App Store Broken or Developers? Losing iReligion vs. the Two App Stores

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Is Apple's iTunes App Store broken, a combination of developers racing to the bottom and users getting conditioned -- and feeling entitled -- to pay less than what an app is worth? Or, are some developers not yet savvy enough in terms of planning and marketing to take advantage of the App Store business model?

Since we covered Ramp Champ this morning, it's timely to cover both the thoughts of the developer, Gedeon Maheux, and a response from Tumblr and Instapaper developer Marco Arment that are currently surrounding it.

The crux of Maheux's post, Losing iReligion, is that the App Store is broken, that it's too hard to gain visibility, and that if you miss the immediate exposure-on-landing of hitting a top list or featured spot, you're doomed to obscurity.

In order for a developer to continue to produce, they must make money. It’s a pretty simple concept and one that tends to get lost in the excitement to write for the iPhone. It’s difficult for me to justify spending 20-50 hours designing and creating new 99¢ levels for Ramp Champ when I could be spending that time on paid client work instead. I would much rather be coming up with the sequel to Space Swarm than drawing my 200th version of a magnifying glass icon. But I’d also like to have some assurances from Apple about reducing the length of the App Store approval process, having the ability to respond to factually incorrect iTunes reviews, not be limited to 100 beta testers, or that large, prominent developers won’t always get preferential treatment. In short, I’d like to know things will be fixed and I don’t mean merely posting a page of marketing text in iTunes Connect.

Arment, argues that there are The two App Stores. The first is superficial, geared to Top Lists and $0.99 apps that are basically disposable by both users and their developers alike. These make quick money and then disappear. The second are the profound apps, which flourish only from user word-of-mouth and online coverage, and while they don't get the initial boom, they have a longer tail before it comes to bust. He further argues that it's when developers mistake one App Store for the others, and miss-target their efforts, that frustration occurs.

The Iconfactory’s apps are able to compete strongly when people choose apps based on research, reviews, or feature comparisons. But that’s not how App Store A’s customers operate. Whether Ramp Champ is a better game than Skee-Ball is irrelevant to them because they’ll never take the time to find out.

Anyone interested in development and why we get the apps we do (and the ones we don't) should take the time to read both posts (linked above). Then come back and let us know what you think. Are there two App Stores? Which one do you shop at? And why?

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 44 comments. Add yours.

smchrist2 says:

I think apple needs to make some big improvements to the app store. But the funny thing is, we all complain yet still use it all the time.
And... First:)

frog says:

Just another developer having a whinge! Put a good app, which people see a need for, into the AppStore - and it sells. Look at Tomtom, Gameloft, etc... I mean seriously, a "Skee-ball" app; is there ever going to be large demand for that?

smchrist2 says:

Maybe they should have a pro version for bug apps like sims 3 or NFSU. And a mini version fo cube runner and small ones

fastlane says:

If one feels it necessary to sell one's app for less money than it's worth, then one doesn't have a worthwhile app. If one's app is a great idea, well-developed, and worth ten, twenty, thirty dollars, or more... then simply sell it for that.
Some examples of great apps...
BeejiveIM - $16.00
LogMeIn - $30.00
QuickOffice - $13.00
GuitarToolkit - $10.00
FTP On The Go - $7.00
I've only bought the apps listed above, along with a few others that were below five dollars (nine total), since the App Store opened. I don't buy crApps.
Sorry, but I'm the least bit sympathetic.

wbeem says:

What's preventing these developers from marketing their application on their own? Nothing. It's easier to whine that Apple isn't promoting them than to go do the real work of driving customers to their application on the store via other means - marketing.
If they won't promote their own product, why should they expect Apple to do it for them?

