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What if Apple had a high-profile VP of App Store?

The successes of the App Store are well documented. There are millions of apps for iPhone and almost as many for iPad. Billions of dollars have been paid out to developers. Dozens of platform-defining apps have shipped. And the problems are just as well known. There's uncertainty about which apps will be or will stay approved. Premium apps continue to be devalued. Discovery and search are still a challenge.

While Apple's revenue from apps is skyrocketing, freemium games are drowning in money, and customers have an incredible array of low- and no-cost software to choose from, Apple's getting bad press from post-review rejections, paid apps are becoming unsustainable, and truly audacious apps are getting harder and harder to find.

A lot of blame has been spread around. Apple hasn't enabled demos or upgrades, chosen not to provide explicit guidelines as to what is and isn't acceptable, and failed to make search and discovery workable. Developers haven't held the line on prices, haven't worked on building businesses but succumbed to the temptation of buyout, and have embraced casino-style models to maximize profits over experience. Customers don't value apps, and won't pay up-front but will fork over small fortunes for in-app instant- or ego-gratification.

A lot of suggestions have been bandied about. We need better communications, a premium experience, the removal of top-lists, an overhauled ratings and review system, social recommendations, and the lists go on and on.

The currents state of the App Store comes from the sum of all compromises, and it's in no one's best interests.

Apple gets bad press and negative sentiment from developers and customers. Developers find Apple uncaring and customers over-entitled. Customers feel frustrated and nickel-and-dimed.

Just in the last few months, PCalc was approved, un-approved, and re-approved. Monument Valley was plagued by negative reviews for charging for extra levels. Pixelmator launched at $5. Many prominent indie developers, unable to make a living on the App Store, have taken jobs with bigger companies and corporations. And free-to-play games still dominate the earnings.

So, rather than keep repeating those same complaints and suggestions — well, any more than I already have — here's a new suggestion: a public-facing vice president of App Store.

Right now developer tools are under senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi. They create the compilers and frameworks developers use to make apps.

Developer relations and App Store review is under senior vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller. They help evangelize the software and decide what can and can't get onto the store.

App Store management and editorial is under senior vice president of services, Eddy Cue. They run the stores and curate the content.

From everything I've heard, the directors and senior directors in those orgs are all doing amazing jobs. You don't get growth in apps, developers, and customer bases — or billions of dollars in revenue — without doing amazing jobs. They're also working together better than ever. Yet what if that could be taken a step further?

Back in 2011, Tim Cook reorganized Apple to increase collaboration. He put Jony Ive on top of all design and Federighi in charge of all operating systems. It made for substantial changes in how subsequent products have shipped, including iOS 7 and Yosemite, Extensibility and Continuity. Likewise, when Angela Ahrendts was brought in to take over Apple's retail stores, she was made head of Apple's online stores as well, and for similar reasons.

What if Apple had a public-facing VP of App Store? A VP who transcends orgs, whose only job is fixing search, review, ratings and review, pricing and policy, and all the other sore spots. A VP whose only job is improving the experience of developers and customers.

Maybe the same thing has already been considered for the App Store and rejected for good reason. Maybe not. As much as Apple has done to improve transparency in environmentalism and inclusivity, in privacy and manufacturing, App Store is still a black box.

As the number of apps on any given store ceases to matter, however, the quality of apps could become a bigger competitive advantage. As the displays and speeds on hardware become more than enough, apps could once again start selling systems. And as profits from the App Store continue to grow, a VP of App Store could kick that growth up to an entirely new level.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

