet Library”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/tweetlibrary/, I talked to everyone who would listen about the price. Several people suggested I go with a free app, but use in-app purchase to upgrade to the full version. Two apps that handle this well include “Twitterrific”:http://twitterrific.com/ and “SimpleNote”:http://simplenoteapp.com/. Countless games also take this approach.

It’s the closest thing the App Store has to demos, but it comes at a cost: anyone can leave a 1-star “too expensive” review of your app without even upgrading to the full version. At that point they are not even rating the app they downloaded (a free, limited version that probably works just fine); they are simply commenting on a portion of the app they didn’t want to buy.

There are two ways to give me feedback about Tweet Library:

  • Email support, post to Twitter, or write on your blog about the software. This is free.

  • Leave a review in the App Store. This is $9.99.

I’m very comfortable with this model. The quality of feedback I get in email is extremely high, whether the customer has bought the app or not, and the App Store reviews aren’t cluttered with pricing rants.

Tweet Library 1.0

If you purchased, tweeted, blogged about, rated, or mentioned Tweet Library thank you. I’ve been very happy to see how well it is being received. I built this app because I wanted to do more with Twitter, but I didn’t really know until it was released if anyone else would care.

The truth is, I released it a tiny bit too early — there are a few annoying bugs that I’ll need to fix soon for 1.0.1 — but it was a long development cycle, and faced with getting burned out on a project the only thing I know how to do is ship it. Then I can use the reaction from real customers to tell me if I’m on the right track and where to go next.

I’ve already blogged about the pricing and viability of third-party Twitter apps, though I hadn’t officially announced the app yet:

“When Twitter for iPad shipped it jumped to the number 1 spot in free apps, but maybe you don’t have to compete directly with that. Maybe if you hold your ground somewhere in the top paid list, that’s enough to find an audience.”

Tweet Library has only been out for 3 full days, and I don’t want to jinx it, but so far this theory is holding. The app went to #2 for top grossing iPad apps in social networking in the first day. I didn’t expect that, but at $10 I can see how it might happen. Then it also climbed to #2 in top paid iPad apps in the same category, and stayed there for a couple days before dropping to #3 as I write this. The only other Twitter apps in any of the top 10 lists for iPad are Twitter’s official app and TweetDeck, both free.

Let me repeat that because it kind of blows my mind a little: Tweet Library has been the best-selling iPad Twitter app since it was released.

How did I successfully ship an app in a crowded market at literally 2x the price of any other app? Two things:

Refuse to compete on price. I felt so strongly about this that I was willing to launch and fail. If the App Store couldn’t support $10 Twitter apps, then I would bow out. I saw in a comment on TUAW that someone would wait until the price lowered, but I hope to avoid the pricing gimmicks common to the App Store. There’s no intro price for Tweet Library, and the price is not going to change. I believe consistency is the best long-term plan for app pricing.

Market the app as something new first and yet another Twitter app second. I believe the key to selling Tweet Library is to focus the marketing around what makes it special: archiving tweets, curating tweets, filtering tweets. Yes, you can also post to Twitter and see mentions or reply to DMs, but that is just the price to get in the door. Tweet Library doesn’t do those common tasks perfectly yet, but customers seem willing to cut me some slack because of all the other unique features that the app offers.

So, up next I’m going to fix bugs, and I’m going to add features, and I’m going to listen to customers. I’m sure it will soon drop out of the top 10 and other Twitter apps will take its place, but I feel like the launch was strong enough to prove that I’ve got something. I intend to carve out a little niche in the Twitter market and execute on it.