Kissing the App Store Goodbye

August 01, 2009

I give up, there is no way for a small developer to make it in the App Store anymore. Unless you are associated with a big publisher who can attract reviews and spend money on marketing, or win the lottery, the App Store is too big, too poorly organized, too low priced and run by some kind of Mafia-like organization.

Despite having a long list of products I'd like to make for the iPhone, it's not worth spending time (and what little money I have these days) only to disappear either into the Rejection black hole, or into the 200+ daily pile.

From a customer standpoint, the App Store is awesome, so much goodness you could download or buy apps every hour and never get bored. Most apps are either free or cost a buck. It's a real massive platform with great hardware, a mostly great SDK, and nearly 40 million strong market eager to get more apps.

From a developer standpoint it's a nightmare. An Orwellian review team which does not communicate to anyone (even inside Apple), uneven policies which change at random times leading to horror stories form Shaken Babies to Google Voices, and an apparent "so we treat you like crap, there are hundreds more suckers eager to try" attitude. Then there is the mouthpiece "Richard" whom I have been rejected by already (and appears in the Google Voice story) with a solid future in government stonewalling (at least the Iraqi Information Minister was entertaining). Add to the App Store Review Team problem the inability for anyone to find your applications (I always tell people that 2% of the applications sell 98% of the copies) in the app store. Unless you make it into a top 25 list somewhere, you may as well be selling out of your trunk at a flea market in Alaska in January.

I think the store surprised Apple in how big it grew, and from their standpoint the success came without having to do anything to promote the platform, so it makes sense (of a sort) to not care if most of the developers get disillusioned. In the mid 80's Apple was desperate to get developers on the Mac, and we were treated likely royalty in many ways, since the platform would die without applications. I still remember the 1986 WWDC, where the entire Mac developer community got to ride a boat in the harbor, talk, gamble for free hardware, and joke that IBM could kill the entire Mac market with a well-placed torpedo. Today Apple rules the world and thus the little guys no longer matter.

I'm not giving up on the iPhone, just developing apps for the store on my own. I would be happy to build apps for others, I like the SDK and the opportunities for amazing apps are still there. It's just the irritation of dealing with the App Store team, the poorly organized marketplace, and the sheer volume is too much.

My next app will be for OSX. Sure, the apparently market is less exciting but there are actually a similar number of devices running OSX and iPhone OS. Being able to update apps whenever I need to, not have to wait for anyone's approval, be able to directly communicate with customers, and also get to collect any revenue in something under 3 months time is much more appealing.

Sure, my apps aren't anything exciting. Quantum Pool has been doing well but with an eCPM of about 17 cents it's not even beer money. The more complicated interesting apps I would have done would take too long, and the risk is simply too great on my own thin dime.

The other phone markets don't interest me either, the devices and the SDKs don't really provide what the iPhone does. I've worked at Apple, used Apple computers since 1980, and really don't care to switch. It's just dealing with the App Store bunch is too much even for me (note the DTS folks are still great and do a wonderful job in support).

Apple as a big entity won't care what I think, and the other 14,000 iPhone developers either have given up, keep trying, made a million (very few) or gotten a job at Ngmoco. But there are another 14,000 out there hoping to hit the big time.

Good luck with that, hope you never hear from Richard.