Apple Doesn’t Have To Do Jack Shit

Look, I sympathize. I am one of you. I too rushed to ship an app to the App Store in 2008. I too have ridden the ups and downs of the Store. I too have a vaguely successful app if “vaguely successful” means it would provide an unbelievably good side income.

Unlike most of you, however, I’ve been at this a long time. I launched our current product in 1997 as a Palm OS application, have supported multiple platforms over the years, and at one time ran one of the largest mobile software companies. (That’s not bragging. The companies were actually that small back then.) I made the trial-and-purchase-for-a-fixed-price-plus-periodic-upgrades model work and work well for many many years.

But those days are dead, and, some tough love is needed here: THIS IS NOT APPLE’S PROBLEM.

Let’s say that together now: the dearth of many viable iOS indie dev businesses is not Apple’s problem.

It’s ours.

Whether we like it or not, the game has changed. Trials are out. They’ve been out for six years now and we have no idea if they are ever coming back. Upgrades are out, too. Again, we have no idea if they will ever come back. Ask yourself, do you really want to sit here and wait another 10 months to find out if we will get trials and upgrades, and then wait another three months after that to see it available? Hell, no. I need to make a living now.

It’s time for us to adapt.

It’s time for us to take a hard look in the mirror and decide whether we want to be in business or not.

It’s time to look in the mirror and say, in our best Jack Handy voices, that it’s us, not them.

The sooner we can come to the conclusion that it’s our problem, not Apple’s, the sooner we can move on to something more useful, like re-thinking our approaches and making a living.

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying,” said Andy to Red in Shawshank Redemption.

It’s time for us to get busy living.

I was particularly curious what Marco Arment would do with Overcast, his new podcast app. This category may be a hotbed for design but it sure as hell is not a hotbed for making money. Marco, for as many haters as he seems to attract, is no dummy. I am certain he knew this going in. What rabbit would he pull out of his hat, especially with some of the biggest brains in iOS development to discuss it with? No surprise, he tried something new for the category: freemium. Good for Marco.

This should be a lesson for all of us. What’s the old saw? Doing the same thing over and over with the same results is the definition of crazy.

Well, we are the crazy ones. We keep shipping paid up-front apps into the App Store and charging the same prices for them. How is that Apple’s fault?

It’s time for us to change and try something new. Would an app supported by ads work? How about free with in app purchase? Charge for individual features so power users can pay us more? Subscriptions? Or how about just raising prices? Multiple apps so you can cross promote? Move to multiple platforms? Build something useful on the website that people will pay for, too?

Can we take what makes these products unbelievable and get our biggest fans to pay us a little more, even pay us a little bit over time, so we can have a reason to keep devoting energy to these products we love?

Does this mean we may have to piss off a few of our existing customers to do it? Maybe. But losing an arm is better than dying. If we can’t make ends meet then we will all be exiting the iOS development game. We’ll be dead.

But it’s not like everyone has failed. The indie life isn’t dead yet. After all, if a few can make it work than a few more can make it work, too.

Personally, I’m not going quietly. We are working on a new mobile and web service, one that takes everything we learned about iOS and Android, about apps and our customers, about the way the app stores work, lessons from my many years developing our software, and I’m trying to fix two things: an even better product than the one my customers already love and a better business model that makes it feasible for me and a small team to support it full-time.

It took me a long time to get to this point. Frankly, too long. I would have gotten here a lot sooner if I would have stopped blaming Apple for my problems, stopped waiting for Apple to fix the App Store issues, and accepted the fact that there is incredible opportunity in front of me, one maybe unprecedented in the history of software development.

In order to capitalize I am the one who needs to change, not Apple.

6 thoughts on “Apple Doesn’t Have To Do Jack Shit

  1. Pingback: The App Store is only the cash register.

  2. As for monetization as both a fellow developer (although not really iOS) and as a consumer I quite often find myself in a situation where I have gotten an app cheaply, find out I like it and would like to reward the developer. When I find myself using an app over a long time, I also find that I’d like to reward the developer again, especially if they are doing a good job maintaining and updating the app.

    Unfortunately there’s usually no real way do do this. What I’d like for those situations would be an IAP for a small amount that just reads something like “support the developers and their continued support for this app”.

    I wouldn’t want to have it attached to some extra features (except maybe a kind of a “supporter’s badge”), and I also wouldn’t want this to be a subscription. I’d like this to be a completely voluntary payment at the times and with the amounts which I choose.

