beaTunes News

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Letter to Ron Okamoto

Dear Ron,

Thank you for informing me almost three weeks ahead of time and four days before Christmas, that you are going to get rid of the source of roughly 30% of the traffic to my website. Yes, I'm talking about the Mac OS X Download site (http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/). This little directory, initially set up so that users could be convinced that there is software for OS X at all, has been a great, reliable and -above all- free marketing tool - helping Indie developers like myself to get the word out, sell their applications. Cancelling the site will make it mandatory for any small dev shop to move to the new Mac App Store to have a chance at survival - even if that means being practically forced into revenue sharing with Apple and not being able to control one's own release schedule.

You say you believe that the "Mac App Store will be the best destination for users to discover, purchase, and download […] apps", and certainly the Store offers all of this. Obviously, it will also be a very suitable tool for Apple to censor content, dictate technology, and participate in developer's revenue streams.

How so?

Well, if we have learned anything from the original App Store, the approval process is a gamble which leaves the developer with no control. For small devs it is especially troublesome that the release date depends on such a great unknown. That is, if the app is approved at all.
This means developers first have to make the huge upfront development investment, during which they earn no money whatsoever, and then hope that the app is approved (in time) so that eventually they can find out, whether there is money to be made with their app at all. To me this sounds like making a hard and risky business even harder.

So what about technology? A little while ago, Apple stopped development of its own Java Runtime Environment (JRE), which is now being continued with Oracle's help as part of OpenJDK. Apple declared Java officially "deprecated". At the same time Apple announced that it would not allow apps in the Mac App Store built on "deprecated" technology. In other words, if I want to sell it in the Mac App Store, I must built it using Apple approved technology, i.e. Cocoa, Objective-C, etc. It does not matter how awesome my app is - if it's written in the wrong language, it's out.

Last but not least, the money. While a single sale via Paypal costs me a fee of roughly 4.5%, a sale in the Mac App Store costs 30% - that's more than a 650% increase. An increase that the consumer will have to pay to a fat company that already has billions in the bank.

And best of all, the precise terms under which I can or cannot sell an app in the Mac App Store aren't even publicly viewable on the developer's Mac App Store website (http://developer.apple.com/programs/mac/distribution.html). I actually have to pay the $99 membership fee to find out.

So, yes, for the consumer the Mac App Store seems to be a great thing. Obviously, for Apple it's a great thing (who wouldn't like a 30% revenue share of most software sold for the Mac?). But what exactly is it for Indie developers? What are Indie developers to begin with?

I don't think there is a precise definition, but to me Indie developers are those people who alone or with a few friends write often quite innovative software without having the backing of a huge company. In other words, these people often start creating stuff after they come home from their day job, risking their savings and alienating their families. It's also these Indie folks who tend to win Apple Design Awards.

And exactly these people Apple wants to take money from, make their schedules even more unreliable and stifle creativity through the Mac App Store corset.

Doesn't sound quite so cool and "independent" anymore, does it?

Developers writing software for Apple have traditionally been forced to rewrite stuff every couple of years, because Apple has dropped this or changed that API (e.g. think Carbon/QT and 64Bit). And given the choice between having to deal with ancient APIs forever and neat no-baggage innovation, I'm in Apple's camp. However, being forced through means of a soon-to-be dominant sales channel to use a certain technology, turns Indie developers into proprietary lapdogs. Whatever I write for that Store, I can't sell on any other platform, because of severe technology lock-in.

So to answer my own question: For Indie developers the Mac App Store in its current form is a short leash, lock-in, penalty and taxation system.

Quite the grim outlook for the new year...

Well, Ron, you might say that Apple never promised to do no evil. And I guess no-one ever said that Apple is not greedy. To me, Apple is unfortunately becoming more and more of both.

Merry Christmas,

-hendrik


Dear Hendrik,

Thank you for making the Mac OS X Download site a great destination with apps that offer users new ways to work, play, learn, and create on their Mac.

We recently announced that on January 6, 2011, the Mac App Store will open to users around the world, presenting you with an exciting, new opportunity to reach millions of customers. Since the introduction of the App Store in 2008, we've been thrilled with the incredible support from developers and the enthusiastic response from users. Now we're bringing the revolutionary experience of the App Store to Mac OS X.

Because we believe the Mac App Store will be the best destination for users to discover, purchase, and download your apps, we will no longer offer apps on the Mac OS X Downloads site. Instead, beginning January 6, we will be directing users to explore the range of apps available on the Mac App Store.

We appreciate your support of the Mac platform and hope you'll take advantage of this new opportunity to showcase your apps to even more users. To learn how you can offer your apps on the Mac App Store, visit the Apple Developer website at .

Best regards,

Ron Okamoto
Vice President, Worldwide Developer Relations
Apple Inc.


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2 Comments:

Blogger Rocky said...

I am sorely annoyed that Apple is moving toward closed systems and markets. I am, as I suppose Hendrik may have been, a very long time Apple fan, but this makes me question who is in control there, and whether they understand their market very well. Moving all this into the "garden" and controlling it strictly may seem attractive to them right now, but they will alienate so many independent, smaller-budgeted software engineers, I guess they have already done the cost benefit analysis and decided they can afford to alienate the small guy.

This does not sit well with me; I'm not sure I like the direction Apple is going with Mac.

What works for iPad and iPhone is not necessarily the best thing for Mac platform!!

December 25, 2010 at 1:27:00 AM EST  
Blogger puzzler said...

Thanks for letting us know some of the ways that Apple's decisions about the new Mac App Store is affecting some of the independent developers like yourself, Hendrik. It's not in the least surprising but it's still very valuable to hear about it directly from you.

Last week I ran into a friend of mine that I haven't seen in a couple of years. He's worked at Apple for many years in a variety of capacities and I was interested to find out what he was was up to these days @ Infinite Loop. I was startled to find out that he was deeply involved with the App Store, including the some aspect of the app approval process.

Anyway what I took away from our long conversation, which included discussing Bea Tunes and your letter, was that this otherwise very bright guy was stone cold drunk on the Apple kool aid. He more or less avoids reading criticism about Apple's policies and he focuses on how great it is to help so many of the "small ma & pa shop entrepreneurs to be so successful" and keeps the blinders on re: other issues.

No surprise of course, but it was a bit unsettling to see it up close and personal.

BTW, I'm an avid Android user and in my IMNSHO, there still isn't a great music app on Android. I think a superior app would do VERY well. If it was also compatible with iTunes, could read the iTunes library, etc. it could be HUGE. If it could sync with iTunes, it would be even HUGER (sic). If it was also a great podcast app on a par with iTunes (the current Android podcast apps run from bad to meh), it could be even HUGIER (sic*2)! Can't hurt to ask!

Best of luck Hendrik, you deserve it!

-Kenny

January 29, 2011 at 3:08:00 PM EST  

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