The good news is that the iOS App Store is the most profitable one on the planet for developers. The tight integration of Apple’s mobile platform — and the high migration rate to new versions — means that developers can take advantage of the latest and greatest features and be assured a large number of users will be able to benefit. That means sales and profits.
Contrast that situation to the second most popular app store, Google Play, where the standards are less stringent and there’s so much fragmentation that many users can’t update to the latest OS, and the migration rate tends to be relatively low. A main reason is that Google’s updates have to be tested and approved by both the handset maker and the carrier, and neither has any incentive to support gear for which they’ve already been paid. Google’s promises to fix this problem remain unfulfilled.
Apple has been roundly criticized for tight control over the App Store. In large part, hat’s done so they can make sure the apps work as advertised, and don’t do things that endanger security and/or violate the limitations placed on such software. Sandboxing walls off apps from one another with the exception of entitlements that allow a limited amount of inter-app communication.
In theory, the security scheme works. Users of iPhones and iPads live within a pretty secure environment. Although there have been security issues, they are usually fixed in short order and aren’t impacting customers.
But it also means that some apps cannot be developed — ever. Sure, if you jailbreak your iPhone or iPad, you can take advantage of apps of which Apple would never approve. But you also open yourself to potential security problems. Most choose to live within the system.
This is a key reason why I cannot use an iPad in the way I’d like. One of my primary tasks is to record episodes of my two radio shows. On a Mac, that’s done with Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack, which captures audio streams from many apps and other input sources. I use it for Skype audio, mixed with the output from my analog mic and outboard mixer.
You can’t get it from the Mac App Store either for the same reason — sandboxing. If Apple would relent and provide a path for Rogue Amoeba and other developers to use, these software companies would sell a lot more product. For now, you have to buy them elsewhere, and there’s no limitation on the Mac platform. You do, however, want to download software from developers who are using certificates from Apple for the safest experience, as Rogue Amoeba does.
In any case, you can see the problems I confront with the iPad. Editing audio waveforms on an iPad, particularly the iPad Pro, is theoretically a joy to behold. In addition to GarageBand, you do have other choices, but none can capture the audio streams from other apps. Or at least I can’t find any that do. Merging multiple files from possibly different sources is easy on a Mac, complicated on an iPhone or iPad. So in addition to not having the apps you need, file system access needs to be improved beyond iCloud or a third-party app.
Yet the iPad Pro seems tailor made for productivity tasks. Apple’s Smart Keyboard hints at greater potential, and perhaps third-party keyboards will do it better. Apple Pencil is a better solution for graphic artists than traditional drawing tablets, and that will attract developers to look at all sorts of new possibilities for content creation.
In addition to prohibiting important features, there are other frustrations. Developers complain about arbitrary decisions made by Apple’s review team to reject some apps and approve others that appear superficially similar. Add to that inconsistent promotion and changing search criteria.
A key limitation is the inability to buy an update from within an application. So instead of users of version one getting the version two upgrade for half price, the developer has to build an all-new app. You have to buy it separately, and you do not benefit from being an existing user.
Sure, I realize some software developers have been pulling that stunt for years — charging everyone the same for upgrades — but that’s an individual choice. Apple locks you in. Yes, you can use in-app purchasing to add features. I would think that feature could be modified to handle the upgrade dilemma.
Demos? Well, I suppose you can offer a limited-function version of an app, but not on a time-limited basis. If you want the full-featured version, that could be handled by the in-app purchase system, but so could upgrades. It’s all up to Apple to adjust the download mechanism to allow that flexibility.
Many Mac apps remain available independently, usually from the publisher. That provides full flexibility to manage demos, upgrades and immediate upgrades without waiting for a third-party to give the OK. Yes, Apple takes a 30% of the take, but handles all the payments and prominent placement in the App Store — Mac or iOS — can mean loads of sales. The developer merely needs to bank the monthly payments and provide support and new versions.
The App Store debuted in 2008. After seven years, it’s time for Apple to make it better, and not just fix a few things around the edges. But at least you know that if you want to offer iOS software, there’s basically one source. With the Mac, developers have to consider whether the tradeoffs for the Mac App Store are worth the benefits. Not all do, and some developers have opted to leave after giving it a try.
The arrival of the iPad Pro just reveals the limitations of the App Store in bold relief. Apple ought to be working on fixing the problems and limitations of both app stores. Well, perhaps they are, and there will be updates at the next WWDC. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.