Apple listens to developers, eradicates ‘free’ imitation at App Store

Developers, Apple cares about you...

Apple, iOS, App Store, Services, iPhone, iPad

Developers. Apple cares about you and is improving its App Stores to make life better for you. That, it seems, is the message following the flurry of changes the company has made, changes that show it has heard and is responding to some of the problems developers moan about.

Taking back control

These changes have come into effect since December 2015, when some better known indie developers chose to take their apps away from the Mac App Store.

They wanted to protest at long delays between app submission and publication, lack of price flexibility, problems with app discover, problems with reviews, and other frustrations.

Within weeks, Apple put VP Phil Schiller (who already ran Developer Relations) in charge at the store. The changes Apple has made since show it wants to make things better for developers – and we’ve seen a few more positive changes this week:

Reviews you can trust

Apple’s latest mobile OS, iOS 10.3 introduces some excellent improvements to the reviews process.

Developers have been unable to respond to reviews until now. This has led to some significant problems.

For example, one developer once claimed competitors were writing highly critical reviews whenever they published a new app, and because they were unable to respond to those criticisms this was costing sales.

Other developers were unhappy because there was no way (other than through the release notes) of letting people know criticisms had been addressed. That’s what the new reviews tools seek to address.

Faster approvals, better visibility

In June 2016, Schiller announced that the app submission and review process had been improved (90 percent of apps should now be reviewed within 48-hours); introduced tools that let developers offer apps on a subscription basis; and some improvements in app discovery, including a Share pane.

More recently, Apple introduced a new “Indie Games” section to the store, which should help smaller games developers compete with the big games firms by making their titles more visible.

Another big move has been to introduce new analytics tools developers can use to understand how their apps are used.

Search & destroy

Apple has also become far more aggressive about deleting spam apps, older apps that have not been updated and those clearly designed to emulate other popular apps under different names.

Apple has eliminated tens of thousands of such apps in the last year.

This week it introduced a new tool in iOS 10.3 that lets you review all those old and updated 32-bit apps you might still be using, as it prepares to abandon support for them in iOS 11. (It is estimated that up to 200,000 apps will be impacted by this).

No (free) lunch

Apple has also begun rejecting apps submitted to the App Store that include the word “free” in their metadata.

I don’t think Apple is making this restriction because it’s being mean, I have sometimes noticed spam app developers who include references to pricing when offering apps that are very like existing fee-based apps.

Apple isn’t trying to end free app promotions, however, just putting such things in the correct place.  “It would be appropriate to include this information in the app description,” Apple says to developers, according to VentureBeat.

Why this matters

Services are critical to Apple’s future. Sure, the company hopes to continue to create powerful new product families (iMac, iPod, iPhone), and to incrementally improve these, but it also wants to build its recurring income.

The App Store, which has tripled gross revenues in the last three years, is currently Apple’’s biggest earning Services item. It accounts for around $8.6 billion of the $24 billion the services category generated for Apple in FY 2016 (Source: Loup Ventures, Bernstein, et al.).

Apple wants to double its services income by 2021. I think that’s a conservative target. I’m not alone in thinking this: App Annie projects consumers will spend $60 billion at the App Store in FY 2021.

To infinity and beyond

To meet its targets, Apple knows it needs to respond to developer complaints, and that is exactly what it has been doing.

App visibility remains a little opaque, but I predict the company will invest in machine intelligence solutions (bots?) to help customers find the apps they want, while simultaneously enabling developers to find the customers they deserve.

The App Store is critical to Apple – though its recent Workflow acquisition suggests the way we interact will apps will also change, as ambient computing through wearable devices becomes more mainstream.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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