Should Apple Care that Facebook’s iPhone App Developer Quit?

[I originally wrote this article for ReadWrite Web.]

News reverberated through the developer community that long-time and highly prominent community contributor Joe Hewitt has quit developing the iPhone Facebook application. While Joe said that Apple has the right to do what it wants, he does not agree with its policies and has chosen to move on. Joe posted this tweet in the afternoon of November 11th:

“Time for me to try something new. I’ve handed the Facebook iPhone app off to another engineer, and I’m onto a new project.”

The Problem

Apple’s App Store is a mess for small and independent developers. Very few developers are making even a livable wage, and the approval process is a black box.

Let’s start with making money. Pinch Media reports that the average iPhone application has netted (for the developer) a grand total of $8,500, and 80% of developers have made less than that. That’s not per month – which would be a starting point for a two-person team – but rather total revenue earned.

And as reported a few thousand times, the approval process is a black box. For the most part, developers don’t know whether their app will be approved or in what timeframe, making the entire experience a nail-biter.

Should Apple Care?

Well, of course, Apple should care. Apple should be inclusive of its community and encourage small developers to grow and make a living from developing for the iPhone. Apple rightly views the App Store as a competitive advantage and should continue striving to keep its developers in-house.

On the other hand, Apple is not responsible for marketing and selling for its developers. The App Store is a distribution medium, not a marketing and sales platform. Apple has a system in place for enabling customers to quickly and easily purchase and download software for their devices. And it has been a massive success, with over two billion downloads.

The difference, though, is that the apps that Apple needs in the App Store most – gaming and entertainment titles – are getting in. And they are being developed by some of the biggest brands in the world. After all, the iPhone and iPod Touch are, first and foremost, entertainment devices.

Note that these big brands do not face the same problems as the rest of the developer community. Many have contacts deep in Apple, are magically ushered through the review process in a few days and get great placement on Apple’s virtual store shelves. Electronic Arts, for example, has no public rejection stories and currently has titles throughout the list of top grossing apps, suggesting that it is in the top 10% for App Store revenue generation.

And so, Joe Hewitt has quit the App Store. It’s a great show of unity for small developers, but Apple has clearly linked successful applications to big brands, and those brands continue to clamor for iPhone presence.