Podmonkey says:

First, if you aren't a developer then you shouldn't even comment. You have no idea what the development process looks like or what its like working with Apple. It is painful to throw something out there and wait. Developers have no real way to create a dialogue with your customers because their interface to you is really through iTunes and not direct. This really limits feature enhancement, bug reporting, etc.
You basically have to submit your app out and cross your fingers. If you are EA, Gameloft, Glu, etc then you almost automatically get higher billing simply because it makes Apple look good. However while Apple pushes them up this also pushes most independent developers down because you have no way of breaking this boundary.
Also, the definition of a "good" app is really in the eye of the beholder and entertainment. TomTom is just mediocre when compared to many of the competitors And you fastlane are in the minority if you are buying only apps that are over $10. I personally think BeeJiveIM has a terrible UI. Just because it has a high price tag does not make it more entertaining or mean it has higher utility. It simply means that developer selected that pricing tier when they submitted it.
There are so many "good" apps most people will never find because the process and functionality of how the store works means no one will ever see them. Also, you can pay for placement under the current model. You could literally buy your way to the top if you wanted to.
I have made good money as a developer, but it is getting harder to get any sort of exposure under the current model. It is very clear that the store is moving away from independent developers and more to mainstream publishers, much like the normal game industry.

Elric says:

Fastlane is right. If your app sucks, it won't sell for more than Free. If it's good, it gets bought.
I have quite a few 4.99 and up apps, and they are worth it.
Also, market your apps... You can't put a product on the market and forget it, it'll fail, even if it's the greatest idea since the Wheel.
Just facts.

fastlane says:

First, if you aren’t a developer then you shouldn’t even comment.

Nonsense.

Podmonkey says:

Elric, you're totally uninformed. Most of the top selling apps in the history of the store are under $4.99. I would be happy to send you plenty of crap apps for more than 4.99 if that's what drives your purchase.
Marketing is not about better quality, its about having more money. The App Store should be a level playing field and it is not, its that simple. How did FIFA10 get that upper banner spot? As a developer, we should all be able to bid on that spot. When Apple put them there, they jumped into the Top Grossing in 1 day.

Podmonkey says:

fastlane, how can you logically comment on the App Store approval and developer application process if you know nothing about it? So how do you as a consumer decide what something is worth? Say something valuable instead of just saying all the developers of the millions of apps out there are wrong.

icebike says:

@Podmonkey:

First, if you aren’t a developer then you shouldn’t even comment.

I wasn't going to till you threw that out there.
But now that you assert censorship authority, I have no other course of action but to step over your line in the sand.
Simply put, Putting out applications, (iphone or otherwise) for the sake of putting out apps is a foolish business model for anything but games.
If you are skilled in a specific industry, and see a problem in need of fixing, or an application that can solve a problem then by all means, go build it. Advertise on Google by simply putting up a page. People will come.
Apps are EITHER tools or toys. Take your pick.
If you want to make toys, go write games. Take your 15 minutes of fame and be happy.
If you want to make tools, you better know a LOT about the subject under discussion.
If you make forks for left handed people one day, and a sewing needle sharpener the next and follow it up with an engine vibration measurement app, don't be surprised when people think your apps are unfocused, ill designed, poorly implemented and next to useless.
If you don't know your subject area, you are simply churning out mediocre tools to solve problems that don't exist.
Useful applications do not exist because a programmer somewhere was scratching around for something they could write a few lines of code about, and sell for a quick buck. The novelty of having a computer in your pants pocket does not justify turning it into a flashlight.
They exist to solve a problem.
If you don't understand the area of expertise or the industry, you will be no more successful than a framing carpenter designing Dental Prostheses. Ask George Washington how well that turned out. You don't belong in the App Business. Its not a generic trade, any more than the ability to write automatically makes you a novelist.

kaelendra says:

I've paid more than 99cents for apps I found worthwhile enough for it. If not I don't... If you're making a game for goofing off with that really isn't going to be something more than to goof off with I think that could be the whole reason that you don't have people wanting to pay more for... something more involved you can charge more but there's also the problem that if there's 20 apps doing almost the same thing as yours you need to make yours stand out as better than there's somehow and if you can't do that then of course it's not worth more than the others.
BTW complaining about not being able to interact with your customers and get bug reports/fb have you ever heard of a website? iTunes will give you a link where you show info on your app to your website... forums work wonders and some of the better apps out there have taken that as common sense.

icebike says:

@Podmonkey:

So how do you as a consumer decide what something is worth?

