Cleaning up the AppStore.

So I follow a lot of developers on Twitter, mostly guys anywhere in the range of somewhat to really successful. And I do find it funny that some of them have become like rockstars in our own little community, even though they don’t know much more than any of the rest of us… They just have found an ego somewhere and decided they are now experts and ‘influencers’ because the one or two thing they tried they did pretty good at. And they learned to play parts of this new game pretty quickly. A lot of that was just making the right contacts. And while I respect them and some of their opinions greatly, I just think that thinking you know too much in a market this volatile can be a little toxic. I prefer the guys that are studying the market outwardly, and not the guys that make profound statements that they then are forced to change every six months, but I learn a little bit from all of them….

The AppStore has changed and is hurting small developers with a whole bunch of factors like race to the bottom, discoverability, Apple breaking the top list algorithm’s etc etc etc…Well while a lot of us had started feeling it earlier this year these guys banked on their previous success to continue to say that it is great to jump into the AppStore with new apps. And then they finally got around to trying it!!

They, got their press, they got their features(both feats in themselves).. They had some initial success. But now they are noticing that the long tail of sales falls off much more steeply and the app gets lost even more quickly. And these are the rockstars, the guys we should be looking up to, with products that are mostly good…

So now they all have abruptly changed their tune and are like ‘Oh, we can’t maintain a company on just this’. So what can be done. They all have opinions. Even journalist ‘influencers’ with no real background chime in. And having done this for over 10 years, so do I….

Some say freemium can be the ‘magic bullet’. And I’m experimenting with that, and will continue to do more. But it’s a hard game to play, you need a lot of downloads, and there simply aren’t enough slots in the free top 200 lists for all of us to get those downloads… So you have to figure out how to jack up your conversion rates in creative ways without annoying customers or find some other way to make it work… Real added value is key, but it is not enough by itself.

Others say Apple needs to offer us trials. I TOTALLY AGREE. I actually did better than what Im doing now in a market fractions of the size of the iOS world back in the Windows Mobile(WM) days with trials for applications. They worked. The world hasn’t changed, people still want to see what the app is before spending money at a higher price point. Shareware made sense then and still does, whether you or Apple understands it.

Others come up with it having to do with switching business models. Of course you can do that. But you don’t encourage everyone to do it. It won’t work in all situations. And good luck if you are trying it. Shoehorning what should be a product into a service based system isn’t always a great game plan.

How about paid upgrades. Obviously Apple is trying to drive prices down and is against this based on what they have done with their own software. We all know they are trying to sell hardware, but come on Apple, making us guys living off software try to follow your lead doesn’t work. We have no controls to erase reviews when customers backlash over having to re-buy a new App(SKU) or feature our own apps in the store to counteract this. You’ve actually made this worse with including ratings in top list rankings.

The ‘Clear’ app is cited as a good example of this and how they broke down to customer complaints that were wrecking them.  I don’t necessarily agree in this case. They recently tried the new SKU upgrade path and then backed down.  I appreciate Clear’s simplicity and uniqueness and their ability to market that. But it is a simple app. And they don’t add many features and use their own design idea as an excuse not to, effectively keeping it simple. But they then tried the new SKU method and started charging radically more for a ‘new version’ which is essentially the same app, only universal, whether they changed a ton of things to use iOS7 or not. Most people wouldn’t have noticed 90% of the changes they did to use iOS7’s new abilities, and it can be argued they wouldn’t have had to do most of it anyway. Ive seen what they claim to have done. So they wanted to charge customers $5 on an app most paid $1 for to essentially continue getting the regular progression of the app when they added no value to it except to the people wanting it on iPads too… Ultimately they backed into what should have been the solution to begin with…They didn’t devalue their product by backing up.  So it is more of an example of why steering us towards this new SKU plan is not a very good idea. If paid upgrade was the model, would Clear have gone that way or just done the right thing to begin with and made the new SKU the Universal version and leave the original title that feels about the same…It should have been more clear to them. It just shows that even a very successful app at these low price points needs to find ways to make enough money, and the solutions aren’t well defined.

But what would be great and what I hope is that Apple finally realizes what is needed is to clean up the AppStore.

Ideas:

How about charging more to publish apps or keep apps. Think if they charged $100 to be a developer but $300 a year to be able to put apps up. That barrier to entry is bigger and guys that have their apps they wrote in 2010 and haven’t updated in 2-3 years, wouldn’t continue to pay the $300 a year to keep those apps up there. A lot more free apps would also disappear which is great for developers, and the guys that really have good free apps will probably pay it. Maybe after 20 apps or so, they need to pay even more.. Just think how that alone would clean out a lot of the poorly done or older stuff clogging up the store.  Nobody cares that you have over 1 millions apps in the store Apple. You don’t play the numbers games elsewhere, how about dropping it here too..

How about forcing apps to be current or don’t have them show up unless directly linked or directly searched if they are not.

Think of the ramifications counteracting the race to the bottom this could have if a lot of the bloat and lesser alternatives go away. If there are only 3 free titles competing against your superior niche app instead of 40, that changes the customer mentality a ton.

How about adding more categories. Back in WM the store fronts were broken down into sub categories a lot more and it worked well. Apple does it with games and now kids, why not productivity, business, etc… That many more top 200/300 lists… That much better discovery.

And how about a little consistency with those top lists. Make it the same on iTunes as on the AppStore. Why not show us the top 500? Most people are going to stop after top 25 or 50 anyway, but the ones that don’t would like to see and find more that way…

And what you did with the top list algorithm is a lot worse than it was last year at this time. Make it better. Why is it based so much more on ratings? Guess what, and this is not new, some users are vindictive, or still think reviews are the best way to report bugs. A majority of the great users just use the software, they don’t go and rate it…

And reviews are broken, fix them. They always have been. A 1.0 version bug should not be pulling down the rankings of the 4.0 version of the app just because your customers in 2010 saw that as the main way they should contact anyone…. How about we can have those go away if they haven’t applied for years?!

And come up with some good ideas for discoverability. Do you really think that ‘apps around you’ is really going to be handy almost ever. Really?

But I guess we’ve been talking about this for a long time. And a lot of it is and will continue to stay broken. Actually half the time lately I can’t even get the AppStore on my phone to work right, so… Maybe fix those things first. But come on Apple, if you really care about developers and don’t just pretend to then STEP UP. You are forcing most of us to move on… Ultimately it will be in your best interest for this ecosystem you control to be beneficial to the most developers, not just the largest ones. I hope you figure that out before it’s too late.

And good luck to all you developers out there. Until we do get the market cleaned up there is no one right solution.. It got messy and hard. Make a great product, promote it, and get lucky.