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  • The App Store Report: What About an Exit Button?

    March 4th, 2010

    On the whole, I think Apple’s tight integration among its mobile devices and the way software is sold is a good thing. There is a rich selection, somewhere in the range 140,000 and 150,000 as I write this, with billions of downloads. Some tiny developers have made boatloads of money as a result of their products, and those of you who own these gadgets can rest assured of a safe, secure environment in which to acquire the apps you want.

    You know, for example, that if a particular product becomes extremely buggy, it’ll be pulled, and apps that may present security risks or contain unacceptable content will be rejected.

    The other shoe, however, drops on developers who feel their app submissions are being unfairly delayed or rejected for arbitrary reasons. Apple continues to claim it’s doing the best it can considering the incredible number of submissions that need to pass muster. When a developer makes a public stink, most of the time Apple will respond in some fashion, sometimes speeding up the approval process and sometimes just explaining why the app remains under review or is being rejected.

    Now as much as some people might object to Apple’s behavior, it is, after all, their store and they can pick and choose the merchandise they want to carry. If the decisions are arbitrary, that’s their right, even if some of you don’t think that approach serves the developer or the customer.

    The main issue is, of course, the fact that you can’t just take your business elsewhere. The App Store is it, unless you jailbreak your iPhone. Then you can try third-party software repositories, but, of course, you take the risk that the apps in question will run properly and won’t subject your iPhone to possible malware infections.

    In this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, noted Mac author Ted Landau suggests another possible solution, one similar to what’s offered on Android smartphones. There would be an Advanced option that allows you to exit the App Store and gain access to other suppliers of iPhone software. Now this may sound great on the surface, but it may be a little complicated to implement. Would it happen within the App Store app or would a different app appear that allowed you to browse the alternative software repositories?

    There’s also the question of Apple’s liability. You see, when they post product in the App Store, as much as the Terms and Conditions might be intended to relieve them of responsibility for buggy or infected apps, their manual approval process implies that they are taking steps to make sure what you download is safe. When you exit the App Store, I would expect that Apple would provide several information screens warning you that you are leaving those safe confines and you’re on your own.

    Would Apple consider such a move? How would developers react to having to deal with a potentially fragmented audience? Would they desert the App Store and take their stuff elsewhere, or would Apple allow them to have their products available from multiple vendors?

    But the key issue here is whether a sufficient number people really care about being able to easily get their iPhone, iPod touch and iPad apps from other sources. I’m sure Apple has considered lots of possibilities, and even though they are surely control freaks through and through, if a different marketing approach had the potential of selling more hardware, their responsibilities to shareholders would dictate that they consider such an option. In the end, after all, it’s still all about the money.

    Indeed, Apple’s closed ecosystem has been incredibly successful for them with both the iPod and iPhone lines, and no doubt the same will hold true for the iPad. One thing I suggested to Landau during my interview is that, if Apple had the chance to do it all over again, and easy Internet access was available in 1984, the original Mac may also have been tied to an App Store of some sort.

    The critics will say that Apple is screwing itself big time by exerting such heavy control over its platforms. They cite the failure to license the Mac OS early on as the main reason why Microsoft gained the upper hand. But things don’t always play out so easily in the real world. When Apple did try to license the Mac OS in the 1990s, it nearly killed the company. That approach may have worked if Microsoft didn’t exist, but that’s just speculation.

    In fact, Microsoft realized soon after the iPod came out that their standard scheme, licensing their proprietary software to other vendors, had failed big time. The Zune and Zune Marketplace represent their pathetic attempt to duplicate Apple’s success. There may even be an official Microsoft smartphone when version 7 of Windows Mobile appears, but right now they may fail just as badly with that initiative.

    Meantime, if you really want to protest Apple’s business plan, just don’t buy their products. They’ll get the message real fast if enough of you take your business elsewhere.



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    11 Responses to “The App Store Report: What About an Exit Button?”

    1. TJ says:

      I know I’m not in the big market slice that Apple targets with their mobile products, but as a software guy I’d like to be able to develop and install iPhone/iPodTouch/iPad hobby apps for myself, family, and friends without having to go through Apple’s app store or jail breaking the devices.

      Currently, I don’t see any path for doing this.

      • Karl says:

        @TJ,
        You have a path for doing this… jail break the iPhone. I am friends with a software guy and he does it and he tinkers with apps that aren’t available at the App Store. Some pretty cool stuff too.

        • Andrew says:

          @Karl, TJ clearly said he doesn’t want to jailbreak the phone. There are very good reasons for not jailbreaking the phone, like not wanting to worry about it being bricked the next time Apple issues an update.

