The iPhone app store sucks for developers

Everyone seems to be noticing some of Apple’s shadier practices recently. That (upto) 30% revenue cut. The way they took the legs out from under Tile with their new AirTags. Or their constant greenwashing of everything Apple while simultaneously making their products less and less repairable.

They can be a great company and have made plenty of genuine contributions but that is not the topic for today. Today I am covering why their iPhone app store sucks. Both for developers and for consumers.

To start we all know that there have been plenty of success stories in the iPhone app store. Those stories have often be very loudly published by Apple themselves. You can reach millions of customers with a silly app like Flappy bird and become rich overnight. You can also promote your new game on a device that you know will support it and send it out to millions of customers without having to sell physical media like CDs, DVDs, or game console cartridges. That was pretty neat when the app store first showed up, and in many ways the app store was a game changer for the small software.

Or at least it seemed like it was.

The app store has a ton of sucky bits. For instance, developers constantly need to badger their users for 5 star reviews to try and get their app to rank higher in the lists. So, of course developers do this because they desperately want their hard work to be found and to be useful. Of course these stars don’t really help them grow their audience in the store. The star ranking just disqualifies any app in the users eyes if the rating falls too low. It is really a pass/fail grading system.

Another sucky bit is the Apple approved way to advertise your app  and grow your customer base. It is very simple and straight forward. You pay them. Also it is not cheap. RIP your profits. Most people find their new apps through the store search so if you are not already at the top of the list then you basically need to buy your way there. Try to advertise online and then point at your app through a link that pops open the app store? That can work but the conversion rates suck so your offer better be pretty compelling.

The reality is that the apps that get the new users are the apps that already have the old users plus lots of stars and reviews. Also  a few lucky app that Apple promotes as special due to its policy of occasional largesse but you cant count on that as a marketing strategy.

This state of affairs doesn’t really serve the developers or the customers. Customers are stuck scrolling down a most popular list most of the time looking for something good. But how is the user to know which app is a good one? Reviews. No, not really. Screenshots? Those only rule out the obviously ugliest. Reading the blurb? Usually doesn’t tell you that much. Really they just judging a book by its cover and usually go for the lowest price (free). Anything else is more effort than the consumer wants to (or should have to) put into getting a simple app.

Speaking of money, this is why you are building the apps in the first place. You better make your app subscription worthy if you don’t want to be giving out free upgrades for all users for ever. Of course many apps are better at a fixed price. Just pay me $3 for a good calculator app and we will be cool but remember the customer cant tell if the app is good before they buy it so we are back to free as the default choice.

The point of all this is that Apple really doesn’t help small software companies sell apps. The App Store is there to make the iPhone more useful, not to help developers build a business. So if you are thinking of jumping into the App Store, think again. Or at least know what you are getting into.

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