28 Comments
  • Great post, Rene. Fully agree and I hope Apple is taking note and thinking along similar lines.
  • Well put. And Devs need support. It's not like they can go touring to make the money back promoting the "album", so-to-speak. I hope there will be some kind of cap on freemium games. And also a way to ensure that if Devs use the freemium model, there is an assurance that you can actually get through the game without spending money, albeit slowly (I'm looking at you, Rovio). I'd still happily pay $50 for a great game as long as I could demo it first. Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree, especially when it comes to Rovio and other larger devs. I would have gladly paid for Angry Birds Transformers just to not see ads and for the game to be less "grindy." My heart sank immediately when I saw it was free because I knew what I was in store for.
  • Well reasoned suggestion Rene. Sent from the iMore App
  • I also agree, except with the monument valley love. I am more than willing to pay good money for good software and have done so. My issue with monument valley is that though the graphics are beautiful, a work of art even, the game play was unchallenging and extremely short. The worst part about the game is its lack of replay. There is nothing new to discover or perhaps a path overlooked. It was ten levels of guided path and unchallenging puzzles. This is why they got bad reviews. This is not consumers being cheap, it's consumers that thought they were mislead when purchasing a game. The game looked a lot more fun than it was and is.
    Republique on the other hand was well worth the $15 I paid for it. This game is the complete opposite of monument valley. There is a lot to be discovered and an intriguing storyline and an unrestricted path and challenges and so on. I wrote a bad review for monument valley because as a consumer that pays for premium software, I felt mislead by a beautiful game that had no solid core. I felt betrayed that I was being asked to pay more money for 8 levels that would barely occupy an hour of my time. It felt a lot like being asked to buy a pale of smurf berries for a better game experience, only the game was over if you don't pay up. Sure I've payed more than $2 for an hour of entertainment before but in return I had received entertainment and emotion. I did not feel either with monument valley. I do believe we need a better App Store but I think the monument valley argument is exactly the problem with the premium offerings plague. I want premium apps that make me want to keep them on my device and feel compelled to open them instead of deleting them. Sent from the iMore App
  • MV was well worth the price and the new levels are well worth the money... I would gladly pay for more levels.. This game is one of few that is really really good Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I agree. Sent from the iMore App
  • When the app store was released, suddenly there was an easy way for common folks to download apps, which resulted in millions of mouth breathers doing just that. As a result, developers are increasingly catering to that crowd, who would put up with full screen ads, having their intestines removed with a butter knife, or just about ANYTHING else than actually paying for apps. Why cater to power users who are both demanding and expensive to develop for, when you can slap a new coat of paint on your app every six months to a year and appease 98% of your user base? IMO, this is why the quality of apps has gone down the crapper. I don't think that a lack of a trial period has anything to do with it either, because Android has trial periods, and there's just as much crap infesting Google Play, if not more. Even if you had a feature in the app store that pointed a user to quality apps, they're going to navigate straight to the free ones anyway, regardless of whether they suck or not.
  • Many good points, but is it that surprising that a developer could not survive on yet another to-do list app?
  • It is badly needed, but the question is - will Schiller/Federighi/Cue be willing to give up that power? If this VP is under a hands-on SVP, as opposed to an empowered or independent person, than this will just create another layer of management, which often does not end well. If that person answers to several SVPs, that almost never ends well.
  • Rene, many good points, but... "Brent Simmons had to get a day job when Vesper alone couldn't pay his bills."???
    I understand Brent and Dave are nice guys and your friends. Dave is a co-host as well. And Gruber is... well, Gruber. But Vesper is a solid note taking app. Nice design and clever James Bond inspired name/ver. # etc. but it's not ver good, is it? Apple supplies a free alternative for Christ's sake. And app store has many more capable or cheaper alternatives JUST AS GOOD or better. I bought Vesper. Used it for a day. Went back to my old apps. Just the fact that you like the creator (s) doesn't mean their apps are better. Despite all tech press adulation. Overcast is the same story , but that's off the topic. Other then that, yes. App store needs a strong leader. Agree 100%.
  • Also---Vesper is one App created by three people. Can one truly expect to earn a living full time making one app in collaboration with three people? Are we supposed to feel bad one of the creators of the app "had to get a day job?"