          • Karl says:

            @Andrew,

            Yeah your right, I kind of cherry picked his comment, sorry about that. Unfortunately jail breaking is the path for him to do what he wants… It’s just one he isn’t willing to take.

            Obviously there are risks with jail breaking but if you don’t apply any Apple issued updates bricking won’t be a major issue. Except of course you may brick it initially when jail breaking it in the first place.

            Like I said, if you are willing… Jail breaking is certainly an option and some of the apps available make it worth the risk for some people. I was sitting with my friend today it’s amazing how much you can do with a jail broken phone. With that said, I probably won’t jail break mine at least not until my contract expires with AT&T 😉

            • Andrew says:

              @Karl, I’m on the opposite side. I think that whatever Apple gives us in OS 4 will be worth a lot more than anything I can get in an unauthorized app.

    2. Peter says:

      One interesting thing about being able to leave the App Store would be to be able to distribute software through other means.

      Here’s a fun example: Go to a shoe store and you’ll find that you can also buy a Nike+ transmitter (and appropriate software) to use with your iPod or iPhone 3GS. This makes sense–you want to sell your product in a place where people who might be interested in your product are likely to go. People looking at running shoes might be interested in your product. Basic sales and marketing, right?

      Suppose I make a Fart App–excuse me, a “Digital Whoopie Cushion.” Well, sure, I can try to sell it in the App Store alongside 324 other Fart Apps. But maybe it would be better for me if I distributed it through GagWorks.com or through the vast array of Joke Shops in local malls. After all, people who are in the Joke Shop are already looking for something amusing. Sticking a CD with my App on it right next to checkout counter might be a better way to sell it than stuffing it on a virtual shelf in Apple’s “Wal-Mart for Apps.”

      A big advantage to Apple dropping it’s “exclusivity” for the App Store is that Apple can create a store that they would like. Apple is in a no-win situation right now–if they’re too loose in accepting things, they end up with tons of crap in the store (and get lambasted from running a crApp Store). If they’re too tight, then they’re evil censors. They’re trying to walk that tight-rope and failing miserably.

      There’s just no way that Apple will make everybody happy.

      By dropping it’s exclusivity, Apple can pick and choose among the best Apps. Want to be in Apple’s App Store? You better come up with something that will Wow the user–not just a bunch of pictures of women playing tennis. But you can distribute an App that contains pictures of women playing tennis all you want–you just have to pay for the shopping cart and all that (if you want to make money doing it).

      Apple is currently the “Wal-Mart” of App Stores. It has everything right next to everything else. What Apple’s App Store should aspire to be is a place where you know that what you buy will impress and amaze you. If a developer wants to sell crApps, let them do it in their own store.

      • Karl says:

        @Peter,

        Interesting point and can see the logic. But Apple is already picking Apps (best or not is only a matter of opinion). So I don’t see the big advantage for Apple to drop exclusivity.

        But could a developer advertise their “fart app” at another retail location? The customer just has to visit the App Store to get it. I seem to recall MacWorld as well as other sites having links to various apps in the App Store they are reviewing. Why couldn’t a developer just advertise it’s product and direct the customer to the App Store?

        So picture this… I’m at a novelty site buying a whoopee cushion but notice a banner for a “fart app” available at the App Store with a link. Click on that link and I am taken to the application and purchase. This would work for a brick-n-mortor retail shop also. I see/hear a ad/commercial for an application then go to the App Store to buy.

        I don’t see how Apple is failing miserably. They actually have pretty good set up going. You can’t make everyone happy is correct but with a billion downloads it’s hard to say that Apple isn’t pleasing the majority of customers.

        • Peter says:

          @Karl,

          But Apple is already picking Apps (best or not is only a matter of opinion). So I don’t see the big advantage for Apple to drop exclusivity.

          Well, Apple is driven by politics here. Because they are the sole distributor of Apps, every denial creates a wave of bad publicity. Remember the guy who did caricatures of members of the government for an App that gave you information about your elected officials? Denied, stink raised, accepted. You get enough stories like that, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

          While I agree that “Best” is a matter of opinion, Apple could choose what they believe is the “Best” App. I might disagree with them and, hey, that’s cool, because I can go elsewhere. The point being that, as a developer, I can develop an App without having to worry whether or not Apple will accept it or not or whether Apple might decide, at some point, that they shouldn’t have accepted it and get rid of it. So whether my App is whatever Apple would consider to be “Best” or not, I have another choice. Being in the Apple App Store becomes a privilege, not a right.