Something is WORTH what the buyer is willing to PAY.
I would have thought anyone with a junior high school education would know that.

bugs says:

i'm not a dev, but as a consumer i'd say the app store is really broken.
3 things thats irk me are a) cant search from top downloads, sorry but an app with 3 reviews or non that list under top downloaded or top 25 is pure bullshit.
trial modes, sorry but no manual, no boxing, no nothing, should then bring trial modes, while some release lite version others dont, but this once you buy you can't return is also bullshit.
and alas, the store is filled with 99cents or just 90% crapware which in reality is kinda funny, content dont exist for a simple reason, no way to search for quality,
there is no organization of it. its what itunes say is #1 but is it really #1? why cant i sort with release date, most downloaded, most reviewed, etc. simple basics.
with apple saying what is #1 and the fake reviews in the store, its destined for the crapware that exists in it.
the best expression of the itunes store is the iphones 75,000 app commercial while it may have 75,000 apps the duration one would use it, is how long the commercial ran and then they would get deleted.

fastlane says:

@Podmonkey:

Say something valuable instead of just saying all the developers of the millions of apps out there are wrong.

You must have me mistaken for someone else. I don't seem to be able to find that remark in my comments.

fastlane, how can you logically comment on the App Store approval and developer application process if you know nothing about it?

Check out the last sentence in the article: "Which one do you shop at? And why?"
It doesn't sound to me as though that question is directed at developers, but rather consumers. So, perhaps you're in the wrong place. ;)
Good luck.

whydidnt says:

Developers that rely only on the app-store ranking, etc for sales are kidding themselves, and are probably the same devs complaining about the "race to the bottom". There are 75,000+ applications available for the iPhone. If you invest freakish amount of time and energy into building a great app, then invest a little on marketing, too. Why would you expect Apple to pick yours over the other 75,000 to feature? I spend a lot of time everyday on the internet, and it's quite rare to see an iPhone application ad. Many developers think they just need to write the app, list it at the app store and the just sit back and collect checks.
If you think it's a business, then run it like one and get the word out about your great app. If it's worthwhile, people will pay for quality, but it's up to the developer to make the case, not Apple, and certainly not other consumers. Don't cry about pricing, when your not doing anything to market the product!!

ThisBrian says:

Podmonkey, I don't agree with you. I want to see when the well known developers apps are coming out with name brand products. Your right it does help Apple for the customers to see that EA Sports is making games for the iphone and ipod, that drives customers to the store. The store I'm sure doesn't work perfect but there is so much crap coming out everyday how does one keep up with all of the new apps. Yes the developers probable need to find a way to help promote their product, there is a big web, out there learn to tweet and facebook and giveaways.

Raul Lugo says:

@Fastlane
I have to tell you that either you are an office monkey that has never run an independent project, or you still live at your parents basement and your mamma still pays for your dinner.
Producing a great quality is not directly proportional with good sales or app store notoriety.
Some of the apps including games, productivity tools and other that are not doing well sales-wise are actually great and vice-versa. I think that there are a few pretty good, hard-working developers that have no way to show that their app is worth wile and Apple has to work in a better system that Top 50 or Featured Apps. I mean theres is no logic to the current system, how many apps can reach the spotlight like that. It would be a great system if there where a 1000 apps at the app store, but now is just precarious.

fastlane says:

@Raul Lugo:

...either you are an office monkey that has never run an independent project, or you still live at your parents basement and your mamma still pays for your dinner.