    I don’t know whether this feature alone might be enough to support an app (my guess: probably not) but I’m sure there a quite a few people out there who would be willing to fairly compensate a developer for their heart blood they’re pouring into their apps. I know a bunch of apps whose developers would have gotten a multiple of their original price from me by now. Maybe the total revenue from this feature wouldn’t amount to that much, but it should be fairly simple to implement, especially if your app already supports some form of IAP.

    I’m really looking forward to apps implementing this so that I’m able to help developers getting their due.

  3. Well put. I agree with pretty much everything you say here, and I have been working (for too long now) towards changing my own app and revenue model.

    That being said, let’s not give Apple too much of the benefit of the doubt here. We know that they conspired to keep the wages of their own employees artificially low. We might someday learn about transgressions with respect to external developers.

    Also, IMHO, there’s a bigger issue here than just independent ‘developers’. In truth, there’s not much room for indie ‘anything’ anymore. I understand and agree with everything you’ve said here and in the past about the need to build a ‘business’ and try new models,… It didn’t used to be that way, however.

    It used to be that you could be a doctor, lawyer, pizza-maker, … and open up your own shop and make a living. The only business skills needed were the ability to maintain your books and other minor organizational skills. You could focus almost entirely on your craft, and you could still make enough money to support a family.

    In the past 20 years or so, we’ve chosen an economy that doesn’t have room for that sort of business. This might be a good thing, as it increases mean quality, but it removes ‘specialness’. It also removes an avenue of life for those of us who would prefer a more independent occupation and that’s unfortunate.

    Like you, I’m not ready to give up, but it does get frustrating some times trying to compete with 10-person vc-funded teams.

    Anyway, thanks for the article. Your blog often gets me thinking about different things, and I appreciate that.

  4. So well said.

    Your app is a relationship with the user, not Apple. It is a store in a giant mall where you can sell new features for years. If users paid for your app, that is like a Kickstarter that helped you open that store. Don’t close the store and end the relationship and open a new Store 2.0 in another part of th giant mall and expect users to fund a Kickstarter for that, too.

    And keep in mind that App Store is based on iTunes Music Store. How many times do you want to pay again for the same music album? Even if it is improved via remastering, or has additional songs? It’s amazing to me that app developers who complain about not being able to ship upgrades also want free 256 kbits AAC versions of albums they bought in 128 kbits AAC or MP3 or on CD. If they even pay for music at all!

    You have a half billion users on iOS and in-app purchase and almost no bootlegging. Stop complaining about what you lost from the old way. An iOS upgrade is a new feature that is an optional 99 cent in-app purchase in the original app. Or 10 such features at 99 cents each. Like a music artist giving you a free remastered ALAC version of an album you bought at 128 kbits AAC, but also offering you a live video of those songs as a paid new feature. That is what makes users happy: add to what you shipped — never take away what they previously bought. They will be more anxious to buy additional new features if you show them how much value they continue to get from their original purchase.

    And remember, you are not the super user on iOS — that is the consumer. Unlike every other computer platform. Put yourself in consumer shoes — for example, by looking at how you yourself consume music — and do what the consumer in you wants, not the developer in you. Then consumers will enjoy your work and reach for their wallets.

    • @Hamranhansenhansen That’s an interesting perspective. I had not thought about treating ‘features’ as ‘songs’ before.

      That being said, I think the music analogy is not a good one for a lot of reasons. The most important of these is that indie musicians actually have it WORSE than independent developers. What percentage of musicians actually make a living from selling music on iTunes?

      So, let’s not aspire to make even less money ;>)

      Instead, let’s look at the big players in our industry and learn from what they do. This seems to be one of 2 things. The old classic software companies like Microsoft and Adobe have switched to a subscription model. The Web-2.0 companies like Google and Facebook make money by monetizing data.

      IMHO, moving forward, the best way to succeed on the App Store will be to offer a free tier that monetizes data along with a premium tier that generates revenue through recurring subscriptions.

      One problem right now is that developers are underpaid for the data that is being collected by our apps and monetized. We give this data away to companies like Flurry, AdMob, & App-Annie who then monetize it, but we receive essentially nothing in return.

      As time goes by, however, I think developers will begin to recognize that a large portion of an app’s true value is in the amount of information it provides about its users, and the developers that understand that will be successful,

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