  • Perhaps its the devs that need a strong leader. No voice. Any complaints come through blogs. Band together. There's strength in numbers.
  • Re: "Just the fact that you like the creator (s) doesn't mean their apps are better. Despite all tech press adulation. " That's the problem with the tech (especially the Apple-related) press/community in general - the continous circle jerking. The problem with this practice is that it'll all come full-circle sooner or later, and then the audience will simply find new circles, or form their own.
  • Brent Simmons is also the guy who makes Mars Edit, a Mac WYSIWYG blogging app that costs $40!! Think about that for a second. Microsoft's Windows Live Writer works almost as well (better for some people, in fact), has more features, and costs nothing!! Mac devs have, for a long time in the past, lived inside this vacuum where they could charge heinous amounts for very basic apps and expect the small but wealthy Mac userbase to buy them. Now that Macs are cheaper and have a much bigger userbase made up of people from all walks of life (many with not as much expendable income), these same devs are finding it harder to sell their overpriced software simply because many of the users who've come to OS X from other platform were used to many essential apps being much cheaper of free. Thus the so called "exodus" from the Mac App Store. The same thing is happening with iOS, mainly because many of the first iOS devs were formerly Mac devs. They thought they could get away with charging $5 for list-making apps forever.
  • Simmons sold Mars Edit to Daniel Jalkut many years ago. Likewise Net News Wire.
  • Perhaps I didn't make my point as well as I should have: Back in 2009 Loren Brichter was making $50,000 a day off a $3 named Tweetie. Those times have passed. I used Brent Simmons because many would assume he has everything going for him, and if anyone could still make the premium-priced model work, it would be Brent, Dave, and John. Brent was also a recent decision. Kevin Hoctor also gave up on indie development and joined Apple, as have numerous others. Maybe I should edit it to say "numerous developers" instead of giving a name to one, because that's obviously distracting from the issue of making a living on the app store.
  • Totally agree about the "knowing and liking the developers" thing. All of the apple press do it. I generally ignore those products since I feel like you can't trust the reviews.
  • When a company embraces the freemium model (remember mium is latin for "not really"), all your gripes are bound to happen. You want to suggest real change to the App store (not just yet another white vp)? Ban the freemium model.
  • I paid for the Monument Valley expansion, however I believe they should have been upfront about the expansion costing extra. This was not a 99 cent app to start with. Sent from the iMore App
  • Something could be done. As of 2014, Steam had only 3700 titles available, a tiny fraction of what you see on the 'app stores', but browsing Steam somehow manages to not be a depressing experience. Quality control.
  • For the above posting I have been given a 1 day ban from the forums. wtf?
  • You don't get forum bans for posting in the comments :)
  • Well, when I try to access the forum, I am greeted with: You have been banned for the following reason: Disruptive postin[sic]
  • This x 1000!! Not a Steam user here, but the fact that the App Store is flooded with junk is clear as crystal. Apple really need to do some spring cleaning. So what if the total number of apps goes down to a fifth of the current amount. That's still a LOT of apps, and we wouldn't have to wade through so much junk.
  • Not going to lie, I'd be a pretty stellar VP of App Store. Heck, just the fact I was so engaged with the customer base to weigh in here is evidence of my stellar-ness. ;)
  • I think the rating system needs to be redesigned. I have an app with 150,000 downloads over 11 updates and from all those downloads I have a grand total of 114 reviews/ratings. Less than 1 review per 1000 downloads is very low. Each update resets the average rating that users see when searching, unless they click 'all versions' and i don't know many people that do that, so every time an update is released, my 4/5 star rating disappears and downloads drop dramatically for weeks, if not months until another 5 ratings appear. I make apps as a hobby but there are a lot of people that create apps for their income and if releasing an update will reset the rating and their income drops it's going to put them off releasing updates which then isn't fair to the people that bought the app. What is the solution? I don't know but revamping the review and rating system so there is an incentive for developers to do more updates would be a win win for everyone. Apple and devs got more income and customers get better, more regular updates. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think developers are just like musicians. The old rule was, "make
    sure you have a real job." In my younger days as a guitarist, I heard that all the time. Not because of my playing, but we all had jobs that paid the bills. The biggest problem I find in the App Store is search. If I am looking for something new, there are a ton of similar apps, and io think that is hard on developers of great apps. Sent from the iMore App