Amber Star

Designer | Engineer

15 May 2016

For the Love of Software

Amber Star

Apple is a company that loves software. As Steve Jobs said, it is the “soul” of Apple’s products.

“You know, if the hardware is the brain and the sinew of our products, the software in them is their soul.” - Steve Jobs.

There is something about robust software that makes a computing device more than the sum of its parts. It turns hardware into tools that get real work done. In the early days, solutions like AutoCad, WordPerfect, and Lotus 123 were enough alone to buy expensive hardware. Today we use our mobile devices mostly for communication and entertainment; however, when an email app is launched, the device becomes email. When a maps app is launched, the device becomes a navigator. It’s the killer apps that make having the device worthwhile. What each of us wants from our device is different, and the applications that we need, use, and love are what personalize it for us.

It is great software that will bring out the full potential of great hardware.

Apple prides itself on great design. They know it’s the hardware and the software that make up the entire design of the product. The App Store has left customers with flawed experiences with apps and a lack of rich software. There is a mismatch between the beauty and potential of the device and apps. Apple appears to have intentionally driven the price of apps down right from the beginning. They want users to have access to and download as many free and low-cost apps as possible. The more apps users have, the less likely they are to switch to another platform, and the more likely they are to buy the next iOS device. The casualty of this strategy in the long term has been the users’ trust and overall experience and the stability of the developer’s businesses. App Store policies foster abandonware, broken-ware, nagware, and adware, and lots of it. The sheer amount of these types of apps makes it difficult for users to find quality apps. By extension, this makes it harder to sustain a business in the App Store.

What is Apple inviting on to customer’s devices with the following policies?

1. Free software

There is hardly anything of value a software developer can give you for free. Free apps should not be on the App Store. If it’s free, it doesn’t need to be in a store. Allow free apps to be freely distributed outside of the store. Make the App Store a safe, trusted place customers can buy great apps.

2. Ads in software

Advertising does not belong in software. A company that makes billions making the most beautiful hardware on the planet is inviting advertising on the face of it? On a device that is constrained for screen space? Any developer with a soul cringes at the idea of putting ads in their masterpiece.

3. In-App Purchases (but not free trials)

In-app purchases work for games and magazines but is terrible for software. Forcing developers to scheme to get users to pay to unlock functionality is bad for users and developers – It nickel and dimes the user and reduces the developer to a digital panhandler. Developers should not have to cautiously strategize to sell frivolous up-sells to profit on their products. Free trials would be a much better experience. Ideally, there would be a launch count limit to the trial. The developer can choose how many launches of an app a user can use for free. That way, the app and the icon stay on the users’ device. If the potential customer finds value in the app, and they reach that limit, then the next time they launch it, they are prompted to buy the app in-full at that time. When a user is trying to launch the app is the perfect time to make a sale. This change would eliminate any distinction between free apps and paid apps. They would all be free to try and paid to own, and free to use once you own it.

4. Free Updates (but no paid upgrades)

The idea that you can iterate an app in small updates is just not the case. Eventually, you will end up completely rebuilding an app from the ground up for major releases. That takes time and money. The App Store needs paid upgrades. Updates and upgrades should be distinct. Updates should be free to deliver minor releases and bug fixes. Upgrades should be paid. If a developer is adding more value to a product, customers should pay for that value. Developers can do paid upgrades today by creating a separate SKU. But without any tie to the existing user base, this is futile unless you have a high profile. Leveraging the existing customer base is essential to sustain a product over time. Suppose a developer has a product that doesn’t make enough to support the development. How can the developer possibly maintain it and keep it up to date with new iOS features every year for existing customers without being able to charge for the development? Even if the developer pulls the app off the store, existing customers are still left with broken-ware. This situation is bad for users, bad for developers, and bad for Apple. Paid upgrades with a tie-in to the existing user base is essential.

5. Universal Apps / Universal Purchase

This policy is aimed at bootstrapping new hardware with free and low-cost applications on day one on the backs of developers. As devices become more varied and features become more complex, the expense of maintaining the product multiplies. Developers can not add more device support for free. It is not yet clear what ‘universal purchase’ means; however, I do suspect and hope universal purchase may be a step in the right direction if it works as follows: Ideally, developers would have control over the price tiers for different devices. For example, A customer buys a TV app for $9.99. The developer can bundle in the iPad and iPhone app for free. However, if they buy the iPad app, the developer can have a lower price of $5.99 and include the iPhone app, but not the TV app. If a customer purchases the iPhone app, $3.99, and that includes only the iPhone app. At the time of purchase, the customer can choose which option they want. Do they want all three devices or just the device they are targeting? This allows developers to price apps according to the device and bundle at a reduced price. It gives developers an incentive to support Apple’s various devices, and it’s a win for everyone. Simply put, you can’t take from the developer without taking something away from the user.

Conclusion

With these policies, it’s no wonder every app these days wants your email address, wants access to your location, your contacts, microphone, and camera. Free apps are useless until you upgrade. Apps are filled with trackers that send data to 3rd parties that are then selling that information. The App Store is filled with app knock-offs and trademark infringement. Some less tasteful types buy installs or ratings to try to cheat their way up the charts to get more installs, only to serve users more ads to install other apps. Meanwhile, it’s the ad companies trying to extract more money from this economy by selling ads to developers to promote their apps. It’s not a place where Apple or developers can be proud. It’s not a place where great software is appreciated. The value developers deliver to Apple and end-users is immeasurable. Apple should want to cultivate as many successful developers as possible. The policies now make it difficult for these developers to sustain their businesses. For the love of software, developers should be able to adhere to their values and their craft and be able to sustain their business. As developers, we want to create great products. We don’t want to be SEO hacks, spammers, racketeers, or digital panhandlers. If developers have to resort to these things to be in business, then what does that say about the impact of these policies to the software industry? What does it mean for the future of Apple’s devices when they are only as useful as the software available for them? Will this environment foster great software that brings the hardware to its full potential? The more Apple aligns incentives with creating great software, the more those incentives are aligned with the developer’s businesses, and the more they are aligned with delivering great experiences to customers.

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