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.
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