No. But I'm a web developer and online business merchant, and spend more time marketing my two stores than I spend doing anything else. It's a lot of work. There are no signs for people to drive by, and no kids dressed in furry costumes to wave to customers from the side of the road. I have to FIND creative ways every single day to bring in business from people who have thousands of other stores to choose from.

Producing a great quality is not directly proportional with good sales or app store notoriety.

Like Podmonkey, you must have me confused with someone else.

Apple has to work in a better system that Top 50 or Featured Apps.

Apple has to do NOTHING. Work... and quit expecting handouts, and for someone else to make you successful.

Michael Allen says:

You know, I have started using my iPhone more and more like a direct replacement for my laptop and it's working out well.
My strategy was to take the money I would have used on a laptop and seriously invest in the apps that would allow me to replicate that functionality.
I looked at free apps, 99 cent apps and 8 dollar apps. The amount of money was never the guiding force for me. It was usability and design.
If a 2 dollar app suits me better than a 20 dollar app, it wasn't because the developer of the 20 dollar app messed up somewhere. It just wasn't the app for me.
The real probably is the market is positively saturated. We have too much choice. 80,000 apps or whatever that number is now isn't really a bragging point. It's a bottle neck, as evidenced by the ongoing approval issues.
This thing got too big too quickly and now everyone thinks they deserve a piece of that wonderful pie. Well, develop something worth buying and you will.
And for the record, Ramp Champ is by FAR the best Skee Ball game on the platform. Hands down.
And now, I don't work for them. :)

aspenboy says:

I think that a number of developers need to fail or at least get out of the app store business. The point of the app store is not to make developers money. It is to provide useful products to consumers. To the extent that a developer can do that, he/she/they can succeed and make money. The store is a capitalist system and clearly not everyone can succeed and like any business, it's not always the best product that wins, just a combination of luck and hard work and being in the right place at the right time.
That said, the store doesn't work that well for consumers either. We don't need 100,000+ apps. We need probably about 1/10 or even less. As others have said we need a better way to search based upon multiple criteria and a bunch of other changes. Having developers leave the store is probably a good thing in the long run. After every gold rush you will have a contraction but then you'll have a more reasonable number of developers who can make good apps and there will still be competition so that great apps are made and will still benefit consumers.
I personally never look at games and mostly shop on Marco's B store. However, I'm not someone who has to buy new apps all the time either, so something has to grab me and be truly useful to me in order for me to get it.

Raul Lugo says:

@FASTLANE
Sincerely, good for you been a developer and your bold view of the business world. You should hope and pray that you never find a bump that forces you to have a more realistic opinion.
I would gladly keep discussion with you but I don't see any valid counter-point on your reply.
For everyone else, I still think that is Apple responsibility to better showcase all the apps that end up buried under a 75000-app mountain. At the end of the day they are getting paid for that.
Not every developer has the resources to mount a full scale marketing campaign to to promote their work. The concept that Apple is trying to sell is that ANYONE with talent can produce and effectively position an app in the market. If the only ones that have any competitive chance are companies like Gameloft than Apple should note that stop pretending anyone has a shot at the App Store.
Again, I KNOW there is a LOT of crap at the App Store and not every developer deserves attention, but a few of the do.

Brad Zimmerman says:

The iPhone is just like a traditonal computer. The App Store just happens to be a point of sale/point of purchase - think of it as a huge Wal-Mart/Carrefour/Tesco. The days where you could throw something together and get it approved and expect to make decent money have long since passed. Sure, that works when it's a general store with one or two of each thing from each category and lack of choice coupled with demand for "something, anything" ensured sales... but no one would expect a hypermart to carry just one or two things or do all the advertising for everything they carry. A large store might choose to highlight a few products now and then - just as the App Store does - but expecting them to do all of the work is just daft.
Independent devs probably need to also look into being independent marketing and sales people if they want to continue making money on iPhone apps. Any time or energy spent hoping, wishing and otherwise commenting/whinging/opining about how the App Store is broken is probably going to be wasted time seeing as how Apple had sold millions upon millions of iPhones before there even was an App Store and developers to keep happy. Now that they've sold 50+ million iPhones ...well, if they lose a few devs that were more or less making a variation of something that already came in 19 other variations... Doesn't sound like anything to be worried about, at least from their point of view.

icebike says:

@Raul Lugo:

, I still think that is Apple responsibility to better showcase all the apps that end up buried under a 75000-app mountain.

