- Apple recently announced it would allow smaller iOS developers to apply to have their commissions in the App Store cut from 30% to 15%.
- Larger developers were critical of the move, claiming changing the way the App Store operates is a ploy to create division between the community.
- Columnist Jason Aten argues this is a smart PR move for the company, but still doesn't address their larger issues with major developers.
- Apple's ability to block updates and impose stringent App Store guidelines affects the overall user experience.
- Aten says if the tech titan really wants to commit to its primary brand value — things "just work" — it needs to start by building better relationships with developers.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
On Wednesday, Apple announced a new program that lets smaller iOS developers apply to have the commission they pay on App Store transactions reduced from 30% to 15%. The change applies to developers who generate less than $1 million in total revenue in a year beginning January 1, 2021. In a statement, Apple said the reason for launching the program is to "support small and individual developers and spur innovation for the next chapter of apps."
There's actually a lot to unpack here considering that, according to Sensor Tower, the change could affect as many as 98% of iOS developers. At the same time, those developers represent only 5% of total App Store transactions. As The New York Times points out, the move will have little effect on Apple's profit margin, amounting to less than 2.5% of App Store revenue.
Still, I don't think the numbers are necessarily the best way to evaluate this change.
I think it's fair to say that Apple, in addition to finding a way to support small developers, has also found what it thinks is a way to relieve some of the pressure it's faced over how it manages the App Store. And it's faced plenty of pressure on that front from both developers and Congress.
It's hard to argue this isn't a welcome move, especially for the vast majority of developers who fall under that $1 million threshold. Except there are developers making that argument. Some large developers are crying foul over this change, claiming it's simply a ploy to create division among developers. The argument seems to be that small developers should have to keep paying a higher commission so that the larger guys can try to claim some kind of high ground in their fight against Apple.
Read more: Apple may be the king of podcasting, but Spotify's purchase of Megaphone shows that it's planning a coup
Epic and Spotify, for example, are cofounders of the Coalition for App Fairness, a group formed to advocate for Apple to change its App Store policies. The group released a statement that says:
I would argue that's reading the worst possible motivation into what Apple's doing. I would also ask who the group means when it says "developers want," because I suspect that most of the developers who just found out they can keep more of the money generated by their app are less interested in "a level playing field" and more interested in paying a lower commission.
By the way, it's never going to be a level playing field because there's a vast difference between me building an app and publishing it to the App Store and, well, Netflix. There's no mechanism capable of leveling that field.
It's also important to understand what the purpose of the program is. I don't think it's in any way an attempt to fundamentally change the way the App Store works. It's also not an admission by Apple that it's wrong for charging a 30% commission.
Apple's simply trying to make it a little easier for small developers to build apps. It's trying to encourage them to invest the time and effort into getting their little project out into the world by increasing the financial incentive.
That's good for Apple, and it's good for developers. Lower commissions for developers who are just starting means they're more likely to start in the first place, or more able to spend time making their apps better. More apps also means more value for iOS users.
Still, the statements from those larger developers reflects how they feel about Apple right now, and that's a problem. It's a problem because it's in Apple's interests to do a little corporate relationship management with the developers that build things on its platform, because right now those relationships — at least in some cases — are more than a little frayed.
Read more: Apple's privacy 'nutrition labels' are about to make people very uneasy about the apps they use every day
David Heinemeier Hansson, cofounder of Basecamp, which developed the Hey email app and service, expressed his thoughts in a long Twitter thread that points out that Apple's undercutting its own argument that it treats all developers the same and that Apple's cut is still too high, even at the lower amount. Hey was involved in a highly public fight with Apple earlier this year when the iPhone maker rejected an update to the developer's app.
Hey is a good example because it represents the real reason poor developer relationships is a problem — because it affects the user experience. Hey is an email service from the people who made Basecamp. If you sign up for the service, the company also offers an iPhone app from which to access your email. When Hey tried to update its app shortly after launching this summer, Apple rejected the update because Hey didn't have in-app purchases.
Apple appeared to be suggesting that if Hey was making money in any form, based on an app that exists on iOS, Apple should be getting a cut. Never mind that Hey was handling all of the customer transactions and service on its own platform. The iOS app was just another way to access a service that lived elsewhere. It wasn't a good look for Apple, and it was made worse by an email sent to the developers explaining Apple's rejection:
"Thank you for being an iOS app developer. We understand that Basecamp has developed a number of apps and many subsequent versions for the App Store for many years, and that the App Store has distributed millions of these apps to iOS users. These apps do not offer in-app purchase — and, consequently, have not contributed any revenue to the App Store over the last eight years. We are happy to continue to support you in your app business and offer you the solutions to provide your services for free — so long as you follow and respect the same App Store Review Guidelines and terms that all developers must follow."
The problem with this email is that everything that comes after "thank you for being an iOS app developer" doesn't sound like Apple was really all that thankful to have Basecamp as an iOS app developer. It sounded more like Apple was measuring the relationship based on the amount of money Basecamp made, and the lack of commission it'd paid.
Read more: If Apple wants TV+ to be taken seriously, it should pay whatever it takes for a blockbuster franchise like James Bond
More importantly, the breakdown in Apple's relationship with developers is resulting in a breakdown in the experience for users. Hey is a really good email service, and users weren't going to get to use it unless Apple changed its mind. Fortunately, in that case, it did.
Apple's poor developer relations efforts, at least in some cases, is leading to a worse experience for users. For Apple, that's a big deal since one of its primary brand values is that things "just work." That should, ultimately, be the thing that matters most. It should be the standard by which Apple and developers measure success.
The fact that an iPhone user can't sign up for Hey, or Netflix, or Spotify when they download those apps without going to a website is a bad experience, especially since none of those apps can tell you how to sign up. The fact that you can't purchase an ebook in the Kindle app is a bad experience. A user shouldn't have to navigate the turf war happening between million- or billion-dollar companies in order to use the apps and services they love. When they do, it's a bad experience.
People who use Macs and iPhones love using their devices. Apple is consistently one of the most valued brands, and that's because Apple's customers genuinely love both the products it makes and their own association with the company.
One of the reasons users love those devices is the ecosystem of apps. An iPhone, without apps, is a piece of metal and glass. It may be beautiful, but it isn't useful. It's the apps, from both small and large developers, that make it something we use for everything from communicating with friends or family to entertainment to running a business.
The fact that Apple is making it easier for new developers to build more of those apps is a very good thing for everyone. Now, if only Apple and larger developers could find a way to see that their fight isn't good for anyone.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
Source: Read Full Article