          But could a developer advertise their “fart app” at another retail location? The customer just has to visit the App Store to get it. I seem to recall MacWorld as well as other sites having links to various apps in the App Store they are reviewing.

          The difference here is between advertising and distributing. Advertising is an expense–I have to convince a store to put up a banner or something like that. That’s going to cost me money–space in a store exists to make the owner of the store money. Distributing, conversely, is a sale. You sell product to a distributor who then resells it to the individual stores. Even if you act as the distributor, you get something for your product from the store who will then resell it to an individual.

          In your examples, you referred to “sites.” I’m not talking about the Internet–I’m talking about that big room with the blue ceiling. You know, the place where most people live and shop. This is why Apple has retail stores. Putting ads on a website and running an online-only operation isn’t going to do it.

          My Digital Whoopie Cushion App is definitely an impulse buy item. So paying for an ad in the Joke Shop saying, “Check out http://www.digitalwhoopiecushion.com!” still requires the user to go through a step to actually buy the thing. I want my App right next to the checkout counter so while they’re buying itching powder or goofy sunglasses or whatever, they can peruse the CD and think, “Yeah! That’s funny! Hey, cashier, add this in, too!”

          You can’t make everyone happy is correct but with a billion downloads it’s hard to say that Apple isn’t pleasing the majority of customers.

          There are hundreds of millions of Windows users. With that many users, it’s hard to say that Microsoft isn’t pleasing the majority of it’s customers.

          Or, to put it another way, “EAT SHIT: 10,000 flies can’t be wrong.”

          The argument that Apple has lots of satisfied customers because of how many downloads isn’t really a fair statement because there are no alternatives to weigh against.

          • Karl says:

            @Peter,

            I can see if I had a Amazon application on my iPhone that was basically an interface to their (Amazon’s) store and your app was listed. Then that may work great for you and other developers. But is Apple really going open up the iPhone for that? Doesn’t seem likely to me.

            With that said, Apple isn’t solely driven by politics. They are driven by the dollar as all companies are. I think they aren’t getting as much bad publicity as you seem to think they are. That doesn’t mean they aren’t receiving any… just not enough for them to open up the iPhone for a third party store. There really is no advantage for them at this point. I agree that it MAY help some developers and MAY help the customer. But it MAY also hurt Apple. So right now they are walking a thin line between developers, customers and maximizing profits. Is it perfect? No of course not, (nothing is perfect) but right now it is working for Apple and some (most?) developers.

            I hate to break the news to you but the App store is far from being shit and if I was a fly, I would probably eat shit if 10,000 other flies are eating it. Also, Microsoft IS pleasing millions of customers. My statement is fair because a lot developers have bought into the App Store system. If the system wasn’t working their would be NO (or very little) downloads… Apple didn’t get to a billion downloads by doing something wrong.

            I will grant you that if you had another store for your app you would have another avenue to judge how each store performs and it would give you another avenue for your app to reach more people. But enough people are happy with Apple’s iPhone business model. Both Apple and some (most?) developers are making money. Just like enough people are happy with Microsoft’s business model and a lot of flies love to eat shit.

            To get back to the advertising… I don’t understand this statement – “I’m not talking about the Internet–I’m talking about that big room with the blue ceiling. You know, the place where most people live and shop. This is why Apple has retail stores.”

            Just how are you going to distribute a digital app for the iPhone if you aren’t going to use the internet (or 3G)? You have to use the internet unless the iPhone has a CD drive in it. The App Store is basically an internet site isn’t it? Even if there was a third party app store I think advertising your app on a website with a link to the store is about the only way you are going to get people to install your app.

            One work around would be for you could create a gift card with your “Great Fart App” branding and have it hanging in a checkout aisle with directions on how to download the app. Of course the user is going to have to get on the internet (3G) to download it. And of course all that is going to cost you some bucks, some convincing and some work which you don’t seem keen on doing.

            You as a developer for the iPhone have bought into the distribution model. I guess I just don’t understand why now you are mad about it. All I can say is to keep voicing you opinion to Apple or you can always develop for another platform with more distribution channels. As for me… I will keep downloading apps from the App Store.

    3. tedlandau says:

      Hi Gene!

      My replies to most of what you wrote are in our podcast. I won’t bother to repeat myself here.

      However, for my take on a related matter (the recent Wi-Fi apps removals), you can read this:

      http://www.tedlandau.com/slantedviewpoint/index.php/archives/2010/327

      • @tedlandau, It goes to show, Ted, that Apple has some work to do. But it would still be nice to perhaps have that Exit button and provide a way for third-party software vendors to get into the act.

        But not in our lifetimes. 🙂

        Peace,
        Gene

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