Surely you must see the logical inconsistency in that!?
Somebody has to be at the bottom.

Dryland says:

Interesting comments here. Personally, I think the App store is severely broken. I'd like to see categories directed to the consumer. I primarily look for apps that increase productivity or enhance access to resources. As a system engineer I try to make my salesmen jobs easier. For example, there is a CRM app that sells for $199. I would love to try this app and if worth it, I'd purchase 10 more. My sales reps would love to have access to our database without breaking out their laptop everytime. But there is no way to try it. These developers priced the app what it is worth, but I'm not a fan of buyer beware. An app store for business users/serious users would make my day. Weeding through the crApps has long become tiresome and senseless. I usually just google what it is I'm looking for and cross my fingers. That's how I found the crm app.

mrfezzywig says:

The app store is broken. I can't search for anything. The results returned aren't meaningful and can't be sorted.

Dryland says:

This app has real value. But how would you ever find it in the app store the way it is now.
http://www.numenes.com/en/Home.html

fastlane says:

@Raul Lugo:

I would gladly keep discussion with you but I don’t see any valid counter-point on your reply

No, you'd rather suggest that anyone who disagrees with you must be living in their mother's basement, which clearly shows that you don't know the meaning of valid counter-points... and are incapable of intelligently discussing anything with anyone.

Elric says:

Podmonkey, if you aren't going to read what I say, don't comment.
My point was simply, uploading to iTunes doesn't grant you free publicity. Just cause you made something doesn't mean you can stop "selling" it.
I buy my apps based on 3 things, reviews, descriptions (if you can't speak English or use propper in your description, find someone that CAN to write it for you! And SELL it to me, don't brag, just tell me what the hell it does!) and price. Within reason.

icebike says:

@Dryland:
on the phone I fired up iTunes and searched for Microsoft CRM. Boom. There it was.
If I was using Microsoft CRM THATS exactly what I would search for.
I hope this doesn't start a trend of asking how to find every one of 85,000 apps...

fassy says:

The article (and most commenters) creates a false dichotomy by saying that either devs are whining or the app store is broken, when those are not the only two options.
1) Do developers need to work harder now that the market is crowded, and are they primarily the ones responsible for their own success or failure? Yes.
2) Do certain structures and policies of the App Store throw unnecessary roadblocks into the face of developers trying their honest best at #1? Yes.
The answer to the oddly worded question "App Store Broken or Developers?" is simply "yes."

ThisBrian says:

I think there are categories already in the app store, what do you want 5000 categories. The app store will never be perfect for everyone, but you can do your own advertising and it shouldn't cost a lot of money just time. So you need to decide is the app worth the time, will I make my money back. I hope this does weed some of the junk out, and we get more quality over quantity.

frog says:

I actually often disregard an app that's $0.99, on the assumption of the developer thinks it's only worth that - that it's probably not very good.
An app that's $5+, draws my attention.

NevadaScott#IM says:

I think we all could agree that everyone gets a little concerned with buying an app from a developer they've never heard of. when it comes to ea or gameloft or even others there might not be a need to test drive the product, but if apple would allow developers to put in free trials for 1, 3, 7, 15 etc days then I would imagine that top products would surface. reviews will still have to be sorted through but not as much. I'm just thinking about how adobe has free trials. it allows me to try it and see if it's a fit. a dumbed down completely free app doesn't always show the full power of the full featured app. am I wrong here? I'm not a developer, but I'd really like to see quality apps surface and not have 15 apps doing the same thing with different UI's ranging from free to whatever amount of money. sadly I probably won't be on this thread again to see if anyone replies. so see you all on the next thread!

