Opinion: Apple needs an executive shake-up

Developers deserve representation

Apple, developers, operating systems, OS X, iOS
Credit: Liji Jinaraj/Flickr

Developers have seemed frustrated in recent weeks, with developers from Bohemian Coding joining Panic, BBEdit and others in choosing to withdraw their products from sale at the Mac App Store.

Frustration

The reasons vary, but the long and unpredictable delay between app submission and publication via the store; lack of price flexibility; problems with app discovery and review and the inability to easily offer free trial versions are frequent complaints from the app development community. The recent furor surrounding a certificate problem that stopped some apps working also hasn’t helped.

I’m not about to launch into a tirade against Apple on this. I’m going to suggest a solution, one I think will deliver significant improvement.

Developers are the life-blood of any platform.

It was third-party developers who first showed the potential of mobile devices to augment daily life way back when they began tweaking iPods to deliver new and exciting features, particularly in the education markets. In time, this activity helped inform decisions to make more powerful mobile devices, culminating in iPhones and iPads, and stood behind the decision to enable native app design for iOS, rather than the Web 2.0 apps the company originally favored.

Developers matter

Third-party developers blaze fresh trails, extend and expand the device ecosystem  and enable these new and powerful mobile solutions to meet needs otherwise left unmet by the core solution. That’s why a certain Mr. Ballmer back in the day left his dent in the universe in the form of a video in which he dances and, while covered in sweat, yelled the immortal words: “Developers, developers, developers,” as he took his slow journey into the appendix of future history books.

Apple’s approach is a little more sophisticated. It offers arguably the world’s most talked-about developer event, the Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). It has a developer relations team, individuals from which are usually years ahead of the now in the way they think (at least in my experience on those few occasions I’ve been able to speak with them). It has teams of people to handle developer problems and has built a series of interconnected ecosystems within which developers.

It pays out billions of dollars to third-party developers each year. The amount it pays increases annually. The numbers will grow again across the next 12 months as its new TV and wearables platforms expand, even while the company pulls together new opportunities, presumably including the Apple Car.

Love

Despite all of this, developers clearly feel a little unloved.

After all, if they didn’t feel such a lack of love, they would feel connected to the company and they would remain inside the App Store.

The best solution I see is to raise the status of an existing executive position -- president or vice president of developer relations. This person would them have the power and the capacity to build stronger relationships with developers, evangelize them across other units and be able to resolve developer problems, such as those currently driving developers away.

This role would take certain responsibilities away from many existing members of Apple’s senior management (particularly, but not exclusively Eddy Cue's iTunes), but would be far better equipped to prioritize and focus on what developers need. At present, developers are part of everything yet central to nothing – and yet they inform and guide development across all Apple’s ecosystems. They are “the epicentre of change."

With this in mind, I think executive representation isn’t just sensible in terms of showing developers how important they are, but also to position company development across the next decade. As its ecosystem extends across every part of life, Apple needs third-party developers to refine those platforms, to make them as essential, useful and diverse as they need to be to meet the needs of a digitally transforming planet.

Google+? If you use social media and happen to be a Google+ user, why not join AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner community and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple?

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