Why Apple Doesn’t Want Your App

by Ville Laurikari on Monday, April 12, 2010

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So you make an iPhone app, and it doesn’t enjoy the success you think it deserves. Or you make an app, and you create a technology framework on the side, and they ban your framework, and your app and framework don’t enjoy the success you think they deserve. Here’s why.

First, a detour to clarify what Apple makes money from. For perspective, let’s look at Microsoft first.

Microsoft is, and has pretty much always been, in the business of selling Windows. Microsoft wants PCs to be cheap, so they can sell more Windows. The whole PC and peripherals market is fiercely competed and the profit margins for hardware vendors are really low. That’s been working out nicely for Microsoft, since most PCs still ship with a version of Windows included, and Windows is making tons of money.

Microsoft is also in the business of selling Microsoft Office. In 2008, Microsoft made as much money with Office as it did with Windows. Kind of like the fax machine was (and still is in some parts of the world), Office is the standard method of information interchange in the business world. Just like the fax machine, you need Office because everyone else has it, too.

Apple, on the other hand, is in the business of selling hardware. Despite their recent high-profile focus in the iPhone OS software, Apple is very much a hardware company.

So let’s get this straight: Apple is not making a lot of money off the App Store. Apple is not even trying to make a lot of money off the App Store.

Apple wants apps to be a cheap commodity. When there are a lot of cool apps around, and they cost next to nothing, it really makes you want to go buy an iPhone, doesn’t it? Useful, cheap apps sell more iPhones. Microsoft is the opposite: cheap hardware sells more Windows.

In this light, I find it strange how Apple is conducting some of their business towards the community of independent software developers. The latest ban on using anything but Objective C, C, C++ for native apps, for example, strikes me as quite strange. By which I mean it strikes me as completely idiotic. Banning programmers’ favorite tools is stuff which makes talented developers call it quits and stop working on the iPhone platform. How can that possibly be in Apple’s business interests?

Many iPhone developers seem to be driven by the “publish an app and get rich quick” myth. However, the app market is fiercely competed. In order to make any significant money on the App Store, your app must be really good, one of the first of it’s kind (if not the first), and you must be lucky. This is App Store poker. It’s like trying to win the World Series of Poker by entering a satellite freeroll. It can happen, but I’m willing to be it won’t happen to you.

Is App Store poker enough to maintain a steady influx of apps to iPhone OS? Oh yes, it is. It is more than enough. Like with their hardware, Apple wants the apps to be about quality, not quantity. Robert Scoble says:

So, what does Apple need? Is it more apps? No way. At 130,000 apps Apple already has enough apps to keep a sizeable lead for years over its competitors like Google’s Android OS.

No, what Apple needs is better quality apps. So, does Apple care about templated apps or ones developed in Flash or some other cross-device language/system? No way.

Apple doesn’t want your app because your app sucks. Probably. Statistically, anyway. Most apps aren’t anything special, why should yours be any different?

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Rezmason April 12, 2010 at 17:38

“Layered” apps perform worse, statistically. I agree with that. But I think most Objective-C apps on the Apple Store are already pieces of crap. Designing, developing and producing one more will hardly change anything; for today’s iPhone developers, you need plenty of luck (as well as Apple’s approval, of course) to make any kind of dent in the marketplace.

Anyway, the whole idea of the App Store is bent over backwards. What if I want to produce and distribute an app only to the iPhone users in my company? I’m shiddaddoluck. The iPhone platform runs on amazing hardware, but it really hasn’t matured at all, and until it does, developers who don’t want to kneel before iZod won’t feel any intense pressure to write apps for it.

Ville Laurikari April 12, 2010 at 17:51

Yeah, most apps are crap. It doesn’t matter what technologies were used to create them. Poor performance is not often the main source of crapness, either.

As for distributing apps inside a company – there’s the iPhone Developer Enterprise Program which allows you to do just that, given that the company is big enough.

ab July 25, 2010 at 00:12

i’m glad others see that apple is a hw co.

i wish they would just sell us the hw w/o the os nonsense.

there’s also the ‘meme’ that unix made hw irrelevent. i.e. it’s portability.

apple uses unix concepts e.g. unix filesystems, and unix user-mode progs. they borrow a lot re: “sw”.

if there is anything “innovative” in apple’s “sw” it’s their kernels and to some extent their design sense (=aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly).

the former is not very accessible to consumers. but that could change. to control hw one must be familiar with the kernel. perhaps consumers will demand more control over apple hw, as it’s performance is challenged by other more “open” alternatives. users may want better performance and hence more control over the hw.

i guess there’s a balance between “design” and “performance”. apple *hw* is superb design relative to the alternatives. but apple “sw” and os abstractions are mostly borrowed; the same stuff is available for free from many sources.

ab July 30, 2010 at 06:11

it’s interesting… Apple started off handling filesystems differently in the early days. they were different. now they’ve switched 100% to the UNIX hierarchy. they started off using different chips. now they’ve switched to Intel, like all the rest. they started off using a Forth BIOS. now they’ve switched to using Intel’s mini UNIX (aka EFI, Tiano, etc.).

to me, the only innovative aspects of Apple anymore seem to be in the hardware.

anyone can buy Intel chips and anyone can put together a UNIX release.

it just seems silly trying to “lock down” software (it might be impossible?) when you using more or less the same code with more or less the same CPU everyone else is using. what is different, what is unique?

is it true that the OLPC will make “jailbreaking” and OPLC very simple and easy? if yes, are kids that learn computing on such machines really going to put up with Apple’s tactics when they learn how to use Forth on their OPLC?

the kids of tomorrow will create their own simple, easy-to-use software. they will be able to control any CPU. and they won’t need Apple’s approval to share their creations with others.

feel free to delete my comments if you disagree with them.

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