Nini says:

fjlduu More stuff to take the driver's attention from the prime responsibility -- driving. Hit me and watch me sue your pants off. Ans I'll win!!!! November 21 2011 at 6:07 PM +2 rate up rate down

bergman says:

I think that there are a combination of factors working here and no one camp bears the full responsibility. First, in any economy the seller (developer) must seek out exposure and third party reviews. Secondly Apple can do a lot to enhance app visibility. A better presentation of new apps and top sellers would be a beginning. As a consumer, I'd like to see the business model changed to follow the examples set by shareware and Palm developers; free trials. Given the vast number of apps that have come on the market in a very short time, there are some phenomenally great apps, but there is also a lot of crap. I would trial lots of apps and, based on past experience, I'd buy quite a few. My business runs a contact management software that began life as shareware. Even today that developer offers a 30 day trial. Even a 7 day trial program would be a win-win for developers and iPhone users. If I could test new apps before spending, I'd spend more time exploring in the iTunes store and I'd pay more per app if I didn't need to gamble. A trial program would also reduce the amount of piracy that's going on.

Hellpop says:

Developers spend hundreds of hours working on a product that has the App Store as a great distribution channel with the potential of millions of consumers, but are concerned about getting caught in obscurity.
Uhh... haven't bands been doing this for years with their music? Or film makers with their films?
Welcome to independent distribution!
Maybe take a page from their book and start marketing your product outside of iTunes to generate some buzz like mentioned above. iTunes is a great channel to distribute and monitize your hard work, they said nothing about free marketing - that's your job as well. The last five apps I bought, I found through website reviews, not iTunes top 10.

Fernando says:

The inclusion of "Genius" for apps should help developers get their products noticed beyond the reliance on Top 25 or What's Hot lists. I've already found and purchased apps that are superior to ones that I already had thanks to Genius.

iBamse says:

Using my best Cartman voice, "You guys s*ck!"
At least spend a little time on creating a proper website with a proper user manual, extensive screen shot gallery and support section with an FAQ, online support forum and some kind of warranty as to how many updates I can expect and how often they will arrive.
Do your freaking homework. Get in touch with your customers!
It is DEAD SIMPLE!

Raul L says:

@fastlane
Lol, clearly I am clearly wasting my time since you dont seem to be able to pull yourself above 80 IQ to produce an intelligent comment (if in doubt go back and read your own replies). I guess you prefer to be shutted up or ignored. It's all good man, just get over it and move on, I am done with you. Ps. If you need help, team up with Icebike, maybe between the two of you can produce the mental horsepower to produces smart replies.

SmartphonesDev says:

Fastlane, you're an idiot. Go develop an iPhone app before you lecture us about everything we're not doing right.
iBamse, you have a good idea, but it's not practical. To "get in touch with your customers" you have to know who they are- or how to communicate with them. As numerous developers have pointed out, Apple builds a wall and doesn't let developers communicate with customers. Try collecting customer info in your app and Apple rejects it.
To market outside the App Store, as our web developer 'friend' advocates, you could run Google AdWords ads, although 97% would be wasted because the iPhone is still a very small part of the market- and it it's infinite wisdom, Google AdWords prohibits you from including the word "iPhone" in your ad. I tried, and they repeatedly rejected it. I can run an add to the whole world, but I can't target iPhone users on Google. Nor can you target iPhone users. You can target "smartphones" but that includes a variety of devices, and thus wastes valuable marketing dollars. To target only iPhone users, you can run AdMob ads, but the only one that pays off for is AdMob.
In a nutshell, save the lectures about marketing unless you've developed your own app and somehow managed to find a way to successfully market it to the masses- outside of the App Store. Once you figure out how to do that, we'd love to hear your secrets. In the meantime, get off your pedestal and stop throwing rocks!

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