Responding to pressure, Apple requests developer feedback

The company is encouraging developers to submit App Store and Apple development platform suggestions.

Apple, iOS, Mac, App Store, WWDC, developers, iPHone, Mac

Critics always mock this claim, but Apple listens to feedback from across its ecosystem, and a couple of recent developer relations changes suggest it is thinking to recent criticisms of its App Store policies.

An epic challenge

In less than a decade, Tim Cook’s Apple has managed to develop, build and evangelize a global mobile platform that is responsible for hardware design, platform development and maintaining a framework for its own and third-party services while also ensuring its creations are capable of answering new demands as they emerge.

In the service of the last item, it maintains a highly secure online store, within which it provides access to apps created by developers from across the world, handling a range of background tasks that most developers could never reasonably expect to assemble infrastructure to do for themselves.

Apple has been pretty busy, but throughout that time it seems to have recognized that its customers aren’t just consumers, but enterprise and developer users, too.

Apple does listen to its customers

Apple listens to its customers. That is why recent complaints over how it handles the App Store have been heard and will be addressed. Its response may not be what the current crop of critics expect.

Apple has announced a series of changes to how it handles things at its App Store:

  • Bug fixes for apps that are already available on the App Store will no longer be delayed following guideline violations, except for those that relate to legal issues.
  • Developers will instead be able to address guideline violations in their next submission.
  • Developers can already appeal decisions concerning whether an app violates guidelines, but can now also suggest changes to the guidelines.

All three of these improvements go some way to dilute many of the more genuine complaints people have made regarding working with the App Store, particularly around the need to ensure existing app users can continue to receive app updates without being wrapped up in disagreements that have nothing to do with them.

That developers can now suggest changes to App Store guidelines also seems pretty important. While that kind of feedback was already being shared in an informal sense (You think Apple doesn’t listen to developers at WWDC?), formalizing the dialog may help open up more such conversations.

Developers are customers too

Apple seems to want this to happen, telling developers in a recent note:

“We also encourage you to submit your App Store and Apple development platform suggestions so we can continue to improve experiences for the developer community.”

Apple may feel itself being pushed to open up in this way.

Heavily marketed, reported upon and promoted disagreements with some developers have been difficult for anyone to ignore, while regulators themselves are already wondering if App Store business models merit more scrutiny.

Those are good things.

This is what happens when you create a complete new economic model: Over time, it attracts scrutiny, criticism and complaint. Systems are tested, broken, mended and improved. As they become part of daily life, they encounter legal and regulatory challenges, just like any other important utility.

Such challenges can become burdensome, but meeting them is a necessary part of doing business in a fast-evolving environment in order to protect everyone engaged within that trade. It's part of what you pay App Store fees and prices for.

More than money

Apple’s decision to open up to developers a little more reflects its understanding that it must ensure that those engaged within its ecosystem (itself, developers, partners, customers and the nations that host them) enjoy positive experiences. Part of which involves responding to negative feedback.

It remains interesting to note that by far the loudest complaint coming out of developers at present seems to concern Apple’s 30% cut of distribution.  

The thing is, it is not really a regulator's role to decide the cost of doing business on any platform, particularly in a competitive market. It is also quite clear that mass-market platforms with different models already exist. The existence of alternatives with larger market share rather negates claims to monopoly.

This is I think why Apple is not primarily focusing on those complaints in its recent App Review changes but is instead attempting to stimulate constructive conversation about how to improve the experience for both developers and their customers.

In other words, it sees the current conflicts as a signal that the experience it provides needs improving, and is seeking out those friction points that contribute to such dissatisfaction.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests physiological needs such as the cost of doing business are only part of the equation: Self actualization, respect, recognition, community and safety are also important, forming a set of necessary checkboxes to be ticked in pursuit of good customer experiences.

With that in mind, I expect Apple to recognize and address fresh friction points throughout the next 12 months. After all, in physical retail, the store that your customers most want to shop in is absolutely the store you’ll want your products to be stocked in.

Ensuring its online stores (and entire ecosystem) deliver that kind of experience is Apple’s actual job. It's what it is paid for. And it seems quite good at it.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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