Apple and Sustainable Business Models

Ben Thompson wrote a series of great posts on App Store dynamics and, in particular, on sustainability for productivity apps. In the latest post on the topic Ben outlines what he sees succinctly:

Unfortunately, productivity apps are a terrible match for app store economics. The app store favors:

  • Simple, inexpensive apps that are downloaded by a lot of people
  • Free front-ends for for-pay or advertising-based services
  • Games with repetitive mechanics that can monetize existing users through in-app purchases

The solutions for enabling sustainable productivity apps are actually pretty obvious – just look at how productivity apps make money elsewhere:

  • More expensive apps with trials
  • Paid updates
  • Built-in subscription support

And yet, iOS 7 introduces radical change in nearly everything except for app monetization. Why doesn’t Apple do more to enable sustainable businesses on the app store?

He goes on to answer his own question. I think there are a couple of other possibilities:


This app market is so crazy and moving so fast that Apple may not even see the problem. To Apple it may look like one giant forest of apps when what is really going on is that a whole series of ecosystems are residing next to each other. The gaming and entertainment ecosystems are doing quite well. They have tools to make them more successful like in app purchases. Apple put special tools in place for news apps, too. But productivity blends in. Apple may not even recognize that there is a problem.


Let’s be honest here: my inability to make a living wage is not Apple’s problem. It is possible that Apple just doesn’t care, figuring the market will work itself out. They give us a lot of tools to work with: one-time purchases, free app distribution at no charge, news stand and subscriptions, in app purchases. From here, they may figure, it is our problem. Go figure it out.


Apple is a very famously a quiet company. We don’t really know what is going on internally. Maybe Apple is and has been working on a major overhaul with all kinds of things developers have been asking for. Maybe Apple has a whole series of things in the works that are being held up by a massive overhaul of iTunes and its ten-year old infrastructure riddled with technical debt and spaghetti code. The massive overhaul that is iOS 7 may be followed by a massive overhaul of iTunes and its infrastructure next year. Since Apple is doubling down on secrecy we may not know until Apple decides it is time for us to know.


Personally, I think Apple has been very clear. They give us a number of tools and it is our job to figure it out. Apple has a way of indicating what is coming years in advance and I think the fact that Apple doesn’t charge us to host free apps in the App Store is a pretty good indicator. The App Store is an incredible distribution mechanism but, at least for productivity apps, a horrible monetization mechanism.