Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The App Store and the Bazaar

We've been developing for the App Store since before its launch, and I know many other developers that have had success with the App Store. In fact, the majority of my friends that jumped into app development have seen success in one way or another.

Paul Graham is the latest to write about the current shortcomings found in Apple's software marketplace. I'm a fan of his writing, and I think he's focusing on the negatives in order to encourage much needed improvements. The App Store can be a roller coaster, and there's no question that waiting for an app to be approved can be a nerve-racking experience. However, in my opinion, any mistakes Apple has made in the App Store are overshadowed because of how much they did right.

First, getting into Apple's software catalog is easier than getting into any comparable hardware platform. It's easier than any game console and easier than any previous cell phone. The SideKick had a built-in software catalog and developer program, yet emails were unanswered, the doors were closed, and the platform was inaccessible to interested developers. I definitely got the sense that you had to be "part of the club." In terms of providing accessibility to mobile devices, Apple blew the doors off.

Second, small developers can actually make money selling apps. Users don't fear installing or paying for an app the way they might on the desktop. People trust the experience and even shop in the App Store. Selling software on the web is like unrolling a carpet and hawking your wares on the street rather than selling a product in a recognizable store. You have to develop trust with the customer, and most people don't buy software in this way. For the first time ever, computer operating systems have a unified, consistent, reliable, and trustworthy way to find, pay for, install, and uninstall 3rd party apps. It's been a long time coming.

Third, they do listen, they do care, they are aware, and they are improving shortcomings. We have had many extremely positive interactions with hardworking dedicated engineers and support staff, and they can only be described as understanding and helpful. The back-end system is continually improving, and the new add-on and subscription systems are exactly what we wanted. Apple also manages a database of crash dump files with stack traces from your apps - a first in 3rd party relationships as far as I know.

Finally, the iPhone SDK and associated development tools are miles ahead of the alternatives. The Cocoa APIs are great to work with. You can usually predict the name of the function you want for a particular task, and it works just like you expect it to. Also, developing natively in C, C++, Objective C, and even ARM assembly allows high-performance apps that just aren't possible on other platforms that rely on Java, Javascript, and the like. To top it all off, Interface Builder is a huge time-saver, allowing our designers to lay out the UIs for our apps directly.

In Paul Grahams's article he says, "The main reason there are so many iPhone apps is that so many programmers have iPhones." I think it's more likely due to one of the reasons above. Developing even the smallest software takes more work than shopping for a cell phone, even if you include reading the carrier's contracts…

This post is about the positives. There are plenty of other articles with complaints, and believe me, as a developer I can relate: our latest update to FourTrack took several weeks, with almost no word from Apple as to the reason. It was more than a little stressful. Even so, it's clear to me that Apple didn't break software development, and they aren't in a mess. The flaws of the platform are made more apparent in light of its success. I'm willing to bet that right now, Apple is improving, automating, and accelerating their approval process. Apple's marketplace has risen the bar for software distribution and micro payments, and the future of software is brighter because of it.

1 comment:

  1. Cracking post, really enjoyed it. Great to see some perspective in the whole app store debate